A few months ago we did a theme on Terms of Logic. As a natural counterpart, let's look at terms of illogic.
amphibology; amphiboly – an ambiguity which results from ambiguous grammar
An amphibology is often so obvious that it humorous rather than misleading. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know." – Groucho Marx, in the movie Animal Crackers)
But the ambiguity can mislead the hearer to an illogical conclusion. When King Croesus consulted the Oracle at Delphi about his military plans, the response was, "If Croesus crosses the Halys, a great power will be destroyed." Croesus took this as predicting victory for him. In the fact, when he crossed the River Halys into Persia, a great army was indeed destroyed; but unhappily for him, the army annihilated was his own.
The oracle gave us our bonus word:
delphic – obscurely prophetic; also, ambiguous; mysterious
Thanks, wordcrafter, for triggering an old memory. Two words came to mind when I saw amphiboly. ("Amphi" related to "ambi" or two, and "boly," or thrown.)
The first is "zeugma" meaning yoked together -- use of a word to govern two or more words though appropriate to only one; "`Mr. Pickwick took his hat and his leave.'
The second is "syllepsis" --use of a word to govern two or more words though agreeing in number or case etc. with only one.
It seems the first is more a logic error, while the second relates to grammatical ambiguity.
I enjoy "nice" distinctions -- chaconne vs. passagaglia, hurling vs. shinty, even the original vs. current meanings of "nice."
A post on our board has asked, "Is amphibology [yesterday's word] usually an ambiguous statement because of grammar...or could it just be an ambigous statement?"
Technically, amphibology is an abiguity of grammar. In contrast,
equivocation – the type of ambiguity which occurs when a single word or phrase is ambiguous; this this ambiguity is not grammatical but lexical. [Obviously, 'equivocation' has other and more familiar meanings.]
Equivocation, like amphibology, can often be humorous, as in the Who's on First comedy routine (text or hilarious audio), and it is often the basis of humorous headlines. Among the bloopers in Headlines That You Just Have to Hang On To, by Bob Levy of the Washington Post, you'll find such examples as
"Key Witness Takes Fifth in Liquor Probe."
"Marijuana Issue Sent to Joint Committee."
– Helen M. Alvaré, The Abortion Controversy (Greenhaven, 1995)
[I thank The Fallacy Files for much of the matter in the last two days, and expect to use it further this week.]This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
argument ad hominem – countering an opponent's argument by attacking the opponent, rather than the argument he makes.
[In effect, an attempt to change the subject from the matter at hand, and focus instead on the opponent personally. This is a failure of logic, in that the validity of an argument does not depend on the person making it.]
An ad hominem argument may be either 'abusive' or 'circumstantial':
Some dictionaries have definitions which I suggest are incorrect:
tu quoque [Latin for "you too," or more loosely, "So's your old man."] – a retort charging an adversary with being or doing what he criticizes in others
. . .In ad hominem argument the accused hurls a charge against his accuser. Tu quoque is a type of ad hominem, in which he hurls back the very charge of which he stands accused. Logically, this is irrelevant to whether the accused is himself guilty. But tu quoque can be very effective, by putting the accuser on the defensive.
. . ."Nothing that I know of."
. . ."I believe you've been putting on weight."
. . ."I'm sure you haven't," she retorted. "You're a perfect skeleton."
. . .Philip reddened.
. . ."That's a tu quoque, Sally," cried her father. "You will be fined one golden hair of your head. Jane, fetch the shears."
. . ."Well, he is thin, father," remonstrated Sally. "He's just skin and bone."
. . ."That's not the question, child. He is at perfect liberty to be thin, but your obesity is contrary to decorum."
– W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage,, ch. CI
REPORTER: Now, the United States government says that you are still funding military training camps here in Afganistan for militant, Islamic fighters and that you are a sponsor of international terrorism; but others describe you as the new hero of the Arab-Islamic world. Are these accusations true? How do you describe yourself?
BIN LADIN: After the collapse of the Soviet Union in which the U.S. has no mentionable role, but rather the credit goes to God, Praise and Glory be to Him, and the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, this collapse made the US more haughty and arrogant and it has started to look at itself as a Master of this world and established what it calls the new world order. It wanted to delude people that it can do whatever it wants, but it can't do this. It leveled against me and others as many accusations as it desired and wished. It is these (accusations) that you mentioned. The US today as a result of the arrogant atmosphere has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist. It wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose on us agents to rule us based not on what God has revealed and wants us to agree on all these. If we refuse to do so, it will say you are terrorists. With a simple look at the US behaviors, we find that it judges the behavior of the poor Palestinian children whose country was occupied: if they throw stones against the Israeli occupation, it says they are terrorists whereas when the Israeli pilots bombed the United Nations building in Qana, Lebanon while was full of children and women, the US stopped any plan to condemn Israel. At the time that they condemn any Muslim who calls for his right, they receive the highest top official of the Irish Republican Army (Gerry Adams) at the White House as a political leader, while woe, all woe is the Muslims if they cry out for their rights. Wherever we look, we find the US as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world. The US does not consider it a terrorist act to throw atomic bombs at nations thousands of miles away, when it would not be possible for those bombs to hit military troops only. These bombs were rather thrown at entire nations, including women, children and elderly people and up to this day the traces of those bombs remain in Japan. The US does not consider it terrorism when hundreds of thousands of our sons and brothers in Iraq died for lack of food or medicine. So, there is no base for what the US says and this saying does not affect us, because we, by the grace of God, are dependent on Him, Praise and Glory be to Him, getting help from Him against the US. As for the last part of your question, we are fulfilling a duty which God, Praise and Glory be to Him, decreed for us. We look upon those heroes, those men who undertook to kill the American occupiers in Riyadh and Khobar (Dhahran). We describe those as heroes and describe them as men. They have pulled down the disgrace and submissiveness off the forehead of their nation. We ask Allah, Praise and Glory be to Him, to accept them as martyrs.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
ipse dixit [typical use] – an unsupported dogmatic assertion
ipse dixit [broader usage] – argument from supposedly conclusive authority, rather than from reasoned evidence.
