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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. For example, the statement that walking in the woods alone at night is unwise because fairies are likely to bewitch unsuspecting individuals, presupposes that fairies exist — a dubious proposition.
This fallacy is often used rhetorically so that the question limits direct replies to something that serves the questioner's agenda. The standard example of this is the question Are you still beating your wife? Whether the person asked answers yes or no, he will admit to having beaten his wife at some time in the past. Thus, that fact is 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.
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 similar fallacy is begging the question.
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.
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.
- "I have never been arrested. I have never come in contact with anybody in the criminal justice process, me or my family. And I just want to know, can Mr. Hendrix say the same thing?"
- "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."
- A common prankster's method of tricking someone to say something they didn't intend:
- "Do your parents know that you're homosexual?"
Note that in all three cases no accusation was actually made. However, in all three cases the clear implication was that the target of the statement did have "something to hide."
The hacker jargon term, mu (meaning neither yes nor no), can be used to accurately respond to a question of this sort, saying that the question asked carries incorrect assumptions.
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 your parents know that you're homosexual?" would be "I am not a homosexual". This removes the ambiguity of the expected response, therefore nullifying the tactic.
See also Edit
- "A Report on Joseph R. McCarthy" Edward R. Murrow See it Now (CBS-TV, March 9, 1954)
- News coverage of Freman Hendrix/Kwame Kilpatrick debate.
- Adam Smith Institute: Logical Fallaciesel:Πλάνη των πολλών ερωτημάτων
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