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Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files #15, A Play on Words

We're on to the next-to-last argument fallacy entry.  After that, I'll post a sort of "friendly review" of all the fallacies, and then I'll move on to the next series of trivia posts.  Stay tuned, and I'm sure you'll see something you like!  On to why I think these posts are important... 

The world is teeming with arguments.  As a matter of fact, just before I sat down to write this post, I was talking about the hidden argument in a fictional television episode.  Frankly, speaking from the perspective of someone in the fiction writing business, I have to say that there are just as many arguments presented in art and creative literature as there are in straightforward essays.  Yet, when packaged in this glittering box, insidious ideas seem to gain wider acceptance.

Today's argument fallacy is more often used in poetry, fiction, and dramatic plays for stage or film.  When my professor taught it, he explained that this fallacy shouldn't be a part of formal debate, but he seemed to leave a window open for the creative arts.  I have some objections to that idea.  If all writing has a point to make--and so it seems, despite all the arguments to the contrary--than the point, if legitimate, should be presented logically in fiction as well.  Otherwise, it may be that a writer is using tricky wording to mask the weakness of his or her work's purpose.

Equivocation--An Artful Way to Confuse the Facts

Equivocation, as it is called, is a fallacy that plays around with the meanings of a word, using it multiple times in different senses in the same argument.  It sounds clever, and that is why it's so attractive to the creative literary types.  Equivocation often has the structure of a syllogism (a formal argument in which two statements are made and a conclusion is drawn from them):
Syllogism example: A = B, and B = C; therefore, A = C.
The syllogism becomes illogical when multiple word meanings alter the meaning and validity of the conclusion.
Example: Jesus is called the Word of God, and people call the Bible the Word of God, so Jesus must be the Bible.
 The structure of the syllogism is not always apparent, so the clearest identifier of the equivocation fallacy  is the use of the alternate word meanings to move from one point to another.
Example: I believe miracles can still happen, just like in biblical times!   It's miraculous how many people have turned out to help today!
(Biblical miracles are supernatural; a big turnout of people is not.)

This week, I wasn't able to find a good example of someone using this fallacy in a Bible story, but if you know of a reference, be sure to leave it in the comments section so we all can read it.