In this article, we will be exploring What Are Fallacies Of Ambiguity?
A fallacy of logic refers to the unclear meaning of the statement and leads to the formation of compelling yet incorrect statements either by accident or design. Imprecise phrasing is responsible for unintentional humor.
A language is an adaptable tool and the choice of words, phrasing, context, and emphasis affect the meaning of a statement. Fallacies of ambiguity involve confusion due to multiple interpretations and result in leading the reader or listener to an incorrect conclusion.
These are some examples of the fallacy of ambiguity:
A common fallacy of ambiguity is equivocation, where a word or phrase is in an ambiguous way or to mean two or more meanings. In this instance, the inference is as if there were just one possible meaning.
Here’s an example of how the fallacy of equivocation occurs:
‘Dogs make great pets, and wolves are nature’s dogs. So, wolves would also make great pets’
Most people would never agree to domesticate a wolf. Equivocation may create a humorous effect. In other instances, it may support an argument of bad faith. Bad faith is a statement or stance that the arguer is aware is untrue or unfair.
For example, when you inquire about possible minor side-effects of the drugs from a pharmaceutical company, and they let you know there are none, but in reality, the drug may result in major side-effects like a heart attack.
The fallacy of amphiboly occurs when an ambiguous word or sentence structure confuses or misleads an audience. It is a consequence of a faulty sentence structure of any kind.
Here’s an instance of amphiboly, ‘Save Soap and Waste Paper.’
The sentence structure makes it sound as if the slogan is asking to throw away paper and valuing soap over the paper.
Amphibolies also lead to humorous confusion or misunderstandings. An example includes: ‘Burglar gets nine months in Violin case.’ It is a result of a poorly-written sentence.
The fallacy of accent refers to shifting the accent on syllables within words. It also includes shifting the accent between words within a sentence.
In the movie My Cousin Vinny, Bill, plays Ralph Macchio, They ask him about a possible murder. This is an illustration of the accent fallacy.When the officer investigates him, “At what point did you shoot the clerk?” Bill responds in surprise, ” I shot the clerk? I shot the clerk?” The police officer has been shown to read Bill’s statement as a confession later in the film “‘…he said, ‘I shot the clerk. I shot the clerk.'”
Though the police officer interpreted Bill’s question as a confession in the film, it was not a fallacious tactic on the part of the police officer, but rather a failure of critical thinking, possibly as a result of a strong confirmation bias.
The officer was very confident that Bill was guilty, and thus failed to detect the nuance in the question.
Every quotation inevitably leaves out significant portions of the original text and is thus considered “out of context.” Due to the use of a selective quotation that changes, reverses, or even distorts the original meaning. This can happen unintentionally or on purpose.
A statement intended to be ironic can be misunderstood if it is written down because speaking emphasizes irony more than writing does. However, there are times when more content helps to make the irony more obvious.
Here’s an example:
- As long as you are not looking for plot or character development, this movie was fantastic.
- ‘….this movie was fantastic.’
The preceding example begins with an ironic observation and then explains that the observation was meant to be taken ironically rather than literally. The original passage was taken out of context and given a meaning that was completely in contradiction with what it was intended to mean.
The passage qualifies as a fallacy in addition to being unethical because it is being used in the implicit rationale that others ought to watch the movie.
The composition fallacy involves drawing an inference from the attribution of some feature to every individual member of a class or part of a larger whole to the entire class possessing the same feature or whole.
Example: ‘Since the atoms that make up a penny are not visible to the naked eye, so the penny must also be invisible to the naked eye.’
To identify the fallacy of composition, you must consider the argument’s content rather than its structure. When you examine the content, you will notice something unique about the characteristics. It is an unstated assumption of the argument and relies on your prior knowledge of the world. You know that while individual atoms are not visible, a whole lot of them together make up something easily visible.
The fallacy of division involves the assumption that because a class or whole possesses a certain trait, each of its members must also possess that trait. People frequently make false arguments by categorizing parts of a whole together and assuming that each component has a particular quality by default.
An example includes, ‘Luxembourg is the richest country in the world, so each of its citizens must also be rich.’
The fallacy of division can create valid arguments such as, ‘All men are mortal, therefore, Socrates is also mortal.’
If you are wondering why is the latter an example of a valid argument while the former is not, it is due to the difference between distributive and collective attributes.
Distributive attributes share every member of a class because they distribute among all members by being a member. We can create collective attributes by assembling the proper components in the proper order. This is because it is a collection-level characteristic rather than an individual one. When you combine things, the outcome often has new properties that the individual parts did not have.
The Ending Note
To recap what are fallacies of ambiguity, these are errors in the reasoning used to deceive people with imprecise language. Equivocation, amphiboly, context, composition, accent, and division are some examples of fallacies of ambiguity. Being able to understand and spot them in arguments helps you avoid falling prey to them.