Also called appeal to authority or argumentum ad verecundiam.. May be used to prove [As in the old medieval view "Aristotle says" was conclusive proof] or to refute ["Eugenics? The Nazis were the first to practice eugenics."].
The broader concept is familiar to anyone who has heard a teenager say, "Janet's parents let her go to R-rated movies. Tim's parents let him go to R-rated movies; even Margaret is allowed to go to R-rated movies, and you know how strict her parents are! Why can't I go?" (Henriette A. Klauser, Writing on Both Sides of the Brain)
For the more typical usage, here are a recent example and an older one.
– Alan M. Dershowitz, Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000
Judge Douglas recurs again, as he did upon one or two other occasions, to the enormity of Lincoln – insignificant individual like Lincoln – upon his ipse dixit charging a conspiracy upon a large number of members of Congress, the Supreme Court and two Presidents, to nationalize slavery. I want to say that, in the first place, I have made no charge of this sort upon my ipse dixit. I have only arrayed the evidence tending to prove it, and presented it to the understanding of others, saying what I think it proves, but giving you the means of judging whether it proves it or not. This is precisely what I have done. I have not placed it upon my ipse dixit at all.
– Abraham Lincoln, in his debates with Steven Douglas (Second Debate, Freeport, Illinois), August 27 (28?), 1858
post hoc – the logical fallacy of concluding that if one thing happens after another, the first must is the cause of the second.
[Short for Latin post hoc, ergo propter hoc "After this, therefore because of this." The term is also used where one draws such a conclusion when two events coincide]
If A and B occur together, A might cause B. But perhaps B causes A; or they have a separate common cause; or they coincide by mere coincidence.
It is easy to find comic examples ("Wind is caused by the trees waving violently, stirring up the air"), but let's start with a serious one.
. . .It was simply not worth taking the chance, the [vaccine] companies reasoned. [An independent authority's letter to the New York Times] explained that if Americans have flu shots in the numbers predicted, many as 2,300 will have strokes and 7,000 will have hearts attacks within two days of being immunized. "Why? Because that is the number statistically expected, flu shots or no flu shots," he wrote. "Yet can one expect a person who received a flu shot at noon and who that same night had a stroke not to associate somehow the two in his mind? Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. It is one thing to see matters objectively in light of statistical expectations. It is quite another when it affects one personally. Who can blame someone for assuming the events are linked." Gina Bari Kolata, Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 (Ch. 6: A Litigation Nightmare) quote simplified for brevity
post hoc, ergo propter hoc – Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by" (e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sit, Archbishop of Manila: "I know of … a 26-year old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills."
– Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (Ch 12: The Fine Art of Baloney Detection)
"Near-perfect correlations exist between the death rate in Hyderabad, India, from 1911 to 1919, and variations in the membership of the International Association of Machinists during the same period. Nobody seriously believes that there is anything more than a coincidence in that odd and insignificant fact."
David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought (as quoted in Fallacy Files)
false dilemma – two alternatives set up as if they were the only options, when there are in fact middle-ground or other options. [also known as bifurcation, black-and-white fallacy, either/or fallacy] Pithy sloganeering often uses the false dilemma (e.g., "America: Love it or leave it"), ignoring possible middle grounds.
It's useful to contrast contrary with contradictory. If I say, "It's hot today," you contradict me if you simply deny, and say, "It's not hot" (one or the other of us is right). But to assert the contrary is to take the opposite position, "It's cold" (we each may be wrong). The "love it or leave it" slogan treats two contrary alternatives as if they were contradictory, with no other choice.
– Bruce Mulkey, Asheville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times, June 11, 2004, whose very headline critiques a false dilemma, saying, "There is absolutely nothing patriotic about meekly going along with anything our president wants."
- I'm not suggesting that "false dilemmas" come only or principally from only one side of the political aisle.
- Here is the full context of Bush's remark, beyond what Mulkey quotes: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
– Avi Salzman, The New York Times, June 27, 2004
begging the question – argument by taking for granted, and uses as a premise, the very conclusion to be proved. [The Latin phrase is petitio principii, which I understand to mean 'pleading for the principle'. Can Latin scholars confirm or correct?] One web-author gives this example:
Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site has another of his excellent articles on this subject.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.