Questions along the lines of: Does this dress make me look fat? It's a question to which there is potentially (read: probably) no correct response and the honest response may create a great deal of trouble. Often leads people to telling the white lie. Whether this question can be answered honestly or not depends on the character of the person asking.

A leading cause of maritial discord.

"Does this dress make me look fat?" is not a loaded question. A loaded question is one which contains an assumption. A good example is "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

For a more interesting example, see three Socratic questions about abortion.

Who hasn't heard of rhetorical questions?

There is another type of question used in rhetoric that allows you establish your position without appearing like you are doing so. Since it is a question, it can't provoke a knee-jerk denial, because it tries to provide nothing obvious to deny. It is the type of question that includes what you are trying to prove in its assumptions. Those who hear the question are then occupied with thinking about possible answers without realizing that your assertions have been established as an assumption in their thinking process. These kinds of questions allow you to set the agenda without making it appear as if you are being contentious.

"What if a 50% tax is enacted on higher income brackets?"
     - Hector Maletta, Oct 24, 2001

That was the question that finally made me realize just how "devious" (but diplomatically useful) asking the right question is in setting up a person's thought process. (What is the purpose of these taxes? Why aren't other alternatives being considered?) Since I believe in sharing the power (the safest population is an informed one), here in 3 easy steps are how such a question can be crafted:


1. Determine the assertion you want to establish. Of course, this has to be a fairly reasonable assertion, or the next step will be too difficult. (You can't make someone fall in love with you, but you might be able to take them out for coffee if they don't already think you're creepy.)
a. "Economists should study psychology."
b. "Both sides really should stop fighting. The media can promote behavior in either way."
c. "Having coffee with me isn't such a big deal."

2. Determine some range of thought your listeners would be thinking about if they accept your assumption. Assume it is they who are saying this to you, and you've agreed with them all along. What is their next step?
a. "What kind of psychology should economists be studying?"
b. "Then what do we do? How can we make it last?"
c. "What are we going to do - just hang out?"

3. Form a question drawing out what they would / should be thinking about. Allow for an open ended answer. The more answers that come immediately to mind, the more likely your audience will be thinking about the possible responses rather than thinking about your assumptions.
a. "What would happen if economists neglect the psychological causes that induce various wants and needs? What would happen if some wants were actively downplayed?"
b. "What kind of community do you want together (or apart)? How do we make sure each side's media organizations share in the responsibility of preventing bloodshed?"
c. "What would happen if we kept working on this with coffee nearby? How would we protect it from spillage?"


If we were in a discussion right now, I would ask you how we could make this strategy work better - are there additional steps that can be taken to more firmly establish the assumption in your audience's thinking process?

Note at this point, we have not engaged in debate or disagreement, but are only exploring possibilities. No assertion was made that asking these kinds of questions actually work. Instead, we've assumed that these kinds of tactics really do work, and are considering how they can work better. On the other hand, how can these kinds of tactics be detected and defeated?

What would your friends think about this kind of questioning if you tell them? How carefully would you and your family have to think to make your lives less contentious and yet still get your thoughts across?

Even in the discussion of this node, it's being done  =^)

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