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Ambiguity

(also known as: ambiguous assertion, amphiboly, amphibology, semantical ambiguity, vagueness)
S o p h i sm - an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid
Example:
I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
Analysis of the Example
Exposition:
Ambiguity is a feature of language that occurs when a word or phrase has more than one meaning. For instance, the word "note"
can mean either:
1. A musical tone.
2. A short written record.
In fact, my dictionary1 lists twenty meanings of "note", though one of these is archaic. Even the part of speech is ambiguous, since
"note" can be either a noun or verb. This situation is not at all unusual, and "note" is not an especially ambiguous word. Opening
any dictionary at random will confirm that it is the rare word that is not ambiguous. In fact, ambiguity tends to increase with
frequency of use, and it is rarely-used technical terms that are unambiguous. For instance, "is" is highly ambiguous and has, as a
result, caused much mischief in metaphysics, and even politics.
As a logical fallacy, ambiguity occurs when linguistic ambiguity causes an argument to appear cogent when it is not. This can
happen when an ambiguous word or phrase occurs more than once in an argument and has different meanings in two or more
occurrences.
There are two main types of ambiguity:
1. Lexical: A word or short phrase that is ambiguous. As noted above, "note" is lexically ambiguous. When an argument
commits a fallacy based on lexical ambiguity, it is called "equivocation"―see the subfallacy, above.
2. Structural: A phrase, sentence, or passage that is grammatically ambiguous. For instance, the phrase "ancient
philosophy professor" can mean either a teacher of classical Greek and Roman philosophy, or a very old professor of
philosophy2. An argument that commits a fallacy based on structural ambiguity is said to be "amphibolous" and to
commit the fallacy of amphiboly―again, see the subfallacy, above.
Exposure:
 Because of the ubiquity of ambiguity in natural language, it is important to realize that its presence in an argument is not
sufficient to render it fallacious, otherwise, all such arguments would be fallacious. Most ambiguity is logically harmless,
and a fallacy occurs only when ambiguity causes an argument to appear cogent when it is not. While not always a
fallacy, ambiguity can be misleading and is sometimes a logical boobytrap―as in the Example, above; see the Analysis,
below―that is, it may cause someone to inadvertently commit a fallacy.
 Unintentionally ambiguous statements are frequently sources of humor, especially when one of the possible meanings is
ludicrous. For example:
Police blotter
Sent city police out at 11:38 a.m. to kick kids off the roof of a downtown furniture store.3

Analysis of the Example:


The example, of course, is the much publicized statement by President Clinton. This was testimony, rather than argument, so it
cannot be fallacious. However, it is now clear that it was intended to snare the listener into concluding, falsely, that there was no
sexual relationship between the President and Miss Lewinsky. In other words, Clinton's words were a logical boobytrap. The
ambiguity came from the phrase "sexual relations", which has a broad and narrow meaning:
1. A sexual relationship
2. Sexual intercourse
As he later admitted, President Clinton had had "sexual relations" with Miss Lewinsky in the broad sense (1), and he was denying it
only in the narrow sense (2).4
Accent
Alias: Quoting Out of Context1
History:
As with many named fallacies, Accent has a long and confusing history. It is one of the thirteen fallacies identified by Aristotle in his
pioneering work On Sophistical Refutations2. Specifically, it is one of the six language-dependent fallacies, of which Aristotle says "this is the
number of ways in which we might fail to mean the same thing by the same names or expressions." Thus, according to Aristotle, Accent is a
kind of fallacy of ambiguity.
To understand what Aristotle meant by "accent", one must know some things about the written Greek of his time. Today, in most printed
Greek texts—including those of "the philosopher"—three accents are used to indicate pronunciation. In Aristotle's time, the accents were
not a part of the written language, but were supplied by the reader's knowledge of spoken Greek, which is something that we lack today.
For this reason, some words that were pronounced differently were spelled the same in classical Greek, that is, they were
homographs―"written the same"―but not homophones―"sound the same". So, a written word could be ambiguous in a way that
depended on how it was accented in speech.
It is clear, from what he wrote, that Aristotle was being thorough in including Accent in his catalog of types of ambiguity. It is less clear just
how common ambiguity of this type was in his day, or how often it led to fallacious reasoning.
Exposition:
Putting aside history, what about accent as a source of fallacy today? Is it possible to have ambiguity of accent in English, or other living
languages? There are English homographs which are not homophones: "sewer", for instance. However, the different meanings of "sewer"
are not accented differently; rather, the difference in pronunciation is due to the vowel sound in the first syllable. One example of an
ambiguity of accent that I have been able to find in English are the two meanings of "resent"; though there is a difference in accent, there
is also a difference in the pronunciation of the "s", so it is not a pure case of ambiguity of accent.
Consider the sentence: "I resent that letter." This could mean either that one sent the letter again, or that one has a feeling of resentment
towards it. So, the sentence could be a boobytrap. If you concluded, falsely, on the basis of the sentence, that the speaker sent the letter
again, then you would have committed a fallacy of accent.
Morris Engel cites the similar ambiguity of "invalid", meaning "a chronically ill person", or "not necessarily truth-preserving". However, it's
difficult to imagine a situation in which these different meanings would be confused. Here are some examples3 of other words in English
which have different meanings when accented differently:

