Equivocation

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Equivocation is a logical fallacy that relies on implicitly alternating between the different meanings a single word can have in different contexts.

When the switch is purposefully made obvious, the result is often humorous (see above quote). When the switch is done as quietly as possible, however, the result becomes misleading instead.

It is a favorite fallacy of creationist and woo hucksters alike. It can be used both to seemingly belittle a concept or idea, or to raise one up to false pretenses. It can be used to disguise bullshit such as in quantum woo where people like Deepak Chopra use equivocation to make their ideas sound like they have some basis in reality.

Equivocation is an informal fallacy and a fallacy of ambiguity, although its parent fallacy, the four-term fallacy, is a formal fallacy.

Form[edit]

P1: X is Y (meaning 1).
P2: Y (meaning 2) is Z.
C: X is Z.

With letters representing words, this may seem obviously false, but when words are introduced, the fallacy becomes much less apparent.

Examples[edit]

Obviously false[edit]

P1: Noisy children are real headaches.
P2: An aspirin makes real headaches go away.
C: An aspirin will make noisy children go away.


P1: Nothing is better than eternal happiness.
P2: A ham sandwich is better than nothing.
C: A ham sandwich is better than eternal happiness.


P1: Bishops can only move diagonally.
P2: The Pope is the Bishop of Rome.
C: Therefore, the Pope can only move diagonally.


P1: All bark is grown on trees.
P2: All dogs bark.
C: All dogs are grown on trees.


P1: 1 is a number.
P2: 2 is a number.
C: 1 is 2.

In this case, the word "is" in the two premises is used differently in meaning than "is equivalent to" in the conclusion.

Less obvious[edit]

  • "You have faith in science, and I have faith in God."
    This exploits the fact that "faith" is often used to mean "confidence", that is having a solid reason to be confident of something due to its past performance — this argument is an effort to equate science with religion, when in reality science does not require faith (meaning belief without evidence).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]