Also Known as: Circular Reasoning, Reasoning in a Circle, Petitio Principii.
Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or assume that the conclusion is true. That is, the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises. Note that in most cases some sort of phraseology is employed that conceals the fact that the premise is merely a restatement of the conclusion (and the conclusion is therefore used to support the premise of the argument!).
- Capital punishment is justified for the crimes of murder and kidnapping because it is quite legitmate and appropriate that someone be put to death for having committed such hateful and inhuman acts. (Hurley, 153)
Conclusion: Capital punishment is justified for the crimes of murder and kidnapping
Premise: It is quite legitimate and appropriate that someone be put to death for having committed such hateful and inhuman acts.
Note that the conclusion, that capital punishment is "justified" is the same thing as saying that it is "legitimate and appropriate" - and is therefore a restatement of the conclusion in a slightly different way. This "argument" therefore argues in a circle, since the premise supports the conclusion, and the conclusion supports the premise.
- GM makes the best cars in the world today. We know this since they have the very best design engineers. The reason they have the best design engineers is because they can afford to pay them more than other car manufacturers. Obviously, they can afford to pay them more because they make the finest cars in the world. (adapted from Hurley, op cite.)
In this example, the conclusion ("GM makes the best cars in the world") is stated first. The truth of this depends on each link of the chain - and ultimately on the first premise (stated last) which merely rephrases the conclusion. In this case it is easy to see why this is called "circular reasoning."
This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.
Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is assumed true.
Claim C (the conclusion) is true.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. This is especially clear in particularly blatant cases: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."
- Bill: "God must exist."
Jill: "How do you know."
Bill: "Because the Bible says so."
Jill: "Why should I believe the Bible?"
Bill: "Because the Bible was written by God."
- "If such actions were not illegal, then they would not be prohibited by the law."
- "The belief in God is universal. After all, everyone believes in God."
- Interviewer: "Your resume looks impressive but I need another reference."
Bill: "Jill can give me a good reference."
Interviewer: "Good. But how do I know that Jill is trustworthy?"
Bill: "Certainly. I can vouch for her."
- Since I'm not lying, it follows that I'm telling the truth.
- We know that God exists, since the Bible says God exists.
- What the Bible says must be true, since God wrote it and God never lies.
- Since firefighters must be strong men willing to face danger every day, it follows that no woman can be a firefighter."
(Although arguments of this sort are formally valid because it is impossible for their conclusions to be false if their premises are true, they fail to provide logical support for their conclusions, which have already been accepted without proof at the outset.)
Resolution: Show that in order to believe that the premises are true we must already agree that the conclusion is true.
Barker: 159, Cedarblom and Paulsen: 144, Copi and Cohen: 102, Davis: 33; Hurley, 152.