accent accent

increase increase

insult insult

record record

There seems to be a pattern of two-syllable noun/verb pairs in which the noun is accented on the first syllable and the verb is accented on
the second. However, because when differently accented the words become different parts of speech, it's unlikely that the distinct
meanings will be confused, that is, it's not likely that a noun will be confused with a verb.
Exposure:
 Ambiguities of accent occur rarely in English, so that boobytraps based on such accentual ambiguities will be even rarer, and
outright fallacies of Accent rarest of all. In fact, I have found no uncontrived examples of Accent. Therefore, if fallacies are
defined as "common or tempting forms of incorrect reasoning", then there is no "fallacy of Accent"—at least, in the English
language. At any rate, I recommend that textbooks stop devoting space to Accent, since it is not a useful fallacy. Presumably,
the main reason why it still sometimes appears is historical inertia.
 Some writers on fallacies4 discuss the fallacy of quoting out of context under the name "Accent", on the grounds that a quote
taken out of context changes emphasis in a misleading way. However, this is stretching Aristotle's meaning of "accent", which
referred specifically to accents on syllables, and not on whole passages. Moreover, the kind of ambiguity that quotation out of
context can lead to is seldom accurately described as a shift of emphasis; rather, what the loss of context does is allow the
natural ambiguity of words to assert itself. For this reason, I treat quoting out of context as a separate, and genuine fallacy, for it is
very common, in contrast to Accent.
Reader Responses:
 Rob Beairsto writes:
In a former career I worked at what was then Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, and learned a little about the
company's founding. It was, apparently, a time between the end of the Civil War and the rise of effective state insurance
regulation, when insurers made most of their money by putting legions of pettifogging lawyers on every claim to find a reason the
policy should be canceled instead of paid. So it was even worse than it sounds today that the company went by its original
name. As noted in the company history:
Connecticut General dates back to 1865, when Guy R. Phelps, one of the founders of Connecticut Mutual Company, saw a need
for "substandard" insurance, or life insurance for poor risks. Originally the new firm was to be called Connecticut Invalid, but
because of concern that the word "invalid" could be read in two ways, it became Connecticut General Life Insurance Company
and began to insure healthy lives along with substandard risks.
Source: "CIGNA Corporation", International Directory of Company Histories (2002), Volume 45.
 Mike Jones writes from Jinan, China:
The best example that I know of of accent ambiguity in English is the word "outright", which, unlike words like "record" and "refuse",
does not have any change in vowel-sound between the two cases. As an adjective, "outright" is accented on the first syllable,
and as an adverb, on the last. It also affords a natural (i.e., non-contrived) example of a fallacy of accent:
He said outright, "lies!"
At least in spoken form, without the aid of punctuation, it is ambiguous.
Thanks for the example, Mike! A couple of points in reply:
o The Infoplease dictionary confirms that "outright" may be accented differently as an adjective or adverb, but it gives the
adverbial accentuation as equal on both syllables, which conforms with my own pronunciation. Perhaps there are
regional differences in the way that it's accented.
Source: "Outright", Infoplease
o In my sense of the word, your example is still "contrived", that is, it is a made-up example as opposed to one gathered
from some published source. However, it's better than my original "resent" example, though I still don't think that anyone is
very likely to commit a fallacy due to accentual ambiguity.
Amphiboly
Alias: Amphibology
Subfallacy: Scope Fallacy
Example:
…[C]onsider the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except
in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger…
It is not clear whether the expression "when in actual service in time of war or public danger" attaches just to "in the militia" or to all of "in the
land or naval forces, or in the militia". This unclarity makes a big difference, especially to someone "in the land or naval forces" who has
been accused of committing a crime during peacetime.1
Analysis
Exposition:
Linguistically, an amphiboly is a type of ambiguity that results from ambiguous grammar, as opposed to one that results from the ambiguity
of words or phrases—that is, equivocation. Logically, the fallacy of amphiboly occurs when a bad argument trades upon grammatical
ambiguity to create an illusion of cogency.
