THE PHANTOM DISTINCTION FALLACY
Logical fallacies important to understand because while they present an error in thinking that prevents an argument from being logically sound, they can still be used to sway peoples' opinions as they aren't always highly apparent or noticeable. In fact, when people use logical fallacies in argument, they often times don't realize that their argument is fallacious, yet people are still inevitably wrongfully persuaded by them. While there are many types of logical fallacies that are all unique and interesting, this post will address the fallacy of the phantom distinction, which occurs when an argument is sidetracked by a debate over the supposed superiority of one term over another when in reality they are interchangeable, or when it is asserted that two positions are different solely based on disagreements regarding language.
There are two common instances where this fallacy presents itself. One is occurs when someone believes one term is preferable to another (so much so that it is seen as worth arguing over), and another occurs when someone believes that one term is either inherently correct or incorrect. The fallacy of phantom distinction is an informal fallacy because it is ambiguous in that it misconstrues the meanings of terms. Phantom distinctions can be in and of themselves a form of red herring, a fallacy that distracts from the topic, because arguing over the use of terms often derails the conversation from the original point of contention.
Regarding today's society, several phantom distinctions can be found in common topics of discussion. One, for instance, often comes up in arguments over gay marriage. Those who oppose it often bring up the point that they are in favor of civil unions for homosexual couples, but not marriage. While there are other aspects to the argument of whether or not marriage encompasses homosexuality, these terms mean essentially the same thing when observed in the context of the civil liberties that they go hand in hand with. Another example that is slightly more abstract often comes about during arguments over religious texts. People will often times get caught up and distracted over what they think the text is saying, when in reality the text is read primarily through one's own interpretation, and therefore the meaning is often ambiguous. This means that more often than not, the entire argument will devolve to a disagreement over the language that is presented in the text.