Assume someone asks you: "Why do you think/believe elephants are smaller than mosquitoes?"

Whilst you have never claimed that you actually think/believe that.

The interrogator has hereby claimed that you claimed to think/believe elephants are smaller than mosquitoes, on unfounded grounds.

I am trying to find out whether this is a fallacy or not, if so, does it have a specific name? If it is a fallacy, is it formal or informal?

So far this reminds me of the existential fallacy (the non-existence of my claim of thought/belief, which this question seems to point to).

  • 1
    Could you share a little bit more about what you might be looking for an explanation about here? --It also would help improve the likelihood of getting a great answer if the headline were a little clearer... – Joseph Weissman May 16 '14 at 1:48
  • I am trying to find out whether this is a fallacious "question" or not. Let me provide another example: "Why do you hate questions?" - Nowhere have you claimed to hate questions, yet I ask you why you hate them, aren't I claiming that you actually hate them? Is not such a claim fallacious as it claims something about your thoughts without any backing? Instead of having asked the previous question; I suppose I should first ask: "Do you hate questions?", then if you answer "yes", I can actually ask "Why do you hate questions?", because that question has been validated. – Ultimate Hawk May 16 '14 at 2:01

This is a loaded question. The classic example is "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" 'The question may be used as a rhetorical tool to limit direct replies.' The respondent cannot outright say "yes" or "no" to the question, because then it seems he admits to having beat his wife.

This is related to presuppositions. Presuppositions are like background information that everyone assumes is shared. If I tell you "John's sister plays the cello," I assume you know that John has a sister. If you weren't aware, you could accommodate that assumption, but we might think of loaded questions as involving "presupposition failure."

| improve this answer | |
  • (+) Presupposition failure was the first thing that came to my mind when I read the question. But because I'm not familiar with the logic of questions, I'm having a difficult time formulating the notion for questions in analogy with statements. I think that's what made the question very interesting to me. – Hunan Rostomyan May 16 '14 at 5:49
  • @HunanRostomyan I actually found the text "fallacy of presupposition" on wikipedia. If you would like to read more: (Just search for fallacy of presupposition) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies – Ultimate Hawk Jun 6 '14 at 4:56

In philosophy, fallacies relate to arguments which are composed of claims (a claim is something that can be either true or false). A fallacy is either a violation of formal rules of inference (a fallacy in formal logic) or more loosely one of a myriad of argumentative strategies that are considered erroneous (fallacies in critical thinking or "informal logic"). But in both cases, fallacies occur in claims or in the structure of the argument.

So, there's one problem with the locution "fallacious question" which is that philosophical arguments are not composed of questions. The closest I can think of among the fallacies to what you are saying is a "straw man." A straw man occurs when someone attributes to you a ridiculous argument and then shows that this argument is invalid -- and then uses to claim your own position is invalid.

The best I can imagine is that it may have a name in rhetoric or debate.

| improve this answer | |
  • So is there a specific name for this kind of "fallacious question"? – Ultimate Hawk May 16 '14 at 3:43
  • (+) This was not an easy question to tackle. You did a very nice job. The connection to straw man was especially interesting. – Hunan Rostomyan May 16 '14 at 4:06
  • 1
    @HunanRostomyan - it wasn't my first idea... (which was more like ... self-censoring). I'm hoping we can keep cleaning this place up. – virmaior May 16 '14 at 4:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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