Here's some example:

"Men dominate women in the majority of fortune top 100 CEO positions"

"Women dominate men in primary school teaching jobs"

Neither the men nor the women are actually purposely dominating the other. (Power over) However when you reflect on each example there is a predominance (majority of) spoken through the word "dominance".

Is there a name for this fallacy of confusing the "description" with "motivation". Such as in these examples

3 Answers 3


The issue in the example seems to be that the word "dominate" is used in two different senses. When this is done in an argument (it is not clear that this is so here) the fallacy is called equivocation.

However, some language in the post suggests a different type of reasoning, namely inferring from the mere fact of (statistical) domination of men in the CEO positions, or women in teaching, that there is an organized effort to maintain male or female (power) dominance there. The equivocation might be of minor use to bring about the thought but the major fallacy is then different, it is a case of illicitly inferring intent, cum hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "with this, therefore because of this"), correlation implies causation.

Now, such reasoning is not necessarily fallacious when used for heuristic purposes. Correlation certainly gives one good grounds to suspect causation, and if not direct then perhaps a roundabout and harder to detect one. While there is no conspiracy of men to keep women out of CEO positions there is (and even more so in the past, was) a culture of behavior in big business that disadvantages women. It may not be maintained by men fully consciously, but they do maintain it by conforming to rather than challenging it. Of course, the mechanism for the teaching jobs is completely different.

Some of this complexity is captured by the legal doctrine of disparate impact (as opposed to disparate treatment), which can be used to alter a hiring practice even if it has no overt intent to discriminate, to err on the side of caution, as it were.

  • 1
    It's fun that this answer commits the same fallacy it's describing to try to defend it. I think Thomas Sowell articulates what is so wrong with assuming that there is a sexist culture in business without any evidence much better than I could, and did so roughly 40 years ago.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 15:46
  • Here here. Whilst providing excellent reference for the first half of this message I can't help but feel they are guilty of forming bias of opinion based upon the very fallacy I introduce to the thread. They mention men disadvantaging women yet without any qualification. Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 0:13
  • @JohnCooper I am afraid I can not help you there. I doubt that opinions about misogyny in big business are based on mixing up words or statistical disparities that you mention in your post. They are rather based on multiple case studies of workplace policies and practices, and whether one agrees with their conclusions or not this is a different type of evidence and reasoning. Specifics however are off-topic for this SE.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 0:40
  • Perhaps you would've been better off leaving out your political opinion altogether about perceived misogyny. As you rightly say, it's off topic for this. Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 1:08
  • @JohnCooper I did. I simply described how it formed based on different reasoning than the one under consideration.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 1:50

My interpretation is that the original statements are not necessarily fallacious, but rather a question of the semantics carried by the word "dominate." To dominate can mean colloquially that one group or section of people has become a predominant portion of that group.

But you are correct that dominate usually implies having force or power, rather than a population majority.

To bear rule over, control, sway; to have a commanding influence on; to master.

  • OED


1 b. Constituting the main, most abundant, or strongest element; prevailing, preponderating.

  • OED
  • I posted this answer on EL&U. Please be gentle ye philosophers. :) Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 0:08
  • Yes in this localised example I can see why you see it as a case of semantics. Here's another example then: "an atheist killed someone. Therefore it was because he was an atheist that he killed them. ". Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 1:28
  • @JohnCooper I would advise editing that into the question here. The philosophy community might have a quick answer as to which fallacy that is. I believe it is a good example. Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 1:36
  • i don't see a fallacy either. Commented Jun 29, 2017 at 6:03

This is an example of the fallacy of poisoning the well. – It is a good example how propaganda works.

The poisoning (by the first earnest sentence about the men) operates by ideological verbal shift (“be in the majority” --> “dominate”) suggesting (but nearly impalpably) a ubiquitous (social) bias. If sentences like these are printed in the media or read in the TV news, they induce a subliminal programming of the public. – But this kind of speaking is ubiquitous in the media.

In the case of the sentence about the men, it is thought as a reproach (of a bias). Everybody knows these sentences, how women (and homosexuals etc.) are victims of the (natural) social order, which however is the basis of a healthy people with an intact identity. Hence the second, thereof independent, sentence about the women is nevertheless an echo of the former sentence. It is meant ironically and additionally serves to increase the general mystification. These sentences are members of the same class even if they are from different articles. Probably they are coined by the same propaganda corporation (which is part of the same network that controls the bulk of the newspapers, scientific journals and electronic media).

The description (“evaluation” as you say) of the situation has hence in these sentences been subliminally and nearly impalpably supplemented with the suggestion* of the existence of a (social) bias (of a healthy folk) against the (crude) dogma of the equality of all humans.°) – That this suggestion* is nearly impalpable, effectuates that it is almost ironclad, because someone who feels that it is fishy, nearly cannot articulate it, since he risks to be called a quibbler.

A bias is always a questionable motivation. It is called bias regarded from a certain point of view*, which is suggested as the right one. Hence to suggest a bias is not a fallacy unless that point of view* is part of a manipulative ideology or mission (to poison the well and the identity), which is obviously the case here.


°) This is the politically correct or freemasonic standard dogma, which is a manifestation of Rumpelstiltskin’s principle.

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