Fun with fallacies: equivocation
This one is just for you, Safiyyah. Something light.
One of the difficulties in reasoning with people is the ambiguity of language. Language can be ambiguous, because most words have more than one meaning. It isn't always obvious that a person is pouring a different meaning into their words than you are in yours.
Some people like to capitalize on the ambiguity of language--especially lawyers.
Let me just make an aside while I'm thinking about it. If you ever want to learn how to make fallacious arguments, watch lawyers. They are experts at using logical fallacies to their advantage. A logical fallacy can seem quite pursuasive to people who have no critical thinking skills. Luckily for lawyers, most people have a complete lack of critical thinking skills. Before I launch into an attack on the educational system in this country, let me get back to my point.
Anyway, the fallacy of equivocation is when you use a word that has two different meanings in two different contexts as if it had the same meaning in both contexts.
I was reading a thing about the fallacy of equivocation one time, and it gave several examples of arguments that committed the fallacy of equivocation. One of them struck me as pretty funny, and I decided to use it for entertainment purposes.
Here's what I did. I went up to a co-working and had the following conversation (I'm reconstructing to the best of my memory--this happened over a year ago):
Sam: What's your favourite thing to eat?
Sam: So there's nothing better than lasagne, huh?
Sam: What about lima beans? Do you like lima beans?
Patrica: No, not really.
Sam: But they're better than nothing, right? I mean you'd eat them if you had nothing else to eat wouldn't you?
Patricia: Yeah, I guess they're better than not having anything to eat at all.
Sam: Well if lima beans are better than nothing, and nothing is better than lasagna, then lima beans are better than lasagna.
At this point, I drew her an illustration to explain the transitive property. Here's another example of the transitive property:
Jim is taller than Dan.
Dan is taller than Bob.
Therefore, Jim is taller than Bob.
I was doing the same thing.
Lima beans are better than nothing.
Nothing is better than lasanga.
Therefore, lima beans are better than lasagna.
She finally got it when I put it like this:
Lima beans > nothing.
Nothing > lasagna
So, Lima beans > lasagna
Then for good measure (she's a little slow) I wrote it like this:
Lima beans > nothing > lasagna ==> lima beans > lasagna
When she finally understood the transitive property, she said, "Well, I guess you're right!" I still play that little game with people sometimes.