Suppose that a person(Person A) gets attacked, and they kill their assailant in self defense.

Another person(Person B) who this considers killing to be bad, but they consider this specific circumstance to be justified, therefore, they say that the Person A did not kill.

This is wrong, because the definition of "kill" does not have an exception for when it is justified.

Is there a term for the kind of fallacy where someone affirms or denies a label to something because of an emotional reaction, and not because of the actual meaning of the label?

  • 2
    I don't understand. "Cowardly" is inherently a "bad" label, so on that one you just seem to be saying it's being misused (if we allow that suicide bombers are actually "brave", which is debatable). For your other two examples, it all depends on the speaker and his intended audience - what they understand by the words "socialism" or "feminism", and whether they see these as positive or negative terms. To many people, "moderation" and "censorship" can mean the same thing, the choice of word depending on whether or not they agree with what's actually being moderated/censored. Mar 4 '16 at 17:46
  • 1
    I don't understand. "Cowardly" is inherently a "bad" label, so on that one you just seem to be saying it's being misused I do know an idiom for the logical fallacy that you just used. It's called "Affirming the consequent", and you did it when you assumed that "cowardly implies bad" means the same thing as "bad implies cowardly"(they're not the same). Mar 4 '16 at 17:55
  • I never remotely suggested that bad implies cowardly. Your question asks about people applying the word cowardly to terrorists even if those terrorists don't fit your definition of the word. Which is completely different to your socialist, feminist examples, since in those cases there doesn't seem to be a semantic issue in play - merely the fact that different people ascribe difference positive/negative associations to the terms. Nobody is ambivalent about whether cowards are positive or negative. Mar 4 '16 at 18:03
  • 1
    I think a better example would help clear up your question. Terrorists are bad, cowardly is bad, and "terrorists are cowardly" in no way implies that terrorists are cowardly because all bad things are cowardly.
    – Kevin
    Mar 4 '16 at 18:04
  • @Kevin there are multiple examples, such as It's not socialist to regulate the food industry because bad food can make people sick, which is probably a more clear example. The "terrorists are cowards" example exists because mote people will recognize that one. Mar 4 '16 at 18:07

Although a formal name or term for such a fallacy could be “definitional retreat,” which Wikipedia defines as “changing the meaning of a word to deal with an objection raised against the original wording,” in less scholarly words it sounds like

‘Person B’ has “a position that [s/he is defending] by selectively defining terms to meet [his/her] own needs.

(from ‘Better Soccer More Fun’[first paragraph])


I believe the word you're looking for is "connotation" as opposed to "denotation."

  • 1
    although the use of "connotation" and "denotation" would probably help me clarify my question, I don't believe that they're what I'm looking for. What I am looking for is an idiom that describes The phenomenon or act of confusing a word's denotation with it's connotation Mar 4 '16 at 17:49
  • @SamIam There's no confusion, word choice is almost always intentionally motivated by connotation as much as denotation.
    – Kevin
    Mar 4 '16 at 17:53
  • @Kevin That's a very succinct and clear way of describing the rhetorical value of certain words. But the question, as I understand it, was asking for an idiom describing this phenomenon.
    – StuporUser
    Mar 4 '16 at 17:57
  • @Yay This has nothing to do with the so called "pathetic fallacy"
    – StuporUser
    Mar 4 '16 at 18:00
  • @StuporUser What I meant was "Appeal to emotions fallacy". I always mix them up because of the words pathetic and emotions. Anyway, it had to do with it in the example "terrorists are cowardly" but after the edit it doesn't anymore, so I've deleted it.
    – Yay
    Mar 8 '16 at 12:01

Syllogism 1. Logic A form of deductive reasoning consisting of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion; for example, All humans are mortal, the major premise, I am a human, the minor premise, therefore, I am mortal, the conclusion. 2. Reasoning from the general to the specific; deduction. 3. A subtle or specious piece of reasoning.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.