Linguistic Fallacies

Linguistic fallacies, or fallacies in the language, are due to the ambiguity of or lack of preciseness in the words or phrases used to express ideas. It is this ambiguity that leads one into making wrong conclusions or inferences.

There are six linguistic fallacies: equivocation, amphiboly or amphibology, accent, composition, division, and figure of speech or parallel-word construction. Composition and division are sometimes treated as one fallacy; we have found a very good discussion on the difference of the two.

1. Equivocation

Definition: [a fallacy that] results from using a word or phrase in more than one sense, playing with a double meaning, or changing the connotation or meaning of a word in the course of the argument, all the while implying the a [sic] the word means exactly the same thing all the way through the argument. [1]

Examples:

2. Amphibology / Amphiboly

Definition: [a fallacy which] is committed by using a statement which allows two interpretations either because of the physical grammatical structure (syntax) of the sentence, or because a word or phrase can have two possible meanings, causing the entire statement to be understood in two different ways. [1]

Examples:

3. Accent

Definition: [a fallacy that occurs when] emphasis is used to suggest a meaning different from the actual content of the proposition. [4]

Examples:

4. Composition

Definition: [a fallacy characterized by] arguing (a) that what is true of each part of a whole is also (necessarily) true of the whole itself, or (b) what is true of some parts is also (necessary) true of the whole itself. [6]

Examples:

5. Division

Definition: [a fallacy characterized by] arguing that what is true of a whole is (a) also (necessarily) true of its parts and/or (b) also true of some of its parts. [6]

Examples:

6. Figure of Speech or Parallel-Word Construction

Definition: [a fallacy characterized by] ambiguities due to the fact that different words in Greek (and in Latin) may have different cases or genders even though the case endings or gender endings are the same. Since this is not widespread in other languages or since it coincides with other fallacies (e.g. equivocation, see above) writers tend to interpret it very broadly. [11]

Examples:

Composition vs. Division

These two fallacies could be sometimes difficult to differentiate from each other. We have found a very good discussion on how to separate one from the other.

The form of the fallacy of composition is the following:

All of the parts of the object O have the property P.
Therefore, O has the property P.
(Where the property P is one which does not distribute from parts to a whole.) [9]

While the form of the fallacy of division is the following:

The object O has the property P.
Therefore, all of the parts of O have the property P.
(Where the property P is one which does not distribute from a whole to its parts.) [10]

Therefore, to distinguish composition from division, you need only note the direction of the conclusion. If the arguments proceed from the members of a whole, concluding that the whole is such-and-such because the parts it is made up is such-and-such, the fallacy is of composition.

On the other hand, when we conclude that a thing is such-and-such because it is a member of a group which is such-and-such, we are committing a fallacy of division.

Always take note however that the property must not be expansive (parts --> whole) for composition or dissective (whole --> parts) for division. If these are not satisfied then we do not have a fallacy.

References

[1] Harris, Robert. "Semantics 4", http://www.virtualsalt.com/think/semant4.htm. Last modified June 8, 2000; accessed July 18, 2004.

[2] Downes, Stephen. "Stephen Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies: Equivocation", http://www.intrepidsoftware.com/fallacy/equiv.php. Last modified May 26, 1995; accessed July 18, 2004.

[3] Downes, Stephen. "Stephen Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies: Amphiboly", http://www.intrepidsoftware.com/fallacy/amphib.php. Last modified January 6, 1995; accessed July 18, 2004.

[4] Downes, Stephen. "Stephen Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies: Accent", http://www.intrepidsoftware.com/fallacy/accent.php. Last modified January 6, 1995; accessed July 18, 2004.

[5] "Fallacies of Ambiguity: Accent", http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/skepticism/blfaq_fall_accent.htm. Last modified n.d.; accessed July 18, 2004.

[6] Angeles, Peter A., Dictionary of Philosophy (Barnes and Noble, 1981), quoted in [7].

[7] "Fallacies", http://zebu.uoregon.edu/~js/glossary/fallacies.html. Last modified n.d.; accessed July 18, 2004.

[8] Downes, Stephen. "Stephen Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies: Composition", http://www.intrepidsoftware.com/fallacy/compos.php. Last modified January 6, 1995; accessed July 18, 2004.

[9] "Logical Fallacy: Composition", http://www.fallacyfiles.org/composit.html. Last modified n.d.; accessed July 18, 2004.

[10] "Logical Fallacy: Division", http://www.fallacyfiles.org/division.html. Last modified n.d.; accessed July 18, 2004.

[11] "The Traditional Fallacies", http://www.humnet.ucla.edu/humnet/phil/faculty/tparsons/phil107/fallacie.htm. Last modified n.d.; accessed July 18, 2004.

[12] Alburo, Kaira Zoe, "Making Pigs Fly: Debunking the myths about student activism", Today's Carolinian, Vol. 20, No. 1, March 2003, p. 15.

[13] Sorry, I forgot the title and author of the book.

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