Use of a term in multiple different meanings. Equivocations are a possible source of fallacies of ambiguity, as well as misunderstandings and a rhetorical device of confusion, as in the following example:
Gandalf: Have you been eavesdropping?
Sam: I haven’t dropped no eaves, Sir, honestly!
In this movie quote, Sam is trying to using the term “eavesdropping” (or “dropping eaves”) with a very different meaning than Gandalf. Indeed it appears as if he is deliberately confusing the meaning in order to talk himself out of an unpleasant situation.
An example of an equivocation in logical statements could be the following ◈:
Nothing light can ever be dark.
All feathers are light.
no feather can be dark.
The term “light” is used here in two different meanings here: in the major premise is stands for the opposite of “dark”, but for the opposite of “heavy” in the minor one. By equivocation of the term, this syllogism specifically commits the fallacy of the ambiguous middle term.
Equivocation of abstract terms
While such ambiguities are usually easily identified as synonyms when they refer to actually existing things or perceivable properties, this distiction can be rather difficult for abstract terms
use of synonyms for terms that stand for real life objects is usually quite easy to understand, the distinction for abstract concepts can sometimes be quite difficult, as the following example (loosely based on Thomas Aquinas) shows:
Humans are a species.
Socrates is a human.
Socrates is a species.
Here, the term “human” in the major (first) clause is used as a generic term, i.e. it refers to the genus “human” as a whole, while the same term in the minor (second) clause refers specifically to the individuals of that genus. One could thus rephrase the latter as: “Socrates is an individual of the human genus” (see also: ☞ semiotic fallacy).
Ambiguities in concepts and positions
Not only individual words or terms can be confounded due to ambiguities, but also complex concepts or positions can be affected by this. It is also valid that the more abstract and complicated they are, the more difficult it can be to recognise ambiguities.
An example of systematic exploitation of such ambiguities as an unfair discussion tactic is known as ☞ “motte-and-bailey fallacy”.
This article is still under development.