There are at least three distinct types of amphiboly:
1. Misplaced modifiers:
In the Marx brothers movie Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx's character Captain Spaulding has just returned from an African safari
when he speaks the following lines:
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.2
Grammatically, the adjectival phrase "in my pajamas" ought to modify "an elephant", which it immediately follows. However,
common sense suggests that it modifies "I". Then, the amphiboly is exploited for humor in the punch line.
2. Ambiguous reference of pronouns:
Captain Spaulding goes on in the same scene to speak the following lines:
We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of
weeks.2
Which were undeveloped: the pictures or the native girls? The pronoun "they" is ambiguous between the two, though presumably
intended to refer to the antecedent noun phrase "some pictures of the native girls", but its position leaves open the possibility that
it refers to the phrase "native girls". The punch line then plays on this latter possibility.
3. Ambiguity of scope:
See the subfallacy Scope Fallacy, above, for an explanation of ambiguous scope.
History:
Amphiboly is one of the thirteen fallacies identified by Aristotle in On Sophistical Refutations3, as well as one of the six that depend on
language. The word "sophistical" in the title of the treatise refers to the sophists, who were teachers of rhetoric in Aristotle's time. According
to Aristotle and his teacher Plato4, the sophists were often guilty of making ambiguous arguments, including amphibolous ones. Many of
these arguments exploited types of ambiguity peculiar to the Greek language, so that they are almost impossible to translate into English,
but here's the best that Aristotle gives: "I wish that you the enemy may capture." Who is wished to capture whom? Do I wish that you
capture the enemy or that the enemy capture you?
Exposure:
Amphibolies are linguistic boobytraps which, as seen in the above examples, are frequently exploited for laughs. However, seldom do they
occur in fallacious arguments. When they do, as in the kind of examples associated with the ancient sophists that Aristotle gives, the effect
is primarily one of confusion rather than conviction. Unscrupulous debaters may use amphibolies to befuddle their opponents instead of
convincing them.
Analysis of the Example:
This is an example of amphiboly as a phenomenon of language: specifically, an example of the first type of amphiboly discussed in the
Exposition, above. It is ambiguous as to what part of the sentence the phrase "when in actual service in time of war or public danger"
modifies, as is discussed in the example, itself. The amphiboly is not part of an argument, so a fortiori it is not part of a fallacious argument.
However, it is a logical boobytrap since, as pointed out in the example, which way the sentence is interpreted could make a legal
difference.
Equivocation
Taxonomy: Logical Fallacy >Informal Fallacy > Ambiguity > Equivocation
Subfallacy: Ambiguous Middle
Example:
The elements of the moral argument on the status of unborn life…strongly favor the conclusion that this unborn segment of humanity has a
right not to be killed, at least. Without laying out all the evidence here, it is fair to conclude from medicine that the humanity of the life
growing in a mother's womb is undeniable and, in itself, a powerful reason for treating the unborn with respect.1
Analysis
Counter-Example:
The humanity of the patient's appendix is medically undeniable.
Therefore, the appendix has a right to life and should not be surgically removed.
Exposition:
Equivocation is a type of ambiguity in which a single word or phrase is ambiguous, which contrasts with amphiboly2, which is grammatical
ambiguity. So, when a word or phrase equivocates, it is not due to grammar, but to the phrase as a whole having two distinct meanings.
Take, for instance, the equivocal word "bank", which has two unrelated meanings:
1. A riverside
2. A type of financial institution
Consider the following, rather implausible, argument:
All banks are beside rivers.
Therefore, the financial institution where I deposit my money is beside a river.
If "bank" in this argument means "riverside", then the premiss is true but the argument is invalid, so it's sound. If "bank" means "financial
institution", then the argument is valid, but the premiss is false, thus the argument is again unsound. So, in either case, the argument is
unsound. Similarly, any argument which commits the fallacy of Equivocation will be unsound.
Exposure:
Most words are ambiguous, but context usually makes the intended meaning clear. Moreover, equivocation alone is not fallacious, though
it is a linguistic boobytrap which can trip people into committing a fallacy. The Fallacy of Equivocation occurs when an equivocal word or
phrase makes an unsound argument appear sound.

