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Showing posts with label ambiguity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ambiguity. Show all posts

Appeal to Humor

Philosophy Pages


Bruce Thompson:
Any stand-up comic will tell you that the secret to humor is: tell the truth. A good comic tells us things about ourselves that we normally wouldn't want to hear since they are too embarrassing or sensitive. But by getting us to laugh at the truth about ourselves, we learn to recognize our own foibles, and we learn to forgive the foibles of others. Humor is the ultimate defense mechanism. We laugh at human foibles because this allows us to live with them. Laughter is a natural and healthy way to respond when we recognize that someone has offered us a bravely-spoken, but possibly uncomfortable, truth.

But as Thompson notes, not all things that are funny are necessarily true. Humor that exploits stereotypes may make us laugh despite knowing, or even because we know, that the stereotype is inaccurate. They transfer us to the realm of fantasy where stereotypes and magic both work, so we are allowed to laugh or feel awe over things which would otherwise be rejected by better judgement.

Julia Nefsky wrote in Philosophy Now that logical errors in humor can be the essence of the joke, enhance the humor, or be the mechanism for it. Thompson's distinction between laughing at and with the user of the illogic can appear in any of those cases.


Amphiboly (Web) is creating an ambiguous premise with poor or misleading grammatical construction.

Philosophy Pages has a great example.

Bruce Thompson:

The argument depends upon an ambiguity in grammar. One meaning makes one of the premisses true, but it makes another of the premisses false. The alternative meaning makes the second premiss true, but makes the first premiss false.

Fallacy Files suggests that typically the ambiguity is in abuse of pronouns or descriptors that could apply to either the subject or the object in a sentence.


By putting stress on a particular word, the meaning of an argument can be obscured.


Wizard Google

The fallacies of Ambiguity include those which use language in imprecise ways to obscure or misdirect the argument.
Philosophy Pages says these include

Bruce Thompson:
Fallacies of Ambiguity involve some confusion over meaning. Interpreted in one way the argument has a false major premiss, while interpreted in the other way the argument has a false minor premiss. (If we try to interpret both premisses so that they are true, then the "argument" fails to be formally valid.) Here is an obvious example:
All beetles have six legs.
John Lennon is a Beatle.
Hence, John Lennon has six legs.

Since the location of the fallacy is a matter of interpretation, we cannot classify the argument either as a major-premiss fallacy or as a minor-premiss fallacy. Hence such fallacies get their own group.

Fallacy Files:
A categorical syllogism is, by definition, an argument with three categorical terms. "Term" is to be understood in a semantic sense, as opposed to the syntactic sense of "word" or "phrase". In other words, it is the meaning of the words that is important. So, two different words with the same meaning are the same term, and the same word occurring twice with different meanings is two distinct terms. An argument commits the Four Term Fallacy which appears to have the form of a validating categorical syllogism, but has four terms.