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complex question

With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies, 6th ed., by S. Morris Engel (Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999)

Definition:

A fallacy in which the answer to a given question presupposes a prior answer to a prior question.

See also:


Examples and Observations:

  • "The fallacy of complex question is the interrogative form of the fallacy of begging the question. Like the latter, it begs the question by assuming the conclusion at issue. . . .

    "Before rushing to answer a complex question, it is best to question the question:
    a) Have you stopped beating your wife?
    b) Did John ever give up his bad habits?
    c) Are you still a heavy drinker?
    In each of these questions there lies an assumed answer to a previous question. Did John have bad habits? is the unasked question whose answer is assumed in question b. We need to withhold any answer to question b until this prior question has been resolved. In some instances of this fallacy, considerable struggle may be necessary in order to liberate ourselves from the misleading influence of a complex question.

    "The serious consequences of complex questions can be appreciated by considering these trick questions, which would be out of order in a court of law:
    d) What did you use to wipe your fingerprints from the gun?
    e) How long had you contemplated this robbery before you carried it out?
    (S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies, 3rd ed. St. Martin's, 1986)


  • "Although not an argument as such, a complex question involves an implicit argument. This argument is usually intended to trap the respondent into acknowledging something that he or she might otherwise not want to acknowledge. Examples:

    • Have you stopped cheating on exams?
    • Where did you hide the marijuana you were smoking?
    Obviously, each of the questions is really two questions."
    (Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic. Thomson Wadsworth, 2005)
Also Known As: loaded question, trick question, leading question, fallacy of the false question, fallacy of many questions
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