Analysis of the Example:


This argument equivocates on the word "humanity"—"the condition of being human"—which means "of, … or characteristic of mankind"3.
The two relevant meanings here are:
1. "of…mankind", meaning being a member of the human species.
2. "characteristic of mankind". For instance, the "human heart" is "human" in this sense, since it is not a human being, but is the kind of
heart characteristic of human beings.
Applying this to Alvaré's argument, it is true that the "humanity" of an embryo or fetus is medically undeniable, in the second sense of
"human"—that is, it is a "human embryo or fetus". It is, however, an equivocation on "human" to conclude, as Alvaré did, that it "has a right
not to be killed". Parts of the human body are "human" in this sense, but it is only a whole human being who has a right to life.
Reader Response:
Steven Weiss writes:
In your first example of an equivocation fallacy, the counter example has a bit of faulty reasoning. An appendix is undoubtedly human but,
having the same genes as the rest of the body, can be empirically proven to be a part of the host body. A fetus, however, has unique
genetics that show (also empirically) that it is a separate life form, dependent though it is on its host. This seems to be a fallacy of accident
in that you argue:
Organs are living components in a body. Fetuses are living and in a body. Therefore, fetuses are equivalent to organs.
A counter-example to an argument is an argument with the same logical form, but obviously true premisses and a false conclusion.
Because the counter-example argument has true premisses and a false conclusion, it must be invalid. Since the counter-example has the
same logical form as the example argument, this shows that the example lacks a validating form. In the case of a counter-example to an
example of an informal fallacy, the counter-example must also commit the same type of fallacy.
The specific Counter-Example above has only one premiss: "The humanity of the patient's appendix is medically undeniable." This is
undeniably true, assuming that the patient is a human being, who will therefore have a human appendix. The conclusion of the Counter-
Example is: "The appendix has a right to life and should not be surgically removed," which I presume is uncontroversially false.
I'm not claiming that a fetus is part of its mother's body, and the only sense in which I'm claiming that the fetus and an organ are
"equivalent" is that the "humanity" of both is "undeniable." Since the argument in question is an example of the fallacy of equivocation,
there are two senses of "humanity", one of which implies a right to life and another which doesn't. Clearly, the sense in which an appendix is
human does not imply that it has a right to life.
In which sense is the "humanity" of the fetus "undeniable"? If the sense involved is that which does not imply a right to life, then the
argument is invalid; if the sense is that which does imply a right to life, then the argument is valid. However, in that sense of "humanity", the
"humanity" of the fetus is not undeniable, and many do deny it, so the premiss is false. As I tried to explain in the Exposition, above, this
pattern is typical of fallacies of equivocation: on one interpretation of the equivocal word, the argument is invalid; on the other, a premiss
containing the word is false. In either case, the argument is unsound.
Finally, I don't see how the fallacy of accident is relevant4.
Ambiguity Fallacy
Description: When an unclear phrase with multiple definitions is used within the argument; therefore, does not support the
conclusion. Some will say single words count for the ambiguity fallacy, which is really a specific form of a fallacy known as equivocation.
Logical Form:
Claim X is made.
Y is concluded based on an ambiguous understanding of X.
Example #1:
It is said that we have a good understanding of our universe. Therefore, we know exactly how it began and exactly when.
Explanation: The ambiguity here is what exactly “good understanding” means. The conclusion assumes a much better understanding than
is suggested in the premise; therefore, we have the ambiguity fallacy.
Example #2:
All living beings come from other living beings. Therefore, the first forms of life must have come from a living being. That living being is God.
Explanation: This argument is guilty of two cases of ambiguity. First, the first use of the phrase, “come from”, refers to reproduction, whereas
the second use refers to origin. The fact that we know quite a bit about reproduction is irrelevant when considering origin. Second, the first
use of, “living being”, refers to an empirically verifiable, biological, living organism. The second use of, “living being”, refers to a belief in an
