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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Equivocation


Suppose I stated, “Sure philosophy helps you argue better, but do we really need to encourage people to argue? There’s enough hostility in this world.” Can you identify the fallacy inherent in this statement?


According to one source:


The equivocation fallacy refers to the use of an ambiguous word or phrase in more than one sense within the same argument. Because this change of meaning happens without warning, it renders the argument invalid or even misleading.


In the previous statement example, philosophy is proposed as being helpful. Then, without warning, the topic shifts to whether or not the usefulness of the medium needs to be employed by people. Moreover, the conclusion has nothing at all to do with philosophy.


To better understand equivocation, consider the logical form and provided example from the following source:


Logical Form:


Term X is used to mean Y in the premise.

Term X is used to mean Z in the conclusion.


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.


Here, “yuletide” is an archaic term referencing Christmas. Similarly, “gay” is an old-fashioned way of expressing happiness, joy, or fun. However, the equivocation fallacy results when a conclusion is drawn by use of the modern definition of “gay”— sexually or romantically attracted to people of one’s own sex (used especially of a man).


Therefore, term X (gay) is initially meant to imply joy (Y) though when it’s used out of context, it results in the allusion to same-sex attraction involving men (X). Essentially, an argument that uses one word to mean two different things is how equivocation works.


I think I use this fallacy less than other fallacies, though I still consider it worth understanding. If for nothing else, comprehension of equivocation may lead to reduced confusion when presenting ideas to other people.


After all, I’d like to make sure I’m using the right term when drafting blogposts, so that I can convey the correct message. Then again, if people are confused by my posts, I think it’s their human right to be bewildered. I mean, it’s not as though I’ll face legal consequences for such infringement.


(See what I did there?)


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



References:


Department of Philosophy. (n.d.). Equivocation. Texas State University. Retrieved from https://www.txst.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Equivocation.html

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (2023, September 8). Fair use. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/fair-use

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/get-better

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/life-coaching

Krakenimages.com. (n.d.). Young hispanic woman standing over blue background clueless and confused expression with arms and hands raised… Freepik. Retrieved from https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/young-hispanic-woman-standing-blue-background-clueless-confused-expression-with-arms-hands-raised-doubt-concept_38870328.htm#query=ambiguity&position=46&from_view=search&track=sph

Logically Fallacious. (n.d.). Equivocation. Retrieved from https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/cgi-bin/uy/webpages.cgi?/logicalfallacies/Equivocation

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, July 24). Equivocation fallacy | Definition & examples. Scribbr. Retrieved from https://www.scribbr.com/fallacies/equivocation-fallacy/

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