A loaded question is a question that presupposes a disputed claim or indulges in circular reasoning. Closely related to this is the complex claim, which is a loaded question expressed as a statement rather than as a question.
Elements of a Loaded Question or Complex Claim
The loaded-question fallacy involves the presentation of a question (or an optative, conditional, or other subjunctive statement) together with one or more additional claims of unsettled truthfulness. The respondent, if he answers the question or statement with a simple affirmative or negative, risks indicating his assent to these other claims when he might not so agree.
The classic example of a loaded question is "Have you stopped beating your wife?" A simple "yes" or "no" answer would imply an admission that the responder was engaged in spousal abuse.
The above illustrates the use of the loaded question as innuendo. But a loaded question can mask other, simpler logical fallacies, including proof by authority or numbers.
A complex claim demands a complex counterclaim or other response. This is no less true if the claim is in the form of a question. Even if the question appears simple, it isn't if it contains an unsettled or disputed claim. The proper response is to address each claim made separately, and declare it to be valid or invalid.
- Gary N. Curtis, Logical Fallacy: Loaded Question, The Fallacy Files. Retrieved April 9, 2007.
- Mission: Critical (Loaded Question) hosted by San Jose State University. Retrieved April 9, 2007