Equivocation:

Linguistic Fallacy
Definition Example
When the two different meanings of a term are confused in an argument. The strange man told Mary he wanted to take her out. She had him arrested for making a death threat.
  Notes
This example equivocates between the meaning of “take out” as an romantic activity, and “take out” as a murder.

Case Study One

You’ve probably heard the argument that “scientists can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather! What makes them thing they can predict the weather a decade from now?” This equivocates between daily weather predictions and yearly weather predictions (climate). Daily weather predictions for 10 years from now are no better than they are for 10 days from now, but that does not mean climate scientists cannot accurately predict general trends in weather. You can never predict with greater success than 16.6% the single roll of a six-sided die, but you can certainly predict with a high degree of certainty that, after 10,000 roles, the number of ‘sixes’ rolled will be close to that 16.6%.


Case Study Two

Some people argue that, since humans wrote a holy book, a god did not write that particular holy book. This is an equivocation on the word “write” since it sometimes means “to pen” and other times “to author”.


Case Study Three

The word “faith” has recently been a word with disparate denotations that enable unproductive equivocation in dialog. Some will say “where the evidence ends, there faith begins”, while in another context those same individuals might suggest that our belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is also “faith” though that belielf is based on an inductive assessment of the probabilities and an understanding of the mechanism.


Case Study Four

The term “theory” has 2 distinct meanings that are often eqivocated upon when someone wishes to diminish the standing of a scientific theory. They simply replace the noble connotations associated with a scientific theory with the less-than-noble connotation of the vernacular use of “theory” as an uneducated guess.


Case Study Five

“When Tom asked whether I believed in the Bible, I told him that I most certainly do since I had just seen a Bible last week.”


Keep in mind that a fallacious argument does not entail an erroneous position.


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