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Failure to Elucidate

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Obscurum per Obscurius

Description: When the definition is made more difficult to understand than the word or concept being defined.

Logical Form:

Person 1 makes a claim.

Person 2 asks for clarification of the claim, or a term being used.

Person 1 restates the claim or term in a more confusing way.

Example #1:

Tracy: I don’t like him because of his aura.

TJ: What do you mean by that?

Tracy: I mean that he is projecting a field of subtle, luminous radiation that is negative.

Explanation: This is such a common fallacy, yet rarely detected as one.  Usually, out of fear of embarrassment, we accept confusing definitions as legitimate elucidations, that is, we pretend the term that was defined is now clear to us.  What exactly is the field?  How is it detected? Are there negative and positive ones? How do we know?

Example #2:

Linda: We live in a spirit filled world; I am certain of that.

Rob: What is a “spirit”?

Linda: A noncorporeal substance.

Explanation: Many times, we fool ourselves into thinking that because we know other words for the term, we better understand what the term actually represents.  The above example is an illustration of this.  We can redefine, “spirit” as many times as we like, but our understanding of what a spirit actually is will still be lacking.

Assuming we did not really understand what was meant by “spirit”, the definition, “noncorporeal substance” might or might not shed any light on what is meant by the term.  In this case, it might be more clear now that Linda is not referring to alcoholic beverages, but conceptually, what is a non-physical substance?  Especially when "substance" is defined as being physical matter or material.

We fallaciously reason that we now understand what the term represents when, in fact, we don’t.

Exception: Some may actually just lack the vocabulary needed -- this is not your fault, but you should do your best to attempt to elucidate using words understandable to your audience.

Tip: Are there any concepts that you feel you understand, when really you can just define the concept with words?

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