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Critical Thomisim

Critical Thomisim

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Published by: enemesio on Oct 18, 2011
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The Fallacy of Shifting Ground

By

Anthony J. Fejfar, B.A. (Phil.), J.D., Esq., Coif

© Copyright 2007 by Anthony J. Fejfar

One of the more interesting, and often unnoticed forms of arguing falsely, or fallaciously,

the the Fallacy of Shifting Ground. The whole idea is not very complicated, it works like this: I start

out an argument having the key word defined implicitly or explicitly as Definition A, during the middle

of the argument I then, without really letting anyone know, shift the key word definition to Definition

B, and continue the argument. Let me give an example. I’ll make up an interesting word,

“Theosphany.” Now, as far as I know, Theosphany doesn’t really even have a definition, but I’ll make

one up. Let us assume for the sake of argument that the word Theosphany means political theology.

Here is the situation. I am on a law faculty and one of the faculty members believes in

liberation theology. At a faculty meeting, Stan Smith attacks the professor, Joe Farmer, and accuse

him of Theosphany. Stan Smith tells everyone that Theosphany is one of the most terrible crimes

there is, and additionally, that Theosphany is a serious sin.

Joe Farmer tries to defend himself. He asks, “Why do you think that I have committed

Theosphany?” “Well,” Stan Smith says, “you believe in Liberation Theology, that is Theosphany.”

Now, here comes the shift in ground.

Joe Farmer replies, “But you’re a republican you are against abortion on the basis of the Bible,

that’s Theosphany too.” “No, its not,” Stan Smith replies, “Theospany does not include the Bible.”

“Oh,” says Joe Farmer, as he gets fired from his job for Theosphany, and gets put on a psychiatric ward.

Now, we the audience know that the original definition of Theosphany was “political theology.”

Without telling anyone, the definition was changed from that to “Political Theology not involving the

Bible.” Now, if Joe Farmer knew what was going on, he would have asked what the logical distinction

was between Theosphany as originally defined and Theosphany as later defined. Joe Farmer might

have been able to argue that there really is no rational basis to exclude Biblical Theology from the

overall idea of Theosphany. Once this was done, Joe Farmer could have accused Stan Smith, of

Theosphany, and accused Stan Smith of hippocracy, or even have argued equitable estoppel against

him. So, watch out for the Fallacy of Shifting Ground.

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