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Distinction Without a Difference

Description: The assertion that a position is different from another position based on the language when, in fact, both positions are the same -- at least in practice or practical terms.

Logical Form:

A is not the same as the first letter in the alphabet.

Example #1:

Sergio: There is no way I would ever even consider taking dancing lessons.

Kitty: How about I ask my friend from work to teach you?

Sergio: If you know someone who is willing to teach me how to dance, then I am willing to learn, sure.

Explanation: Perhaps it is the stigma of “dancing lessons” that is causing Sergio to hold this view, but the fact is, someone teaching him how to dance is the same thing.  Sergio has been duped by language.

Example #2:

We must judge this issue by what the Bible says, not by what we think it says or by what some scholar or theologian thinks it says.

Explanation: Before you say, “Amen!”, realize that this is a clear case of distinction without a difference.  There is absolutely no difference here because the only possible way to read the Bible is through interpretation, in other words, what we think it says.  What is being implied here is that one's own interpretation (what he or she thinks the Bible says) is what it really says, and everyone else who has a different interpretation is not really reading the Bible for what it says.

Exception: It is possible that some difference can be very minute, exist in principle only, or made for emphasis, in which case the fallacy could be debatable.

Coach:  I don’t want you to try to get the ball; I want you to GET the ball!

In practical usage, this means the same thing, but the effect could be motivating, especially in a non-argumentative context.

Tip: Replace the phrase, “I’ll try” in your vocabulary with, “I’ll do my best”.  While the same idea in practice, perceptually it means so much more.

References:

Smart, B. H. (1829). Practical Logic,: Or Hints to Theme-writers: to which are Now Added Some Prefatory Remarks on Aristotelian Logic, with Particular Reference to a Late Work of Dr. Whatley’s. Whittaker, Treacher, & Company.



Registered User Comments

Sindre Søreide
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 09:43:30 AM
I had this discussion originally in a religious discussion but I will change it because I don’t remember the details. I am wondering if this is DWD or a different fallacy or

Person 1: no one is allowed to arrest people except the police.
Person 2: why are police allowed to arrest people? What is the difference between them and the general public?
Person 1:they are allowed to arrest people because they are specifically given the right in penal code [insert code here]

Now that is a completely acceptable answer but let us say that instead of that las answer Person 2 instead answers with:

Person 2: Because police wear really nice black uniforms.

They gave a distinction, one that isn’t merely semantic. Police do wear a black uniform that the general public doesn’t wear, however the distinction doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the question at hand. The difference isn’t merely semantic it is just irrelevant. Does it therefore count as a DWD

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 12:52:10 PM
I would say that is more of an example of a non-sequiter.

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Jacob
Friday, February 16, 2018 - 02:37:37 AM
What if someone said, "I am not racist but I am prejudiced against this certain race"? Is this the fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, February 16, 2018 - 08:20:03 AM
There might be enough of a distinction between the term "racism" and being prejudice against a race for this to make sense. Racism, according to the commonly used definition within the social sciences, requires that one view one's own race as superior. The point of argument would be, what does "superior" actually mean? There are statistical differences among races, and some races are better than others at certain things. If a black man said that white men can't jump (generalizing), is that racist? I don't think so, but it is being prejudice against a race (i.e., an adverse pre judgement of an individual based on statistical norms or experience of other members of the group).

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Jacob
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 - 12:30:59 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: How about this? I have argued with many people who believe that white, straight, cisgendered men control everything and oppress everyone else. They say that by definition POCs cannot be racist. Only white people are in power so only white people can be racist. There is one caveat. POCs say that POCs can be prejudiced but not racist. In my mind there is no difference. This is a distinction without difference. To say that POCs by definition cannot be racist only gives POCs license to do and say racist things.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, March 21, 2018 - 12:37:03 PM
@Jacob: Those who say that, I have found, have redefined "racism" to require power - the kind of power meant by majority of numbers. This is fallacious, but for a different reason. Perhaps the definist fallacy - https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/75/Definist-Fallacy.

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J
Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 02:39:34 PM
How do you determine whether or not there are good grounds for a distinction? Might there be some distinctions that initially appear as if they don't carry any weight, but have the potential to?

For example; I'm not lost, I just don't know where I am.

Lost means unable to find one's way OR not knowing one's whereabouts. I could have no idea where I am in time and space, but still know where I'm headed.

(I apologize, I'm horrible at jotting down my thoughts in a coherent fashion. Hopefully this makes at least some sense.)

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 04:00:53 PM
It would be up to the person making the claim to provide the distinction and clarify. Then, the listener(s) could judge to see if the distinction is substantial.

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