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Encyclopedia > Fallacy of many questions

Many questions, also known as complex question, presupposition, loaded question, or plurium interrogationum (Latin, "of many questions"), is a logical fallacy. It is committed when someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved. This fallacy is often used rhetorically, so that the question limits direct replies to those that serve the questioner's agenda. An example of this is the question "Are you still beating your wife?" Whether the respondent answers yes or no, he will admit to having a wife, and having beaten her at some time in the past. Thus, these facts are presupposed by the question, and if it has not been agreed upon by the speakers before, the question is improper, and the fallacy of many questions has been committed. Latin is an ancient Indo-European language originally spoken in Latium, the region immediately surrounding Rome. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with fallacy. ... In linguistics, a presupposition is background belief, relating to an utterance, that: must be mutually known or assumed by the speaker and addressee for the utterance to be considered appropriate in context Will generally remain a necessary assumption whether the utterance is placed in the form of an assertion, denial...

The fallacy relies upon context for its effect: the fact that a question presupposes something does not in itself make the question fallacious. Only when some of these presuppositions are not necessarily agreed to by the person who is asked the question does the argument containing them become fallacious.

A related fallacy is begging the question, in which a premise is included that is likely to be at least as unacceptable to an opponent as the proposed conclusion. This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... In discourse, a premise (also premiss in British usage) is a claim which is part of a reason or objection. ... A conclusion can have various specific meanings depending on the context. ...

Implied form

One form of misleading discourse is where something is implied without being said explicitly, by phrasing it as a question. For example, the question "Does Mr. Jones have a brother in the army?" does not claim that he does, but implies that there must be at least some indication that he does, or the question would not need to be asked. The person asking the question is thus protected from accusations of making false claims, but still manages to make the implication in the form of a hidden compound question. The fallacy isn't in the question itself, but rather in the listener's assumption that the question would not have been asked without some evidence to support the supposition. A compound question is one that actually asks several things which might require different answers. ...

In order to have the desired effect, the question must imply something uncommon enough not to be asked without some evidence to the fact. For example, the question "Does Mr. Jones have a brother?" would not cause the listener to think there must be some evidence that he does, since this form of general question is frequently asked with no foreknowledge of the answer.


  • In a September, 2006 New York Times column, David Leonhardt queried readers whether they would "prefer spending an extra $5,500 on health care every year — or losing 10 years off" their lifespan.
    In doing so, Leonhardt — who earlier in the same column dismissed health-care cost-cutting as "wrong" — forced readers to make a choice that was, in essence, based on a fallacious presupposition that precluded medical cost-cutting.
    Alternatively, those who saw value in medical cost-cutting might have arrived at a less loaded question, or, at least, at a less expensive loaded question. (E.g., "Would you prefer: (a) spending an extra $5,500 on health care every year as a couch potato, (b) spending an extra $3,000 on health care every year as a fitness enthusiast, or (c) losing 10 years off your lifespan?")
  • In 1952, US Senator Joe McCarthy said:
    "This is a document which shows that Alger Hiss and Frank Coe recommended Adlai Stevenson to the Mount Tremblant Conference which was called for the purpose of establishing foreign policy (postwar foreign policy) in Asia. And, as you know, Alger Hiss is a convicted traitor. Frank Coe has been named under oath before Congressional committees seven times as a member of the Communist Party. Why? Why do Hiss and Coe find that Adlai Stevenson is the man they want representing them at this conference? I don't know. Perhaps Adlai knows."
  • On an October, 2006 The Daily Show monologue, Jon Stewart noted two common news-channel examples of this:
    • On CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC: the frequent use of television "crawl" (lines of text at the bottom of the screen) to ask questions that were fallaciously presuppositive, like "End Times?", "Apocalypse Now?", "Have Democrats forgotten the lessons of 9/11?", "Why do Democrats hate America?"

The New York Times is an internationally known daily newspaper published in New York City and distributed in the United States and many other nations worldwide. ... Seal of the U.S. Senate Federal courts Supreme Court Chief Justice Associate Justices Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures State Courts Counties, Cities, and Towns Other countries Politics Portal      Senate composition following 2006 elections The United States Senate is... Joseph McCarthy This article is about the American politician. ... Alger Hiss in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary (Photos courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons) Alger Hiss (November 11, 1904 – November 15, 1996) was a U.S. State Department official involved in the establishment of the United Nations. ... CCP Chairman Mao Zedong with Israel Epstein (first left), Anna Louise Strong (third left), Frank Coe (second right), and Solomon Adler (first right). ... Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (February 5, 1900 – July 14, 1965) was an American politician, noted for intellectual demeanor and advocacy of liberal causes in the Democratic party. ... The Daily Show (currently The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning half-hour American comical news television program produced by and run on the Comedy Central cable television network. ... Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz on November 28, 1962) is a nine-time Emmy-winning American comedian, satirist, actor, author, and producer. ... The Cable News Network, commonly known as CNN, is a major cable television network founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. ... Fox News Channels slogan is We Report, You Decide The Fox News Channel is a U.S. cable and satellite news channel. ... MSNBC, a combination of MSN and NBC, is a 24-hour cable news channel in the United States and Canada, and a news website. ... A News Ticker is a small screen space on News television networks dedicated to headlines or minor pieces of news. ... // In Judeo-Christian theology, the End Times are depicted as a time of tribulation that precede the predicted coming of a Messiah figure. ... Look up Apocalypse in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ...


A common way out of this argument is to not respond with a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, but with a full statement that also includes context. To use an earlier example, a good response to the question "Do you still beat your wife?" would be either "I have never beaten my wife" or "I do not have a wife." This removes the ambiguity of the expected response, therefore nullifying the tactic. However, the askers of said questions have learned to get around this tactic by accusing the one who answers with "dodging" the question. The best tactic when faced with this kind of opponent is to ignore the question entirely or to point out that the question is, indeed, a loaded question.

  Results from FactBites:
Fallacy of many questions - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (621 words)
Many questions, also known as complex question, presupposition, loaded question, or plurium interrogationum (Latin, "of many questions"), is a logical fallacy.
It is committed when someone asks a question that presupposes something that has not been proven or accepted by all the people involved — i.e., a premise is included which is at least as dubious as the proposed conclusion.
This fallacy is often used rhetorically so that the question limits direct replies to something that serves the questioner's agenda.
Begging the question - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1227 words)
In logic, begging the question is the term for a type of fallacy occurring in deductive reasoning in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises.
Fowler states that it is "The fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself." This is more commonly known as the Fallacy of many questions.
Begging the question is also related to the Fallacy of many questions—a fallacy of technique that results from presenting evidence in support of a conclusion that is less likely to be accepted than merely asserting the conclusion.
  More results at FactBites »



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