immaterial god. As you can see, when a term such as, “living being”, describes a Dodo bird as well as the all-powerful master of the
universe, it has very little meaning and certainly is not specific enough to draw logical or reasonable conclusions.
Exception: Ambiguous phrases are extremely common in the English language and are a necessary part of informal logic and
reasoning. As long as these ambiguous phrases mean the same thing in all uses of phrases in the argument, this fallacy is not committed.
Equivocation
(also known as: doublespeak)
Description: Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.
Example #1:
I want to have myself a merry little Christmas, but I refuse to do as the song suggests and make the yuletide gay. I don't think sexual
preference should have anything to do with enjoying the holiday.
Explanation: The word, “gay” is meant to be in light spirits, joyful, and merry, not in the homosexual sense.
Example #2:
The priest told me I should have faith.
I have faith that my son will do well in school this year.
Therefore, the priest should be happy with me.
Explanation: The term “faith” used by the priest, was in the religious sense of believing in God without sufficient evidence, which is different
from having “faith” in your son in which years of good past performance leads to the “faith” you might have in your son.
Exception: Equivocation works great when deliberate attempts at humor are being made.
Tip: When you suspect equivocation, substitute the word with the same definition for all uses and see if it makes sense.
Fallacy of Division
(also known as: false division, faulty deduction, division fallacy)
Description: Inferring that something is true of one or more of the parts from the fact that it is true of the whole. This is the opposite of
the fallacy of composition.
Logical Form:
A is part of B.
B has property X.
Therefore, A has property X.
Example #1:
His house is about half the size of most houses in the neighborhood. Therefore, his doors must all be about 3 1/2 feet high.
Explanation: The size of one’s house almost certainly does not mean that the doors will be smaller, especially by the same proportions. The
size of the whole (the house) is not directly related to the size of every part of the house.
Example #2:
I heard that the Catholic Church was involved in a sex scandal cover-up. Therefore, my 102-year-old Catholic neighbor, who frequently
attends Church, is guilty as well!
Explanation: While it is possible that the 102-year-old granny is guilty for some things, like being way too liberal with her perfume, she would
not be guilty in any sex scandals just by her association with the Church alone.
Exception: When a part of the whole has a property that, by definition, causes the part to take on that property.
My 102-year-old neighbor is a card-carrying member of an organization of thugs that requires its members to kick babies. Therefore, my
neighbor is a thug... and she wears way too much perfume.
Accent Fallacy
accentus
(also known as: emphasis fallacy, fallacy of accent, fallacy of prosody, misleading accent)
Description: When the meaning of a word, sentence, or entire idea is changed by where the accent falls.
Example #1: In the movie, My Cousin Vinny, Ralph Maccio's character, Bill, was interrogated for suspected murder. When the police officer
asks him, "when did you shoot the clerk?" Bill replies in shock, "I shot the clerk? I shot the clerk?" Later in the film, the police officer reads Bill's
statement as a confession in court, "Then he said, 'I shot the clerk. I shot the clerk.'"
Explanation: In the movie, it appeared that the police officer did understand Bill's question as a confession. So it did not appear to be a
fallacious tactic of the police officer, rather a failure of critical thought perhaps due to a strong confirmation bias (the officer was very
confident that Bill was guilty, thus failed to detect the nuance in the question).
Example #2: In the hilarious Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, there is a musical number where one character is explaining how to
bury "bad thoughts" by just "turning them off" (like a light switch). The character doing the explaining (in glorious song) is specifically
explaining to the main character how to suppress gay thoughts when the main character's "bad thoughts" have nothing to do with being
gay. After the instructions, the main character tries to make this clear by affirming, "I'm not having gay thoughts," to which the other
characters respond "Hurray! It worked!"
Explanation: The stress on the "I'm" was ignored and confused for "Hey, I'm not having gay thoughts anymore!" Although this was comedy it
portrayed an argument.
Tip: Our biases can cause us to miss the vocal nuance. Listen actively and critically, and try not to jump to conclusions. And you cannot turn
off gay thoughts like a light switch.

