Complex question

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A '''complex question''' is the fallacy of asking a question that
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A '''complex question''' is the [[fallacy]] of asking a question that
 
either combines two or more questions into a single one with no clear
 
either combines two or more questions into a single one with no clear
 
answer, or which presupposes a fact that has not yet been established.
 
answer, or which presupposes a fact that has not yet been established.
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== Examples ==
 
== Examples ==
 
* ''Have you stopped beating your wife?''
 
* ''Have you stopped beating your wife?''
If this question were asked at a trial, it should be broken down into "Have you ever been married? If so, have you ever beaten your wife? If so, do you continue to do so?" As phrased, there is no good answer: "Yes" means "I used to bet my wife", and "no" means "I am still beating my wife".
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If this question were asked at a trial, it should be broken down into "Have you ever been married? If so, have you ever beaten your wife? If so, do you continue to do so?" As phrased, there is no good answer: "Yes" means "I used to beat my wife", and "no" means "I am still beating my wife".
  
 
* ''Isn't your family worth the peace of mind afforded by our home insurance policy?''
 
* ''Isn't your family worth the peace of mind afforded by our home insurance policy?''

Latest revision as of 05:39, 18 October 2011

A complex question is the fallacy of asking a question that either combines two or more questions into a single one with no clear answer, or which presupposes a fact that has not yet been established.

Examples

  • Have you stopped beating your wife?

If this question were asked at a trial, it should be broken down into "Have you ever been married? If so, have you ever beaten your wife? If so, do you continue to do so?" As phrased, there is no good answer: "Yes" means "I used to beat my wife", and "no" means "I am still beating my wife".

  • Isn't your family worth the peace of mind afforded by our home insurance policy?

Again, this example contains several questions rolled into one: "Do you want peace of mind, for your family's sake?" (yes); "Would home insurance give you that peace of mind?" (yes); "Is that peace of mind worth the cost of an insurance policy?" (yes, presumably). It also contains the implied supposition, "Ours is the only insurance policy that can give you peace of mind", a supposition that may or may not be true.

  • 80% of Americans are Christians. If you don't like that, why don't you move to China?

This question presupposes that changing American society is either impossible or undesirable.

Discussion

The complex question is mostly a rhetorical device, rather than a flaw in reasoning. It relies in part on the fact that the person being addressed cannot give a complex answer, for instance in a court of law, or a structured debate.

This device can also be used for humorous effect:

  • Every time you blaspheme, a kitten dies. Why do you hate kittens?

The humor comes from the fact that it is ridiculous that someone would blaspheme for the sole purpose of killing kittens out of hatred.

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