Logical fallacies are crucial to understanding arguments, especially in today’s tumultuous political atmosphere, but also in life in general. Many do not realize or acknowledge that their logic contains fallacies of whatever type they may be committing. However, that does not change or lessen their effectiveness within their arguments for many people, but like many fallacies, many people accept this as logical despite its illogical structure. I will be addressing the phantom distinction logical fallacy in this post.
Phantom distinction (a.k.a. logical fallacy of distinction without a difference or Sham distinctions) is the fallacy when one thinks and asserts that their position differs from another position due to specific language usage when they hold the same positions/views – whether in practice or in practical terms. The fallacy occurs when the arguer believes that one term is superior/inferior to another term and thus, steers the argument away from the real issue at large and to the specific term being used within the overall argument. This fallacy lies solely in the language and the speakers’ and listeners’ perceptions of what the language entails. Much of this fallacy comes from the connotation of words, in any given time or place, and the meanings speakers and listeners attribute to those specific phrases or words and the emotions the language used evoke.
This fallacy is quite common, although it is often pointed out when people are in an argument and one side uses the fallacy. Here are some common examples:
“I am all about the equal treatment of women, but I do not consider myself a feminist.”
Feminism is the ideology and stance that women and men ought to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and the eyes of society and its people, so it is a matter of definition and the use of language, despite the two ideas of equality between women and men being the same in practicality. For many, feminism holds an extremely negative, “man-hating,” connotation which drives people away from being proud to call themselves feminists or calling themselves that in the first place, despite the fact that the ideologies are consistent with one another.
“I support the civil union of two men or two women and for them to have the same rights as straight people in their relationship in the eyes of the law, but I do not support same-sex marriage.”
Again, this is just a matter of language and terminology when the ideas, in essence, mean the same thing in practice/practical terms. However, for many who oppose(d) same-sex marriage, marriage holds a deeper – often times, if not always – religious connotation, thus why they disagreed with calling it same-sex marriage. Proponents of same-sex marriage retorted with the argument that civil unions would not be treated in the same manner as “marriage” due to what marriage entails in society as a whole and the historical connotations of marriage and its significance.
“We cannot judge the bible by what we think, we need to judge it by what it really says.”
For everyone, how we interpret things is what gives it meaning. Words have no meaning on their own, how we interpret the words is what matters and everyone has different perceptions of what things mean due to the connotations of the words in various cultural, societal, or personal contexts. What the bible really says is exactly whatever people think it says, so judging it by what we think it means is – in essence – the same as judging it by what it really says.