Sunday, September 1, 2013

Logical Fallacy: loaded questions

"Are you still beating your wife?"

The correct answer to the classic trick question "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" is 'mu'.

Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer "yes" is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but "no" is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her.

According to various Discordians and Douglas Hofstadter the correct answer is usually "mu", a Japanese word alleged to mean "Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions".

The word 'mu' is actually from Chinese, meaning 'nothing'; it is used in mainstream Japanese in that sense. In Chinese it can also mean "have not" (as in "I have not done it", or "lack of", which may or may not be a definite, complete 'nothing').

Native speakers of Japanese do not recognize the Discordian question-denying use, which almost certainly derives from overgeneralization of the answer in the following well-known Rinzai Zen koan:
A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have the Buddha nature?" Joshu retorted, "Mu!"


A common way out of this argument is to not respond with a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, but with a full statement that also includes context. To use an earlier example, a good response to the question "Do you still beat your wife?" would be either
"I have never beaten my wife" or
"I have never had a wife."
This removes the ambiguity of the expected response, therefore nullifying the tactic. 

However, the askers of said questions have learned to get around this tactic by accusing the one who answers with "dodging" the question. A rhetorical question such as "Then please explain, how could I possibly have beaten a wife that I've never had?" can be an effective antidote to this further tactic, placing the burden on the deceptive questioner either to expose his tactic or stop the line of inquiry.

"Where did you hide the money you stole?"

"For how long are we going to tolerate this abuse of power?"

"Why can't you accept these simple facts?"

"What did I do to deserve this abuse...?"

"Why does everyone hate me?"


"How am I to get in?" asked Alice again, in a louder tone.
"Are you to get in at all?" said the Footman, "That's the first question, you know."
-- Lewis Carroll


"I recently had the 'pleasure' of being presented with a loaded question:
"When is being true to self a rationalization for stomping all over other people?"

it appeared in a post that in its entirety read:
"Being true to oneself is important. Yes, of course. But there are many ways of being true to self and not all of them are pretty. Dictators are true to themselves, serial killers are true to themselves and so on. When is being true to self a rationalisation for stomping all over other people?"

I responded:
"Did you just suggest that I am dictator-like and serialkiller-like? Inferred from the fact that you use an expression I am the only one using in this thread."

The person attempts to wriggle out of it by saying:
"Not at all, Dov, not at all. I am speaking in general, general principles. Please do not take it personally."

The problem is that by using a variation of my unique phrase: Be true to yourself, the person has de facto made it personal. There are no general principles in sight.

I replied:
"See, in my experience, people who keep telling others that they are assuming things, when they are simply sharing their perspective and their understanding, or feeling about something, which is just as valid as anyone else's, are also going to be dishonest about what they actually meant by what they said, to avoid ending up with egg on their face.
It's all very easy to claim 'general principles', when the innuendo one is making is really very clear. I believe it's called plausible deniability."

and they responded:
"Dov, you are confusing a number of things, but I really don't have time to get into this with you right now.
If you see yourself in the general principles I delineated, well, so be it, hopefully it could be a source of learning for you. I was looking beyond just you, though, as I do not think ad hominem is helpful, and if I used shocking examples of dictators and so on, it was simply an attempt to show the limitations of what I was describing, not calling you names."

I replied:
"Now, it's clear to me that you did intend the comment about dictators and serial killers to target me, along with the part about stomping, you made sure that it would be so by using an expression from one of my posts, the only one containing that expression - the very fact that you are now admitting that you see it as "a source of learning" for me and that not "looking beyond just you" would have been an "ad hominem", (personal attack) proves this. (Your use of Latin here, when you usually speak plain English is very telling, btw - why are you trying to dominate me and control me, ----, through the use of foreign terms?)
You may have been very clever in how you formulated that post,---- - after all you do it all the time, both here in Gaia and in your job. It's just a variation of the technique used to compose 'Company Audits', but that doesn't change the fact that to me it's clear that you targeted me.""
- Dov

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