“Does this dress make me look fat?”
For those of us who are married men, this kind of question gets us thinking about what it will be like to sleep on the couch. If you answer with “Yes”, then you’re automatically in trouble and you will be sleeping there. If you answer with “No”, then you’re "just saying that" (aka, you're not honest) and you may be sleeping on the couch. Either way, this is a question that you hate to get.
Some questions are like that and the most dangerous ones are what we call “loaded questions”. These questions contain a hidden premise that puts one in a bind if you just give a yes or no answer. The most famous example is as follows:
Suppose you and I have just met, we're talking, and another man who I alone know approaches us. What's your assessment of me going to be when the other guy asks, “So Nick, have you stopped beating your wife yet?”
How do I deal with that? If I say “Yes”, then that means that at one point I did beat my wife. If I answer “No”, then that means that at the moment I am currently in the habit of beating my wife. The best thing to do is to reply, "I have never once beaten my wife" (and for those of you concerned, that is the truth).
This also happens in politics. Imagine for instance a look at the famous Trayvon Martin incident. If you were to defend Zimmerman, someone might ask you, “Do you think we should let a murderer walk the streets free?” The hidden premise is that Zimmerman is a murderer. This has not been proven by evidence yet and, until it is, we should not accept the premise.
Recently, I witnessed this in a political debate I’m involved in that also has religious implications. In the debate on homosexual "marriage," I was asked if I believed we should value loving and committed homosexual relationships.
I hope some astute readers recognize that the questioner used an appeal to emotion. It would not have made sense to say “Do you think we should value homosexual relationships where abuse takes place?” The obvious answer would be no. In fact, we should not value such relationships in heterosexual marriage.
How should I respond? I challenged the question by asking if loving and committed relationships should be valued because they love each other and are committed? I gave three examples. The first was of a mother and father with three children. The wife is becoming dissatisfied with the marriage and ends up having an emotional affair that soon becomes a full sexual affair. Should she leave her current husband and children for a new man who wants her, and whom she loves more and is more committed to than her husband? The second case is that of a man and woman having a sexual relationship and wanting to get married, except they’re brother and sister. The third is the example of polygamy--committed, loving sexual relationships with more than one person at the same time.
At this point, it becomes apparent that there must be more to value in a relationship than it being loving and committed. I could go further with this point to illustrate my concerns with the idea as a whole, but the main point here is to be ready to challenge questions that are asked. What is the hidden premise?
After all, you don’t want to do all your thinking on the couch.