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Logic Letters

by Hans Bluedorn



From: Joel Cormode

Subject: leading the witness


It is not exactly a logic problem, however I have wondered where one would place the practice of "leading the witness," as lawyers phrase it. I'm thinking of a situation where someone asks questions in a way that suggests or requires a particular answer.

Joel R. Cormode


That would be called a loaded question. This is when someone asks two questions, but one is hidden behind the other. For example:

Prosecutor: "Mr. Blanchard, what did you use to wipe your fingerprints off this gun?"
Defendant: "I didn't use anything."
Prosecutor: "You left your fingerprints on the gun, then?"

The prosecutor is asking a loaded question, a question that already assumes the answer to another question. The question asked is, "What did you use to wipe the fingerprints off the gun?" The other, unstated question is, "Did you put fingerprints on this gun?" Of course, the object is to trick the defendant into answering the first question, and thereby implicate himself in the crime.

The defendant should answer the hidden question first, "I never touched that gun, so I never could have wiped any fingerprints off it."


From: CA

Subject: For the Loop


I found the following under the FAQ for the website of PETA (

"Q: Some say, 'God put animals here for us to use; the Bible gives us dominion over animals.' Is this correct?

A: Dominion is not the same as tyranny. The Queen of England has 'dominion' over her subjects, but that doesn't mean she can eat them, wear them, or experiment on them. If we have dominion over animals, surely it is to protect them, not to use them for our own ends. There is nothing in the Bible that would justify our modern-day policies and programs that desecrate the environment, destroy entire species of wildlife, and inflict torment and death on billions of animals every year. The Bible imparts a reverence for life; a loving God could not help but be appalled at the way animals are being treated."

The fallacies in this paragraph are hard to sort out, but here goes. The point about the Queen of England is a strained analogy (the similarity between legal subjects and animals is uncertain) and begs the question by assuming that animals have the same rights as humans. The fallacy might also be classed under equivocation, since PETA uses the term "dominion" in two different senses: rule and protection. The closing comment about a "loving God" (similar to modernist arguments against hell or Arminian arguments against predestination) also begs the question.

The argument, further, contains a false statement: "There is nothing in the Bible that would justify" using animals for food or clothing. See, e.g., Gen. 3:21, 9:3; Jn. 21:13; Rom. 14:1-6; 1 Cor. 8:8. Exegesis doesn't seem to be PETA's strong point.


PS: Biblical dominion doesn't mean cruelty, by the way: "The righteous man regardeth the life of his beast."

Copyright November 26, 2002, all rights reserved. 5515 views

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