Amphiboly
Alias: Amphibology
Taxonomy: Logical Fallacy > Informal Fallacy > Ambiguity > Amphiboly
Subfallacy: Scope Fallacy
Example:
…[C]onsider the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except
in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger…
It is not clear whether the expression "when in actual service in time of war or public danger" attaches just to "in the militia" or to all of "in the
land or naval forces, or in the militia". This unclarity makes a big difference, especially to someone "in the land or naval forces" who has
been accused of committing a crime during peacetime.1
Analysis
Exposition:
Linguistically, an amphiboly is a type of ambiguity that results from ambiguousgrammar, as opposed to one that results from the
ambiguity of words or phrases—that is, equivocation. Logically, the fallacy of amphiboly occurs when a bad argument trades
upon grammatical ambiguity to create an illusion of cogency.
There are at least three distinct types of amphiboly:
1. Misplaced modifiers:
In the Marx brothers movie Animal Crackers, Groucho Marx's character Captain Spaulding has just returned
from an African safari when he speaks the following lines:
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know.2
Grammatically, the adjectival phrase "in my pajamas" ought to modify "an elephant", which it immediately
follows. However, common sense suggests that it modifies "I". Then, the amphiboly is exploited for humor in the
punch line.
2. Ambiguous reference of pronouns:
Captain Spaulding goes on in the same scene to speak the following lines:
We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a
couple of weeks.2
Which were undeveloped: the pictures or the native girls? The pronoun "they" is ambiguous between the two,
though presumably intended to refer to the antecedent noun phrase "some pictures of the native girls", but its
position leaves open the possibility that it refers to the phrase "native girls". The punch line then plays on this
latter possibility.
3. Ambiguity of scope:
See the subfallacy Scope Fallacy, above, for an explanation of ambiguous scope.
History:
Amphiboly is one of the thirteen fallacies identified by Aristotle in On Sophistical Refutations3, as well as one of the six that depend
on language. The word "sophistical" in the title of the treatise refers to the sophists, who were teachers of rhetoric in Aristotle's time.
According to Aristotle and his teacher Plato4, the sophists were often guilty of making ambiguous arguments, including
amphibolous ones. Many of these arguments exploited types of ambiguity peculiar to the Greek language, so that they are
almost impossible to translate into English, but here's the best that Aristotle gives: "I wish that you the enemy may capture." Who is
wished to capture whom? Do I wish that you capture the enemy or that the enemy capture you?
Exposure:
Amphibolies are linguistic boobytraps which, as seen in the above examples, are frequently exploited for laughs. However, seldom
do they occur in fallacious arguments. When they do, as in the kind of examples associated with the ancient sophists that Aristotle
gives, the effect is primarily one of confusion rather than conviction. Unscrupulous debaters may use amphibolies to befuddle their
opponents instead of convincing them.
Analysis of the Example:
This is an example of amphiboly as a phenomenon of language: specifically, an example of the first type of amphiboly discussed
in the Exposition, above. It is ambiguous as to what part of the sentence the phrase "when in actual service in time of war or
public danger" modifies, as is discussed in the example, itself. The amphiboly is not part of an argument, so a fortiori it is not part of
a fallacious argument. However, it is a logical boobytrap since, as pointed out in the example, which way the sentence is
interpreted could make a legal difference.
Fallacy of Composition
(also known as: composition fallacy, exception fallacy, faulty induction)
Description: Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. This is the opposite of
the fallacy of division.
Logical Form:
A is part of B.
A has property X.
Therefore, B has property X.
Example #1:
Each brick in that building weighs less than a pound. Therefore, the building weighs less than a pound.
Example #2:
Hydrogen is not wet. Oxygen is not wet. Therefore, water (H2O) is not wet.
Example #3:
Your brain is made of molecules. Molecules do not have consciousness. Therefore, your brain cannot be the source of consciousness.
Explanation: I included three examples that demonstrate this fallacy from the very obvious to the less obvious, but equally as flawed. In the
