What fallacy relates to a question based on an untrue conditional? (e.g., handling the poop of my pet unicorn)



Suppose I am sincerely concerned and asked this question:

I should keep a pink unicorn in my back yard, but what if it poops in my garden?

The characteristic of this question is that the "second part" about pooping sounds like a possible situation that can happen with pink unicorns, but the "first part" is an imperative that cannot happen (or lack evidence) because there is no such thing as a pink unicorn.

What do you call the first part, second part and this type of question generally? Is there a specific terminology? Is it meaningful to answer this type of question or not? How do I approach it?

This type of question may appear as other forms that may look more genuine:

People should have absolute freedom, but what if they start doing nasty things to others?

I should believe in God, but what if I am wrong?


Posted 2013-07-19T11:05:05.340

Reputation: 207



This is the complex question fallacy.

Classical example: "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Whether the respondent answers yes or no, they will admit to having a wife, and having beaten her at some time in the past. Two otherwise unrelated points are conjoined and treated as a single proposition. The reader is expected to accept or reject both together, when in reality one is acceptable while the other is not. The fact that a question presupposes something does not in itself make the question fallacious. Only when some of these presuppositions are not necessarily agreed to by the person who is asked the question does the argument containing them become fallacious. Hence the same question may be complex in one context, but not in the other. For example the previous question would not be complex if it was asked during a trial in which the defendant has already admitted to beating their wife.

Coping: Identify the propositions illegitimately conjoined and show that believing one does not mean that you have to believe the other.Place the burden on the deceptive questioner either to expose their tactic:"Then please explain, how could I possibly have beaten a wife that I've never had?" Or a short answer: "I neither did nor do I now". Answer the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it.


  • Do you support freedom and the right to bear arms?
  • Do we support home education and the God-given right of parents to raise their children according to their own beliefs?
  • Clinton in response to a argument that an issue was not affirmative action but "racial preferences": Do you favor the United States Army abolishing the affirmative-action program that produced Colin Powell? Yes or no?
  • Madeleine Albright claims to have answered a complex question regarding the effects of UN 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?"

Some text from Wikipedia


Posted 2013-07-19T11:05:05.340

Reputation: 3 058

The question " have you stopped beating your wife" does have an objective answer. If you have never beat you wife, and this question is asked of you, then the answer is no, I have not stopped beating my wife. The reason why is that you cannot stop something that has not started. I however have no doubt that one can reformulate the question to make it into such a question. – Baby Dragon – 2013-07-20T18:37:09.233

There is the need to identify the propositions illegitimately conjoined and show that believing one does not mean that you have to believe the other. – Annotations – 2013-07-20T19:01:35.153