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Philosophical "blind-siding"

I'm a student studying at a university and have found that many professors do something equivalent to a blind-sided hit in football. I call it "blind-sided" for lack of a better word.

Explanation

Example

Professor: Hey class, did you know that amount of littering has caused the city to be covered with debris? It has become quite gross.

Student: Yes, I've noticed

Professor: What would you do if I gave you a stack of papers and asked you to throw them away?

Student: Walk to the nearest trash can and throw them away.

Professor: No, paper is recyclable, you should never throw it away!

The point

This is a terrible example, but you probably get the idea. The professor set the student up with a terrible choice vs a decent choice, but not the best choice. When the student answered, the professor then brought up a third choice.

My Question

What do people refer to this as in modern day culture? Blind-siding was my nickname due to lack of a better word.

Is this generally acceptable in philosophical debates? Are setup questions something that is common, or do some professors just use it because they can get away with it?

Did the student in the example choose the best answer, as he only had two options? Or would you say that it is ok to reach out of the theoretical scenario given?

  • "misdirection"... ::holds up left hand:: "Hey, look over here" ::looks:: ::bops you on the nose with right hand:: (see also: leading) – Mr. Kennedy Nov 15 '16 at 22:14
  • Do you want the answer to be with respect to debates, or teaching? It would be easy to argue that it is a powerful teaching tool. In a debate, however, one would have to understand the nature of the debate to see if it has any use at all. – Cort Ammon Nov 15 '16 at 22:27
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    This sounds similar to "trick question", or "gotcha question", as they call it in politics. But in your example "What would you do if I gave you a stack of papers and asked you to throw them away?" does not settle the student with only two choices, in fact it is quite open ended. Perhaps, trick questions are designed to create a psychological impression of limited choices by relying on stereotypes, to test the ability of thinking "outside the box". It is pointless in serious philosophical debates, but sometimes complex issues lead philosophers into false dichotomies without any tricking. – Conifold Nov 16 '16 at 1:48
  • first year? relax, they're probably trying to encourage you to think outside the box. – user35983 Feb 23 at 16:42
  • my pet dislike in the arts is i don't have an answer prepared so your question makes no sense is it a thing? – user35983 Feb 23 at 16:44
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What is it referred to as?

You may be thinking about what's called a False Dilemma or False Dichotomy. The definition given in the lead on the Wikipedia page is:

A false dilemma is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which only limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option.

In your example, the false dilemma is that the student must choose between putting the paper in the trash and littering, when in fact there are more options, one of which is recycling.

However, when you add the fact that the professor knew the third option, then it seems to me to be less of a "fallacy" and more of a plain "trick" by which the professor causes the student to introduce the fallacy to themselves. If the student limited their consideration to only 2 choices, they forced the false dichotomy upon themselves.

You ask:

Did the student in the example choose the best answer, as he only had two options?

The professor doesn't actually give any options, but only seems to imply some by the setup sentences. So, I would say that it is the student that actually introduces the fallacy, not the professor, and that the student picked from options that they presented to themselves.

Would you say that it is ok to reach out of the theoretical scenario given?

Certainly. Philosophers do this all the time, not just to respond to a False Dilemma. If someone says If A then B. If B then C. but you can show a scenario in which A exists without B or without C, then you are demonstrating that their argument is not sound.

Is it fair?

You ask:

Is this generally acceptable in philosophical debates? Are setup questions something that is common, or do some professors just use it because they can get away with it?

I don't know how to apply "fairness" to this situation. Sure, professors can "get away with it," but what if it's part of their teaching? Showing students that they need to fully evaluate a situation can be valuable for their education. It can also teach the student that, although they will learn how to identify the fallacy in this scenario, not everyone will reason correctly (just as they did not at first).

As for "philosophical debate," this may not apply. In philosophy, "debating" isn't exactly like arguing with someone in front of a crowd, such that tricking the other person might earn you "points" or help you "win." Instead, debating in philosophy has more to do with finding flaws in another view and presenting sound arguments in favor of your own. You could point out a False Dilemma fallacy in someone else's argument, or you could use questions rhetorically to highlight some weakness in their position, but you probably wouldn't try to trick them into answering a question incorrectly. Instead, generally, you are trying to persuade them by using sound arguments and identifying unsound arguments.

  • Re "The professor doesn't actually give any options...": that depends on the meaning of "throw away"; in the US throw away generally implies an object regarded as useless waste. Of course, knowing this a virtuous prof could be testing for virtuous disobedience instead; or a cruel prof might, if his student said he'd recycle the papers, switch the gotcha to: "No, taking the papers implied your assent to my simple terms, this breach would make you a liar, and you should never lie!" – agc Feb 23 at 8:46

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