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Use-Mention Error

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(also known as: UME)

Description:  Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.  To avoid this error, it is customary to put the word used to describe the thing in quotes.

This fallacy is most common when used as an equivocation.

Logical Form:

“X” is the same as X.

Example #1:

My son is made up of five letters.

Explanation: The words (mention), “my son”, are made up of five letters.  My son (use) is made up of molecules.

Example #2: Anselm's Ontological Argument

p1. God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

p2. God may exist in the understanding.

p3. To exist in reality and in the understanding is greater than to exist in the understanding alone.

p4. Therefore, God exists in reality.

Explanation: In premise #1, God (use) refers to the being -- this is the whole point of Anselm’s argument, but in premise #2, he equivocates to the concept of God (mention).


Azzouni, J. (2010). Talking About Nothing: Numbers, Hallucinations and Fictions. Oxford University Press.

Registered User Comments

Wolfgang P
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 03:28:24 PM
In example 1 you call >"my son"< mention and >my son< use.
In example 2 you call >"God"< use and >God< mention.
(I added >< only for emphasis of the actual words.)

Now I am confused. Did you mix up use/mention in the second explanation?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, March 01, 2017 - 07:43:54 AM
You are correct - something is wrong. I used quotes not because of mention or use, but because "my son" was the actual word. In the second example, God was the theological character in one case and a concept in another. Neither use justifies quotes.

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