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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.


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

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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