A few can mean three, as you’ve probably heard others say (and very possibly stated yourself), or four or seven. There is no set limit for how many constitute “a few.” Likewise, there isn’t a clear limit for what constitutes “several things” or “a couple of things.” So, if you are using double-meaning words or phrases and deceiving somebody, you are committing the equivocation fallacy.
What would you think if someone told you they were a brilliant student because they occasionally slept in class? What would you think if they were questioned about their claim and it came out that they had missed twelve classes during the semester?
You might feel duped and point out that they purposely hid how frequently they slept through class by using the phrase’s ambiguity. Equivocation is a term used to describe this type of dishonesty.
Equivocation, which is naming two distinct things with the same name, is considered a logical fallacy of employing a term or phrase in reasoning either:
Here’s a sample:
Taco salad is obviously not a dish that most people would consider to be healthy. Equivocation can occasionally be employed to create a comic effect. In other instances, it is used to support a claim of bad faith. For instance, a student might respond to a teacher’s inquiry about a pending homework by saying that they worked on it the night before. Technically speaking, it’s accurate, but the student assumed the teacher would interpret their words as “done” when they only meant that they had made some progress on the task that was still unfinished.
The term “bad faith argument” refers to a claim or stance that the arguer is aware is untrue or unfair. People typically use bad faith arguments to avoid seriously considering the problems at hand and admitting that their opponents’ viewpoints are well-supported and understandable. There are other logical fallacies that can be used in an argumentative essay or bad faith argument besides equivocation. The straw man and red herring fallacies are two other fallacies apart from the equivocation fallacy frequently appearing in conversations of this nature.
Equivocation is an informal fallacy; therefore, the argument’s illogic is in the argument’s application rather than in the argument’s structure.
It is common to express equivocation in the following manner: “If X is Y and Y is Z, then Z must be X.” Here are a few illustrations:
Equivocation is obvious when it is expressed in this manner. It can even come out as humorous, making it appear absurd to arrange it with other logical fallacies you could come across when writing.
However, the equivocation fallacy doesn’t always take this form. It’s possible to lie by omission, as we covered in our example of the student who told their teacher they had worked on their assignment the night before. Here are a few samples:
Equivocation is a common obfuscation technique. Equivocation is also referred to as doublespeak, which you may be familiar with. Several examples of doublespeak in English are as follows:
Euphemisms are frequently used in doublespeak, but they are not always used. For example, equivocation can be one of the toughest logical fallacies to spot in a piece of writing since there are so many different ways to use it.
In writing, you can spot the equivocation fallacy by carefully scrutinizing an argument to find the discrepancy between the arguer’s initial assertion and their final conclusion. However, it can be difficult to dissect when you’re up against an argument that isn’t as succinctly stated as those in the first set of examples we gave. Look at this sample:
The argument is made from the premise that self-defense classes teach students how to fight more effectively. It is the claim being made, whether it is true or not. A logical fallacy must be exposed for what it is—a weakness in how the argument is put together—rather than being proven false. Whether a claim is fallacious or not has nothing to do with whether it is true or false.
Take a look at the disputer’s conclusion: self-defense classes shouldn’t be offered on campus. Fighting is immoral, they assert, not because the training would teach participants how to fight more effectively. According to the second claim, fighting is wrong and does not naturally follow the first. Again, whether it is true or not is unimportant in this situation; a more rational claim would be that developing pupils’ fighting skills will increase interpersonal violence.
Critical thinking is necessary to separate fact from the author’s viewpoint in a case of equivocation fallacy. Similarly, it demands you consider both sides of the issue. For example, while you might concur that fighting is wrong in most situations, you also probably concur that being able to defend one against an unprovoked attack can be a valuable ability.
In a written argument or a face-to-face debate, if your opponent is being ambiguous, ask them to be more specific. Inform them that you need precise examples or numerical data to continue the conversation in good faith because you cannot reply critically to ambiguous assertions. If they’re open to it, you can also ask them to clarify how they arrived at their conclusions, which might help them recognize the weakness in their own case.
Equivocation may appear as follows
It may also appear as follows:
The logical fallacy of employing a word or phrase in an argument in an ambiguous manner or to mean two or more things is known as equivocation.
The equivocation fallacy relies on a word’s ambiguous meaning or several interpretations to perplex the reader or listener and omit important details.
In writing, you can spot the equivocation fallacy by carefully scrutinizing an argument to find the discrepancy between the arguer’s initial assertion and their final conclusion. In some circumstances, you must scrutinize the argument and distinguish between the writer’s opinion and the facts.
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