Human beings are endowed with a unique ability; that of being able to reason rationally and logically. However, man’s reasoning is from time to time characterized by errors in reasoning, particularly when presenting arguments (Moore & Parker, 2007, p. 40).
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Most instances, these errors in reasoning may follow a common pattern hence forming logical fallacies. There are hundreds of logical fallacies that can be identified depending on their different patterns. Ambiguous claims and the two types of fallacies which originate from problems with ambiguity are composition and division.
Ambiguity in reasoning has been identified as one of the most common fallacy that people commit in their day to day engagements. A statement is said to be ambiguous if it can be interpreted in different ways. Ambiguity is characterized by the use of words which ordinarily have more than one meaning. In most instances, ambiguous claims are not obvious. Studies in ambiguity have found that differences in definitions of key claims are at the center of ambiguous statements (Moore & Parker, 2007, p. 48).
There are different types of ambiguity. The first one is the semantic ambiguity which is characterized by the presence of an ambiguous word or phrase. For instance, if a person says that the average price of a house in the city is $100,000, it is ambiguous because of the word, average. Semantically ambiguous statements can be corrected by replacing the ambiguous word with an unambiguous word or phrase.
Syntactic ambiguity is the second type of ambiguity and is normally identified by the presence of ambiguous grammar usage or the general structure of the statement. For instance, if someone says that the police saw the man with binoculars, the statement is syntactically ambiguous. The statement implies that the police were searching for a man who had binoculars or that they used binoculars to locate the man they were looking for.
Syntactic ambiguity can be eliminated by restructuring the sentence and the punctuations to enhance clarity. The third type of ambiguity is referred to as the grouping ambiguity which is similar to semantic ambiguity. This ambiguity arises when a claim may be correct in a general sense but false when taken in part (Hurley, 2007, p. 71).
For example, if someone claims that secretaries make more money than doctors, it is subject to grouping ambiguity (Moore & Parker, 2007, p. 52). It may be true that secretaries combined make more money than doctors as a group. However, individual secretaries do not make more money than individual doctors. Hence, the ambiguity of this sentence is in the use of the words “secretaries” and “doctors”.
There are two major types of fallacies that emanate from problems of ambiguity. These are the fallacies of composition and division. They are both characterized by errors in distinguishing the parts from the whole of a claim. The fallacy in such claim is in believing that what is true of a group of things taken collectively is obviously true of the same things taken individually (Hurley, 2007, p. 83).
For instance, a claim that since there has been a series of accidents involving vehicles is as a result of all drivers being careless suffers from the fallacy of division. On the other hand, some statements are true when taken individually but not when taken as a group or collectively.
This fallacy is referred to as the fallacy of composition (Moore & Parker, 2007, p. 53). For instance, a claim that since a ticket to watch a soccer match in an 80,000-sitter stadium was being sold at $2 implied that the organizers were not intent on collecting a lot of money suffers from the fallacy of composition-what is true of an individual is not necessarily true for the individuals taken collectively.
Furthermore, to conclude that individual athletes constituting a winning team in the short relay are the fastest 100 meters runners/sprinters is a fallacy. This claim suffers from the fallacy of division. The success of a team in a relay race depends mostly on the strategy of arranging the team such that the subsequent participants who are handed the baton will always have a time advantage at take off as well as to overtake.
The ways of minimizing, if not eliminating the semantic and syntactic ambiguities have been discussed. Fallacies arising from ambiguity together with their relevant examples have also been presented. Human being’s reasoning pattern, therefore, can only be made clearer if ambiguity in arguments and claims are eliminated.
Hurley, P. J. (2007). A succinct introduction to logic and fallacies (10th ed.). Thomson Wadsworth, 71-85
Moore, B. N., & Parker, R. (2007). Critical Thinking (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 39-64