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Equivocation

(also known as: doublespeak)

Description: Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.

Example #1:

I want to have myself a merry little Christmas, but I refuse to do as the song suggests and make the yuletide gay.  I don't think sexual preference should have anything to do with enjoying the holiday.

Explanation: The word, “gay” is meant to be in light spirits, joyful, and merry, not in the homosexual sense.

Example #2:

The priest told me I should have faith.

I have faith that my son will do well in school this year.

Therefore, the priest should be happy with me.

Explanation: The term “faith” used by the priest, was in the religious sense of believing in God without sufficient evidence, which is different from having “faith” in your son in which years of good past performance leads to the “faith” you might have in your son.

Exception: Equivocation works great when deliberate attempts at humor are being made.

Tip: When you suspect equivocation, substitute the word with the same definition for all uses and see if it makes sense.

References:

Parry, W. T., & Hacker, E. A. (n.d.). Aristotelian Logic. SUNY Press.



Registered User Comments

Mike hanigan
Tuesday, October 03, 2017 - 03:16:13 AM
In your second example you said "without sufficient evidence." What's the criteria to judge evidence as sufficient or not in this case?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, October 03, 2017 - 10:22:26 AM
That doesn't matter. What does matter is that the level of evidence is significantly different in the two cases. Another example: "I have faith that when I martyr myself I will get 72 virgins in paradise. You have faith that your chair won't collapse when you sit in it. See, we both have faith, therefore, both propositions are equally reasonable."

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Mike hanigan
Monday, October 16, 2017 - 06:37:46 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: ironically enough you've actually fell into another logical fallacy by offering that example which is known as a faulty comparison. The priest having faith in god because of the countless miracles he sees around him can actually show greater empirical evidence than a student that has a few years of good grades. Also, we don't sit on a chair and have faith that it will not collapse, we know it will not collapse because that's part of the physical reality; the problem is you're conflating the physical with the metaphysical. For example ( I am going to use your trick here) "I have faith that last night I dreamt about an elephant. You have faith that you're currently imagining my face while reading this comment" no empirical evidence can prove either fact, but they cannot be dismissed as "without sufficient evidence." Thank you.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, October 16, 2017 - 06:48:56 PM
@Mike hanigan: Mike, you just confirmed what I have been saying; you just said it another way. One use of faith is metaphysical and the other is physical. These are two very different uses of the word "faith," thus equivocation. You seem to want to debate that your kind of faith is all about empirical evidence. I am sure you can find plenty of debate sites for that.

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Joe Walker
Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 02:04:50 PM
Explanation for example #2 is a fallacy in itself. The priest is not using the term to mean blind faith or leap of faith as you suggest. The term faith means hope, that is to say - the priest, is is telling the woman to have faith, hope and joy in Jesus the Christ, that we may know that He made the way for Christians to be forgiven. In the Greek language, one word can have several different meanings like the word love, love could be, the love of God, love for a child, love for a spouse, etc... so you must have the proper context to understand what the word is implying such as is the case for the word faith.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, January 21, 2017 - 02:55:36 PM
Exactly. That is why I used it as an example of this fallacy.

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