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A Cat O’ Nine Tails


Explaining the fallacy of equivocation, R. C. Sproul demonstrates one big reason I love him.

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Words are capable of more than one meaning in their usage. Such words are highly susceptible to the unconscious or unintentional commission of the fallacy of equivocation. Equivocation occurs when a word changes its meaning (usually subtly) in the course of an argument. We illustrate via the classic “cat with nine tails” argument.

Premise A. No cat has eight tails.
Premise B. One cat has one more tail than no cat.
Conclusion: One cat has nine tails.

We see in this “syllogism” that the word cat subtly changes its meaning. In Premise A “no cat” signifies a negation about cats. It is a universal negative. In Premise B “no cat” is suddenly given a positive status as if it represented a group of comparative realities. Premise B assumes already that cats have one tail per cat. If we had two boxes, with one box empty and the second containing a single cat, we would expect to find one more cat in that box than in the empty one. If cats normally have one tail, we would expect one more cat’s tail in one box than in the other.

The conclusion of this syllogism rests on the shift from negative to positive in the phrase no cat. The conclusion rests upon equivocation in the first premise. “No cat” is understood to mean a class of cats (positively) that actually possesses eight tails.

—R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Baker Books, 1994), 4–5.



Posted 2018·01·16 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Not a Chance · R C Sproul

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