first example, it is obvious because weight is cumulative. In the second example, we know that water is wet, but we only experience the
property of wetness when the molecules are combined and in large scale. This introduces the concept of emergent properties, which
when ignored, tends to promote magical thinking. The final example is a common argument made for a supernatural explanation for
consciousness. On the surface, it is difficult to imagine a collection of molecules resulting in something like consciousness because we are
focusing on the properties of the parts (molecules) and not the whole system, which incorporates emergence, motion, the use of energy,
temperature (vibration), order, and other relational properties.
Exception: If the whole is very close to the similarity of the parts, then more assumptions can be made from the parts to the whole. For
example, if we open a small bag of potato chips and discover that the first one is delicious, it is not fallacious to conclude that the whole
snack (all the chips, minus the bag) will be just as delicious, but we cannot say the same for one of those giant family size bags because
most of us would be hurling after about 10 minutes of our chip-eating frenzy.
Fallacy of Equivocation:
This fallacy is committed when a key word or phrase is used with two or more different meanings in the same argument. The following
arguments are guilty of committing this fallacy:
(I) "Since a criminal is a law breaker, a criminal lawyer too is a law breaker." It can be noticed that the term 'criminal' has been used in two
different senses in the argument. A criminal lawyer is not a criminal.
(ii) The signboard says "fine for parking here". A driver notices the signboard and reasons as follows: "Since it is fine. I will park my vehicle
here." This surely is a misinterpretation. The word 'fine' has been used in two different senses here. In the signboard 'fine' means penalty. But
the driver thinks that it means 'all right'.
(iii) "Nature is governed by laws. Laws are the work of law makers. So, laws of nature are the work of some law maker." In this argument the
term 'law' has been used ambiguously. It means descriptive law in the first premise but used in the sense of prescriptive law in the second.
Only prescriptive laws are the work of law makers. Laws of nature are descriptive laws and not prescriptive.
(iv) Really exciting novels are rare. But rare books are expensive. So, really exciting novels are expensive. Here the word 'rare' is used in
different ways in the two premises of the argument. In the first premise 'rare' means extraordinary, whereas in the second it means novels
that are scarce.
Amphiboly:
The construction of a sentence sometimes allows it to have two different meanings or interpretations. Amphiboly occurs when an arguer
misinterprets a sentence that is syntactically or grammatically ambiguous and goes on to draw a conclusion on this faulty interpretation.
This fallacy can also occur when someone is quoted out of context. The announcement that there will be a lecture on heart attack in the
auditorium may be misinterpreted to mean that the lecture will be on heart attacks which have occurred in the auditorium. The ambiguity,
however, can be clearly avoided if the phrase "in the auditorium" is placed immediately after "lecture" instead of "heart attack."
Accent:
The fallacy of accent occurs when emphasis is used to suggest a meaning different from the actual content of the proposition. For
examples, if a teacher remarks, "Ravi has done the homework today" with undue emphasis on 'today', that might suggest that Ravi
normally comes to school without doing homework.
Fallacy of Composition:
This fallacy occurs when an attribute true of the parts of something is erroneously transferred to the whole. Consider the following argument:
Each player in the team plays well.
Therefore, the whole team plays well.
This argument commits the fallacy of composition. From the fact that each individual player is a good player it doesn't follow that the
whole team plays well.
Fallacy of Division:
This fallacy occurs in an argument when an attribute true of a whole (or a class) is erroneously transferred to its parts (or members). Consider
the following argument:
Men are numerous.
Aristotle is a man.
Therefore, Aristotle is numerous.
The argument is fallacious. It is true that "man" as a class has many members. So the class "man" as a whole is numerous. But we cannot
draw the conclusion that each individual human being is numerous.

