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 I’m here to discuss the fallacy of equivocation (fallacy that comes up all the time)

 Let’s take a look at this example. Consider the following argument:


o Premise 1: All stars are exploding ball of gas.
o Premise 2: Miley Cyrus is a star.
o Conclusion: Miley Cyrus is an exploding ball of gas.
 Well this is clearly a terrible argument
 The form of this argument appears to be valid.
 And each of the premises, WHEN CONSIDERED INDIVIDUALLY IS TRUE.
 You might recall that an argument with a valid form and true premises is considered sound
o You might also recall that a sound argument necessarily has a true conclusion
 But, you’re probably not convinced that Miley Cyrus is an exploding ball of gas.
o And you’re right to think that the argument is flawed.
 What’s wrong with this argument?
o This argument commits the fallacy of equivocation
 Here the word STAR is used in different meanings in the two premises:
o 1st: It means that a star is a celestial sphere of plasma
o 2nd: but then the meaning of star shifts in the second premise
 A star refers to a famous person
 The premises equivocate between two meanings of the word star.
 This occurs when the SAME WORD is used to express DIFFERENT MEANINGS
 giving the impression that all instances of the word have the same meaning.
 The arguers committing a fallacy because here he or she uses AS IF that word have the same meaning, and so the argument
appear to be valid even though it actually is not.
 Equivocation results from ambiguities of the language.
o Since many words can have more than one meaning, we need to be cautious that KEY TERMS do not shift in
meaning during the course of an argument
o Since equivocation results from multiple meaning from a single term, a helpful strategy to expose this fallacy is to
restate the premises of the argument without the ambiguous term
 For example, let’s substitute our definitions of the word star into the premises of the previous example.
o PREMISE 1: All celestial spheres of plasma are exploding balls of gas.
o PREMISE 2: Miley Cyrus is a famous person.
o CONCLUSION: Therefore, Miley Cyrus is an exploding ball of gas.
 Clearly, this argument is invalid once you got rid of the ambiguous term STAR.
o Even though both of the premises are true, the conclusion does not follow.
o No one has equivocated Miley being a famous person with Miley being an exploding ball of gas.
 So now that you’ve understood how equivocation generally works. Let’s take a look at another example that is not so easy to
spot.
 Suppose a respectable newspaper was criticized for spreading celebrity gossip,
 And suppose that in response, the editor gave the following argument:
o PREMISE 1: Newspapers have a duty to print stories that are in the public interest.
o PREMISE 2: The public has a great interest in the rumors about celebrities
o CONCLUSION: It is not wrong for respectable newspapers to publish on rumors about celebrities
 As with our miley cyrus example, this rumor appears to be valid. But is it actually?
 The key term that shows up in both premises of this argument is the word INTEREST.
o 1ST: It means the benefit of a person or a group (like it is in your interest to keep your bank account info private)
o 2nd: an activity of one enjoys doing (like my interest are swimming, hiking and reading)
 Since the meaning of the term interest has shifted from 1st to 2nd premises.
o This argument committed the fallacy of equivocation
 If your ever suspicious of that an argument is guilty of equivocation, try the method we used in the first example.
1. Distinguish the potential meaning of the ambiguous term in an argument
2. Then restate the argument without the ambiguous term;
3. Finally, evaluate the translated argument, is it valid? If not, then the argument has committed the fallacy of
equivocation.

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