Begging the Question - Circular Reasoning

Begging the Question - Circular Reasoning

Postby mtbturtle on January 25th, 2013, 8:18 pm 

Begging the Question - Petitio principii - has come up in a number of threads recently so I thought I would provide a couple references, a bit of a refresher.

Fallacy Files Begging the Question


Any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premisses, or a chain of arguments in which the final conclusion is a premiss of one of the earlier arguments in the chain. More generally, an argument begs the question when it assumes any controversial point not conceded by the other side.

Stephen's Guide to Logical Fallacies Begging the Question
The truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises. Often, the conclusion is simply restated in the premises in a slightly different form. In more difficult cases, the premise is a consequence of the conclusion.

Introduction to Logic
Irving M. Copi, Carl Cohen & Kenneth McMahon
Fourteenth Edition 2014

The fallacy called begging the question is widely misunderstood, partly because its name is misleading. It is the mistake of assuming the truth of what one seeks to prove. The “question” in a formal debate is the issue that is in dispute; to “beg” the question is to ask, or to suppose, that the very matter in controversy be conceded. This is an argument with no merit at all, of course, and one who makes such an assumption commits a gross fallacy.
The presumption that is the heart of the fallacy is buried in the verbiage of the premises, sometimes obscured by confusing or unrecognized synonyms. The arguments are circular—every petitio is a circular argument—but the circle that has been constructed may be large and confusing, and thus the logical mistake goes unseen.
To “beg the question” is not to raise the issue, but to assume the truth of the conclusion sought.
Circular arguments are certainly fallacious, but the premises are not irrelevant to the conclusions drawn. They are relevant; indeed, they prove the conclusion, but they do so trivially—they end where they began. A petitio principii is always technically valid, but always worthless (140-141).

Attacking Faulty Reasoning
A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments
T. Edward Damer
Emory & Henry College

For this reason, a good argument should not use a premise that assumes the truth of, makes the same claim as, or makes a claim that is no different from the conclusion. An argument structure that uses such a premise is referred to as “begging the question,” as there is no independent reason given for accepting the conclusion. Such an argument violates the very nature of an argument, since an argument is a claim supported by at least one other claim. An argument that begs the question provides no other claim in support of its conclusion; it is therefore structurally flawed and cannot be helpful to us in determining what to do or believe. (page 31)


An argument may assume the truth of its conclusion in its premises in at least four different ways, so each of these ways of begging the question has its own name. The arguing-in-a-circle fallacy actually uses the very conclusion that the arguer is trying to establish as one of its premises. One who commits the question-begging-language fallacy uses language that implicitly assumes the truth of his or her conclusion about the issue. In the case of the complex-question fallacy, the arguer asks a question in a way that implicitly assumes a particular answer to, or assumes a position on, an unasked question about an issue that is still open. Finally, the question-begging definition fallacy uses a highly questionable definition of a key term in its premises, which has the effect of making the arguer’s conclusion “true by definition.”

In each of these four ways of begging the question, there is the appearance of evidential support, but the evidence is bogus because it is actually a form of the conclusion. An argument, by definition, is a claim supported by at least one other claim. If we interpret “other” to mean “different,” no “other” claim is actually provided in support of the conclusion. For that reason, a question-begging argument is structurally flawed, in that it fails to meet the requirements of a well-formed argument.
(page 63)

Critical Thinking:
A Student's Introduction - 4th Edition
Gregory Bassham

Begging the Question

The fallacy of begging the question is committed when an arguer states or assumes as a premise the very thing he or she is trying to prove as a conclusion.

There are two common ways to commit this fallacy.
The most obvious way is to simply restate the conclusion in slightly different words. Here are two examples:

Bungee-jumping is dangerous because it’s unsafe.

Capital punishment is morally wrong because it is ethically impermissible
to inflict death as punishment for a crime.

In the first example, the premise basically repeats the conclusion: saying that bungee-jumping is “unsafe” is another way of saying that it is “dangerous.”

In the second example, the conclusion is begged because saying that it is “ ethically impermissible” to inflict death as punishment for a crime is equivalent to saying that capital punishment is “morally wrong.”

The second common form of begging the question involves “circular reasoning” or “arguing in a circle.” This occurs when an arguer offers a chain of reasons for a conclusion, where the conclusion of the argument is stated or assumed as one of the premises. For example:
Kylie: God wrote the Bible.
Ned: How do you know?
Kylie: Because it says so in the Bible, and what the Bible says is true.
Ned: How do you know what the Bible says is true?
Kylie: Because God wrote the Bible.
Note the tight circle of reasoning here: A because B, B because A. In more complex arguments, the circular reasoning may be more diffi cult to spot, as in this example:

Wexford College is a better college than Aggie Tech. Wexford is a better college because it has better students. It has better students because it has better faculty. It has better faculty because it pays higher faculty salaries. It pays higher faculty salaries because it has a larger endowment. It has a larger endowment because it has more generous and loyal alumni. It has
more generous and loyal alumni because it is a better college.

Here the chain of reasoning is so lengthy that it is easy to overlook the fact that the statement “Wexford College is a better college than Aggie Tech” appears both as a premise and as a conclusion in the argument. (page 132-133)

Begging the Question / Circular Reasoning


An argument is circular if its conclusion is among its premises, if it assumes (either explicitly or not) what it is trying to prove. Such arguments are said to beg the question. A circular argument fails as a proof because it will only be judged to be sound by those who already accept its conclusion.

Anyone who rejects the argument’s conclusion should also reject at least one of its premises (the one that is the same as its conclusion), and so should reject the argument as a whole. Anyone who accepts all of the argument’s premises already accepts the argument’s conclusion, so can’t be said to have been persuaded by the argument. In neither case, then, will the argument be successful.

The Nizkor Project Fallacy: Begging the Question
Last edited by mtbturtle on December 4th, 2014, 4:39 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: Begging the Question

Postby DragonFly on January 25th, 2013, 8:32 pm 

Begging the question answers nothing, but only then makes for a larger question, often one beyond repair, and so it is a step backward only.
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Re: Begging the Question

Postby Obvious Leo on January 25th, 2013, 9:07 pm 

An important clarification of how a rational argument is required to proceed. Thank you mb.

There is also the matter of "begging the answer", a subject seldom spoken of in its requisite context.
For example, if I refute proposition X because of arguments A,B,C and D then you, as a supporter of proposition X, may not say that according to the protocols of proposition X, your arguments A,B,C and D are invalid. If you can't reach for Y or Z, then you're busted.

Regards Leo
Obvious Leo

Re: Begging the Question - Circular Reasoning

Postby David Henry7 on November 26th, 2014, 5:25 am 

My friends from the religious section of the forums need to become acutely aware of this impediment.
David Henry7

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