Fallacy of Equivocation- This fallacy occurs when a conclusion depends on the fact that a word or phrase is used, either explicitly or implicitly, in two different senses in the argument.
A Tree contains bark.
My Dog barks.
Therefore, my dog is a tree.
There have been over 3,000 God’s.
Christians believes in a God.
Therefore, Christians believe in one less God then I(atheist).
Obviously, this argument would commit the fallacy of equivocation about 3,000 times.
You don’t believe in evolution?
Evolution has been proven true!
Evolution is a fact!
What these claims typically will mean will be macro-evolution, but then will be equivocated to mean micro-evolution or change over time when the evidence is provided. (ex: Darwin's finches)
If a meaning of a specific word changes in an argument, then the argument commits the fallacy of equivocation. For example, Lawrence Krauss will define nothing as a quantum vacuum, but then use the word nothing meaning “not anything”. A quantum vacuum is a fluxuation of energy in a vacuum, so it is not nothing in the classical sense at all. His argument commits the fallacy of equivocation.
This is a tricky one to catch because it not explicit in the argument. It’s very implicit and you have to search for the intended meaning that makes sense throughout the argument. One helpful trick can be this, ask theses: What do you mean by that? It will help get the meaning of the word used in both premises and conclusions. Just like Lawrence Krauss defines nothing in two different meanings, people commit equivocation with a specific word.
Use the Columbo tactic to help find this fallacy. What do you mean by …? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered? The first two questions help distinguish between the possible meaning of the word being used. The second question helps to show how they came to that specific meaning. The third question will help the person consider to stick with one meaning, so their argument will not commit this fallacy. The argument will probably rest upon the fallacy equivocation, so they may not have an argument at all.
Equivocation is committed by even the best of philosophers whether on purpose or by accident. This fallacy should be avoided as much as possible to be as logical as possible. Don’t be like Lawrence Krauss, so stick with one meaning.
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