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Consider the following argument

We all agree that sexism is bad. Sexism is the discrimination based on sex or gender. Discrimination is 1) the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people; 2) the ability to understand that one thing is different from another thing.

A gynecologist treats only women. Thus, she "discriminates" based on gender. Thus, she is sexist. Thus, gynecologists are bad.

So, the fallacy in this argument is that we have a negative connotation that is based on the first definition of "discrimination", and we then use the second definition to carry the negative connotation over to other concepts.

Is there a name for this fallacy?

PS: I know there are a lot of "name of the fallacy" questions. I tried to make the title as distinguishable as possible.

2 Answers 2

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This is called equivocation.

See:

http://onegoodmove.org/fallacy/equiv.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation

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The problem is you claimed that we all agree that sexism is “bad.”

Sex: one of two classifications based on sexual reproduction.

-ism: a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.

So, the discussion is going to be quite broad. I think an example that is less clinical than gynecology would be mating. Heterosexuals and homosexuals both practice a lifestyle based on sex. I think most wouldn’t call that “bad.”

Then there’s the issue of applying something as subjective as bad to something as objective as a defined term like “sexism.” Then there’s all the inherent differences between the sexes that lead to personal decisions made by individuals. Adult females have a natural hormonal cycle making it more difficult for them to maintain control of their emotions compared to adult males. Then there’s the physicality which leads to segregation in physical situations like sports, labor, healthcare, and mating.

I think a better example of your question about connotation would be something more like “profit” versus “surplus.” They objectively mean the same thing: having more than when you started. Their connotative difference is that “profit” is applied to the private sector leading to associations with “greed” while “surplus” is applied to the public sector leading to associations with wise management of resources.

In short: having more than when you started is “bad” when citizens do it, but it’s “good” when government does it.

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