World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Equivocation

Article Id: WHEBN0000017690
Reproduction Date:

Title: Equivocation  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ambiguity, No true Scotsman, Reification (fallacy), List of fallacies, Imprecise language
Collection:
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Publication
Date:
 

Equivocation

Equivocation ("to call by the same name") is classified as an informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). It generally occurs with polysemic words (words with multiple meanings).

Albeit in common parlance it is used in a variety of contexts, when discussed as a fallacy equivocation only occurs when the arguer makes a word or phrase employed in two (or more) different senses in an argument appear to have the same meaning throughout.[1][2]

It is therefore distinct from (semantic) ambiguity, which means that the context doesn't make the meaning of the word or phrase clear, and amphiboly (or syntactical ambiguity), which refers to ambiguous sentence structure due to punctuation or syntax.[3]

Examples

Fallacious reasoning

Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example:

A feather is light.
What is light cannot be dark.
Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

In this use of equivocation, the word "light" is first used as the opposite of "heavy", but then used as a synonym of "bright" (the fallacy usually becomes obvious as soon as one tries to translate this argument into another language). Because the "middle term" of this syllogism is not one term, but two separate ones masquerading as one (all feathers are indeed "not heavy", but it is not true that all feathers are "bright"), this type of equivocation is actually an example of the fallacy of four terms.

Semantic shift

The fallacy of equivocation is often used with words that have a strong emotional content and many meanings. These meanings often coincide within proper context, but the fallacious arguer does a semantic shift, slowly changing the context by treating, as equivalent, distinct meanings of the term.

"Man"

In English language, one equivocation is with the word "man", which can mean both "member of the species, Homo sapiens," and "male member of the species, Homo sapiens." The following sentence is a well-known equivocation:

"Do women need to worry about man-eating sharks?", in which "man-eating" is construed to mean a shark that devours only male human beings.

Switch-referencing

This occurs where the referent of a word or expression in a second sentence is different from that in the immediately preceding sentence, especially where a change in referent has not been clearly identified.

Metaphor

All jackasses have long ears.
Carl is a jackass.
Therefore, Carl has long ears.

Here the equivocation is the metaphorical use of "jackass" to imply a stupid or obnoxious person instead of a male donkey.

"Nothing is better than"

Margarine is better than nothing.
Nothing is better than butter.
Therefore, margarine is better than butter.

Specific types of equivocation fallacies

See main articles: False attribution, Fallacy of quoting out of context, No true Scotsman.

See also

References

  1. ^ Damer, T. Edward (2009), Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-free Arguments (6th ed.), Wadsworth, p. 121,  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Damer, T. Edward (2009), Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-free Arguments (6th ed.), Wadsworth, p. 123,  
  • Logical Fallacy: Equivocation The Fallacy Files


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and USA.gov, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for USA.gov and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
 
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
 
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.
 


Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.