I've been trying to search in Wikipedia's list of fallacies but didn't find one that seemed to quite fit this case.

Is there a name for the fallacy of when someone answers a question with essentially a definition or statement that doesn't mean anything (and just adds more questions)?

For example:

- Why is X this way?

- That's because of Y. (but Y isn't well defined or doesn't explain X)

A more concrete example perhaps:

- Why do i get tired at the end of the day?

- That's because of your body's "cellular quantum erosion".

- Oh ok, thanks!


To clarify my question a bit: i don't mean that the answer given is nonsensical or irrelevant, but rather an answer that just raises more questions. A bit like how in some politicians speeches they give roundabout answers with complicated terms to give off that feeling that the question was answered.

  • 1
    "A riddle, or a cricket's cry, is to Doubt, a fit reply." - William Blake
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 9, 2023 at 15:41
  • 1
    Nonsense........ Dec 9, 2023 at 18:13
  • It's not really a fallacy (or not necessarily one), it's more just the way knowledge works. See about question evocation in erotetic logic for more information. Dec 9, 2023 at 21:19
  • 1
    Obfuscation + Fallacy == Obfuscation Fallacy Dec 9, 2023 at 21:22

4 Answers 4


In argumentation, relevance is an important consideration in determining something is a fallacy. It is one of Edward Dahmer's three criteria. Therefore, such a characteristic of irrelevance may be broadly understood as being necessary for any logical fallacy. Sometimes you'll hear that labeled as a non-sequitur colloquially, though there is a technical requirement for that in formal logic. There are, though, fallacies that call out a stronger degree of irrelevance.

Since irrelevance can be broadly construed, a more specific categorization usually depends on the type of irrelevance. For instance:

  • The fallacy of the appeal to authority - the authority as presented is irrelevant to the topic as an appeal to authority may be useful when the authority is relevant to the point.
  • The fallacy of the appeal to popularity - whether or not many people believe a truth is irrelevant to some questions, but relevant to others.
  • The red herring - whether or not a claim is distracting or irrelevant may be open to interpretation or not easy to decide.

But a very strong example of irrelevance might be labeled the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion or ignoratio elenchi. From WP:

An irrelevant conclusion,1 also known as ignoratio elenchi (Latin for 'ignoring refutation') or missing the point, is the informal fallacy of presenting an argument that may or may not be logically valid and sound, but (whose conclusion) fails to address the issue in question. It falls into the broad class of relevance fallacies (emphasis mine).2

  • Thanks for the comment! Though i feel i haven't expressed my question well enough. It's not that the answer is irrelevant but more that the answer (in a sense) just postpones the discussion. What i tried to convey in my example was that when the person answered "cellular quantum erosion" the one that made the question accepted it although it didn't really answer the question...it's like avoiding giving a real answer and protecting yourself behind these confusing or unclear terms. I updated the question to try better explain what i mean.
    – F. ALA
    Dec 9, 2023 at 21:03
  • In that case, an indifference to truth conditions as well as relevance might be philosophical bullshit. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Bullshit?wprov=sfla1
    – J D
    Dec 9, 2023 at 23:16

When (or if) this is a kind of fallacious response, then in keeping with the parameter "the response is not irrelevant to the question," we should say that there is some sort of "fallacy of the wrong-level-of-generality." Now, there is arguably no least general, nor most general, level of all levels, so that is not what is at stake: but so let us imagine that our question is on some level A, with X and Y above it, B and C below it. Now, the further a response is from A, the worse it is, we will suppose: in asking a question on level A, we are hoping for an answer on the same level, or at least nearer thereto than farther away, either way.

So if someone responds with either too much particular information, like in your "quantum cellular erosion" case (which is on level C, let us suppose), or too much general information, like in your hemming-and-hawing politician case (perhaps on level Y), we might accuse them of responding in terms of a fallacy of the wrong-level-of-generality.

But if we reserve the word "fallacy" for inferential forms, it is less clear that we are speaking of a fallacy so much as some other kind of error. Perhaps there is some kind of "erotetic fallacy" at work, instead, though (see again the article about question evocation in my comment on the OP). You should be careful to avoid, in asking for a certain degree of clarity or precision, the informal continuum fallacy yourself, by the way!


Thanks everyone for your answers as it pushed me in the right direction, especially the Obfuscation Fallacy.

After reading a bit more about fallacies, i feel that the best one to describe my example is the "Definist Fallacy" or "Definitional Fallacy":

The definist fallacy is the tactic in argumentation of defining a term so that it is friendly to your own side of a dispute, or unfriendly to the opposed side, without leaving any room for questioning the definition or considering alternatives.

(source of the above)

I also found this links useful if anyone is interested: Fallacies of definition

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    – Community Bot
    Dec 10, 2023 at 9:21
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    +1 Glad you found what you are looking for. And thanks for the followup. Just keep in mind there's a difference between a rhetorical technique like obfuscation to confuse or intimidate an opponent which is philosophical bullshit since it has no real regard for the truth conditions, and fallacies which by definition must be persuasive and lead the opponent to the wrong conclusion. If someone starts using ridiculous jargon that is incomprehensible, that cannot possibly persuade someone to the wrong conclusion because it is by definition is incomprehensible and therefore is not a fallacy by defn.
    – J D
    Dec 10, 2023 at 16:09

'Anacoluthon' may come close. It is often presented as though someone has launched into a sentence without enough of a plan to carry it through. The classic example is Shakespeare's King Lear's... "I will have such revenges on you both, That all the world shall―I will do such things, What they are, yet I know not."

However, it can and has been used in political speeches to give the impression of great conviction and passion without actually saying anything. I don't think the example given is a good fit for that, but what is?

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