Equivocation and Contest Time

by | Logic | 4 comments

Lord willing, we want to start producing audio and video podcasts. We’ll start small with some short audio podcasts dramatizing common fallacies. But we need your help. In the comment section here, please post your favorite example of an equivocation. If we use your example in our podcast, we’ll send you a free book. Be sure to include your name and email address.

The fallacy of equivocation occurs when somebody changes the meaning of a word in the middle of an argument. Here is a humorous example of equivocation.

Dorothy: “Are you doing that on purpose, or can’t you make up your mind?”
Scarecrow: “That’s the trouble. I can’t make up my mind. I haven’t got a brain. Just straw.”
Dorothy: “How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don’t know. But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
Dorothy: “Yes, I guess you’re right.”

The Scarecrow is changing the meaning of “brain.” First, he is talking about someone who lacks a physical organ called a brain, and then he is talking about somebody who lacks wisdom or sense.

“Everyone knows that laws change all the time. Prohibition was repealed after only a few years. Laws against criticizing the president were repealed. You see, the laws of thermodynamics, which say that it is impossible to make a true perpetual motion machine, can easily change, just like prohibition. My company is attempting to build a perpetual motion machine. I encourage you to invest in it.”

This argument may sound convincing, until you look closely. The speaker first refers to law as a piece of legislation which is made by the government — such as the Constitution, or a speed limit ordinance. Then, he refers to law as a natural law, something which we see in nature which never changes — such as the laws of gravity and other scientific laws. (Taken from The Fallacy Detective by Nathaniel Bluedorn and Hans Bluedorn)