Fallacies of Ambiguity
Ambiguous Language
In addition to the fallacies of relevance and presumption we examined in our previous lessons, there are several patterns of incorrect
reasoning that arise from the imprecise use of language. An ambiguousword, phrase, or sentence is one that has two or more distinct
meanings. The inferential relationship between the propositions included in a single argument will be sure to hold only if we are careful to
employ exactly the same meaning in each of them. The fallacies of ambiguity all involve a confusion of two or more different senses.

Equivocation
An equivocation trades upon the use of an ambiguous word or phrase in one of its meanings in one of the propositions of an
argument but also in another of its meanings in a second proposition.
 Really exciting novels are rare.
 But rare books are expensive.
 Therefore, Really exciting novels are expensive.
Here, the word "rare" is used in different ways in the two premises of the argument, so the link they seem to establish between the terms of
the conclusion is spurious. In its more subtle occurrences, this fallacy can undermine the reliability of otherwise valid deductive arguments.

Amphiboly
An amphiboly can occur even when every term in an argument is univocal, if the grammatical construction of a sentence creates its
own ambiguity.
 A reckless motorist Thursday struck and injured a student who was jogging through the campus in his pickup truck.
 Therefore, it is unsafe to jog in your pickup truck.
In this example, the premise (actually heard on a radio broadcast) could be interpreted in different ways, creating the possibility of a
fallacious inference to the conclusion.

Accent
The fallacy of accent arises from an ambiguity produced by a shift of spoken or written emphasis. Thus, for example:
 Jorge turned in his assignment on time today.
 Therefore, Jorge usually turns in his assignments late.
Here the premise may be true if read without inflection, but if it is read with heavy stress on the last word seems to imply the truth of the
conclusion.

Composition
The fallacy of composition involves an inference from the attribution of some feature to every individual member of a class (or part of
a greater whole) to the possession of the same feature by the entire class (or whole).
 Every course I took in college was well-organized.
 Therefore, my college education was well-organized.
Even if the premise is true of each and every component of my curriculum, the whole could have been a chaotic mess, so this reasoning is
defective.
Notice that this is distinct from the fallacy of converse accident, which improperly generalizes from an unusual specific case (as in
"My philosophy course was well-organized; therefore, college courses are well-organized."). For the fallacy of composition, the crucial fact is
that even when something can be truly said of each and every individual part, it does not follow that the same can be truly said of the
whole class.
Division
Similarly, the fallacy of division involves an inference from the attribution of some feature to an entire class (or whole) to the
possession of the same feature by each of its individual members (or parts).
 Ocelots are now dying out.
 Sparky is an ocelot.
 Therefore, Sparky is now dying out.
Although the premise is true of the species as a whole, this unfortunate fact does not reflect poorly upon the health of any of its individual
members.
Again, be sure to distinguish this from the fallacy of accident, which mistakenly applies a general rule to an atypical specific case (as
in "Ocelots have many health problems, and Sparky is an ocelot; therefore, Sparky is in poor health"). The essential point in the fallacy of
division is that even when something can be truly said of a whole class, it does not follow that the same can be truly said of each of its
individual parts.

Avoiding Fallacies
Informal fallacies of all seventeen varieties can seriously interfere with our ability to arrive at the truth. Whether they are committed
inadvertently in the course of an individual's own thinking or deliberately employed in an effort to manipulate others, each may persuade
without providing legitimate grounds for the truth of its conclusion. But knowing what the fallacies are affords us some protection in either
case. If we can identify several of the most common patterns of incorrect reasoning, we are less likely to slip into them ourselves or to be
fooled by anyone else.