Ambiguity and Fallacies

Part of the Applied Logic Series book series (APLS, volume 1)


The study of fallacies, of errors in reasoning and sophisms used to deceive in argumentation, has a long history, chronicled by Hamblin [1970]. Aristotle founded the field, but aside from isolated individuals who have taken a lively interest in it from time to time, few if any well established advances in it appear to have been made. The study of the fallacies, dominated by Aristotle’s treatment of the subject, has throughout the ages, been carried on by a succession of logic texts and manuals that have proved their use in practice. But it has become clear that the subject itself lacks any underlying, unified basis of research upon which any kind of genuine depth of classification or analysis of the fallacies could be built.


Middle Term Lexical Ambiguity Ambiguous Sentence Ambiguous Term Syllogistic Reasoning 
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  1. 1.
    See the bibliography of Hansen [1990].Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Section 3, below.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    As will be shown in Chapters 2–5.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Hamblin [1970, pp. 80–81].Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Admittedly, what Aristotle says can be taken a number of different ways, as shown by Hamblin’s discussion [1970, pp. 80–82].Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Aristotle claims his list is complete (Soph. Ref. 165 b 25), but never proves this claim. Commenting on this claim, Hamblin [1970, p. 80] writes, `what he [Aristotle] says is extremely puzzling and leads us to suppose that we do not have the full story’.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    As shown in detail in Section 10, below.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    On confusion, see Mill’s account in Section 8, below.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    This will be demonstrated amply in Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  10. 1.
    Woods and Walton [1977].Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    We return to a consideration of the possible significance of this puzzling but intriguing distinction in Section 6, below.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    There are possible exceptions to this generalization, including Mill’s treatment of fallacies of ambiguity (Section 8).Google Scholar
  13. 1.
    The concept of bearing is very similar to the concept of relevance cited by Johnson and Blair [1983, p. 131] in their analysis of equivocation. It is a pragmatic concept of the dialectical relevance of a speech act in a dialogue. However, defining relevance generally is beyond the scope of this Chapter.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    One can see the similarities of this analysis with the definitions of equivocation given by Church, Johnson and Blair, and Freeman, below (Chapter 2, Section 1, and just prior).Google Scholar
  15. 1.
    Walton [1989b]Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Walton [1992b].Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    One might accuse Williams and Goss of ambiguity in confusing an argument’s being practically good, e.g. in persuading an audience, winning votes, etc, with arguments being ‘good’ from a logical point of view (normatively good). However, in their defense, it seems that they are claiming more than just the thesis that ambiguity can be practically good. They also appear to be claiming that ambiguity can be normatively good, in that it can contribute positively in argumentation to the goals of a dialogue. For example, in political dialogue, they claim, ambiguity could be good as a means of helping a political speaker to bridge the gap towards a fuller exposition of his position on an issue at some future point in the dialogue.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WinnipegCanada

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