Loaded Question

Read this article, which defines the loaded question fallacy and identifies examples of it.

Loaded Question

A loaded question or complex question fallacy is a question that contains a controversial or unjustified assumption (such as, a presumption of guilt).

Aside from being an informal fallacy depending on usage, loaded questions are often used as a rhetorical tool: the question attempts to limit direct replies to serve the questioner's agenda. A traditional example is the question, "Have you stopped beating your spouse?" Whether the respondent answers yes or no, they will admit to having a spouse and having beaten them sometime in the past. 

The facts are presupposed by the question, and a form of entrapment in this case, because it narrows the respondent to a single answer, and the fallacy of many questions is committed. The fallacy relies on context for its effect: the fact that a question presupposes something does not make the question fallacious in itself. The question becomes fallacious when the person does not necessarily agree with some of these presuppositions. Consequently, the same question may be loaded in one context, but not in the other. For example, the previous question would not be loaded if the attorney asked it during a trial after the defendant had already admitted to beating their spouse.

This fallacy should be distinguished from that of begging the question (not to be confused with raising the question),which offers a premise whose plausibility depends on the truth of the proposition asked about, and which is often an implicit restatement of the proposition.


A common way out of this argument is not to answer the question (such as with a simple "yes" or "no"), but to challenge the assumption behind the question. To use an earlier example, a good response to the question "Have you stopped beating your spouse?" would be "I have never beaten my spouse." This removes the ambiguity of the expected response, therefore nullifying the tactic. However, the asker is likely to respond by accusing the one who answers of dodging the question.

Historical examples

Madeleine Albright, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993–1997, fell into a trap of answering a loaded question, and later regretted not challenging it during the television show, 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996. The reporter asked her about the effects of the United Nations sanctions against Iraq, "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Instead of questioning this unattributed death toll, or how much of it was due to the sanctions, Madeleine Albright said "I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it." She later wrote of this response:

I must have been crazy; I should have answered the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it. ... As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words. My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy, and wrong. ... I had fallen into a trap and said something that I simply did not mean. That is no one's fault but my own.

For another example, the 2009 referendum on corporal punishment in New Zealand asked: "Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offense in New Zealand?" Murray Edridge, of Barnardos New Zealand, criticized the question as "loaded and ambiguous" and claimed "the question presupposes that smacking is a part of good parental correction."

Source: Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loaded_question
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Last modified: Wednesday, September 11, 2019, 3:05 PM