Circular Reasoning

circulus in demonstrando

(also known as: paradoxical thinking, circular argument, circular cause and consequence, circular definition [form of])

Description: A type of reasoning in which the proposition is supported by the premises, which is supported by the proposition, creating a circle in reasoning where no useful information is being shared.  This fallacy is often quite humorous.

Logical Form:

X is true because of Y.

Y is true because of X.

Example #1:

Pvt. Joe Bowers: What are these electrolytes? Do you even know?

Secretary of State: They're... what they use to make Brawndo!

Pvt. Joe Bowers: But why do they use them to make Brawndo?

Secretary of Defense: [raises hand after a pause] Because Brawndo's got electrolytes.

Explanation: This example is from a favorite movie of mine, Idiocracy, where Pvt. Joe Bowers (played by Luke Wilson) is dealing with a bunch of not-very-smart guys from the future.  Joe is not getting any useful information about electrolytes, no matter how hard he tries.

Example #2:

The Bible is the Word of God because God tells us it is... in the Bible.

Explanation: This is a very serious circular argument on which many people base their entire lives.  This is like getting an e-mail from a Nigerian prince, offering to give you his billion dollar fortune -- but only after you wire him a “good will” offering of $50,000.  Of course, you are skeptical until you read the final line in the e-mail that reads “I, prince Nubadola, assure you that this is my message, and it is legitimate.  You can trust this e-mail and any others that come from me.”  Now you know it is legitimate... because it says so in the e-mail.

Exception: Some philosophies state that we can never escape circular reasoning because the arguments always come back to axioms or first principles, but in those cases, the circles are very large and do manage to share useful information in determining the truth of the proposition.

Tip: Do your best to avoid circular arguments, as it will help you reason better because better reasoning is often a result of avoiding circular arguments.

Variation: A circular definition is defining a term by using the term in the definition.  Ironically, that definition is partly guilty by my use of the term “definition” in the definition.  Okay, I am using definition way too much. Damn!  I just did it again.

Moral Behavior: Behaving morally.

Comments   

 
+1 #1 Barbara LeFevre 2013-01-01 15:52
Is the following a valid example of circular reasoning?

All true believers will inherit the kingdom of God (true), so if one does not inherit the kingdom of God, he was never a true believer to begin with (false).

Thank you~
 
 
+1 #2 Bo Bennett 2013-01-01 19:51
Hi Barbara,

That statement would be fallacious, but for different reasons than circularity. Logically, it is valid: All X are Y, therefore, if not Y than not X. In other words, if one claims that "All true believers will inherit the kingdom of God" then by necessity, if he/she does not inherit the kingdom of God, then he/she was not a true believer. Now, you can creative in the "to begin with" statement and say that it is different from being a believer upon death—or something like that.

But most of all, the nature of this statement is known as the "no true Scotsman" fallacy (or the no true Christian). See http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/136-no-true-scotsman .
 
 
-4 #3 Phillippe 2013-04-04 09:23
I find it amusing that you use the Bible as an example of circular reasoning when a Christian would have used either math, logic, predictability, or even the scientific method as an example of circular reasoning.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a Christian and I know I use circular reasoning, I freely and readily admit it. It's just that most unbelievers who always argue science don't realize that they too are using circular reasoning.

I really did like your example from the movie. Great movie.
 
 
0 #4 Bo Bennett 2013-04-04 09:34
Phillippe,

I appreciate your comment. All reasoning HAS TO BE circular to an extent, the problem arises when the circle is a small one without any other influences. The Bible example is very common but also an example of an extremely fallacious claim -- for the same reason one would believe a "Nigerian prince" because the e-mail said "you must believe me when I say that I want to give you 10 million dollars." It is a form of self-validation.

As you correctly point out, other forms of reasoning eventually do rely on our ability to "reason" -- making everything "circular", but there are many forms of validation, falsification, empirical and mathematical support along the way that widens this circle. Beyond that explanation, one can get into deep epistemological philosophy and eventually conclude as Descartes did, we can only really know that we exist... whatever exist is :)
 
 
+10 #5 Salvatore Mzzotta 2013-07-27 00:25
This article is the Word of Bo Bennett because Bo Bennett tells us it is... in this article.
 
 
-7 #6 Kevin Easterday 2013-09-14 14:40
The ceramic vase is mine because I made it. That is CR. If it really is true, but no one saw me make it, and if I can't prove it, then it is mine only on the basis of self-validation . But if no one witnessed it, and someone else brings convincing but false evidence it is not my vase, then a judgment is rendered against me because my argument was circular, yet still true.

If there is a Highest being, then He must be self-validating , or else He is not the highest. How may it be validated if there is nothing higher? Therefore, CR can't apply to a supreme being because self-validation is the only option. The only reasoning left for atheists, is to argue for the non-existence of a supreme or highest being, which is also illogical. We can't think of something that does not exist. The argument that something doesn't exist must assume first that it does. The argument becomes CR to say God doesn't exist because there's no God.
 
 
+3 #7 Bo Bennett 2013-09-14 16:25
Hello Kevin.

First, I need to point out that if you are attempting to refute my "The Bible is the Word of God because God tells us it is... in the Bible" example, you have created a Strawman. Your version of the argument (about a highest being) is quite different. If you don't see that, just substitute "The Quaran is the Word of Allah because Allah tells us it is... in the Quaran." These are both perfect examples of circularity.

Now regarding your "highest being" argument, we must first accept the premise that validation can only come from a higher source than that which it is validating. If you think about it, I am sure you can think of many examples where validation is the process which is a result of the collective—the "lesser" individuals that make up the organization that does the validation. Even if one were to accept this premise (validation can only come from a higher source) that would demonstrate that any "highest source" (whatever that means) cannot be validated by any human. Not a strong argument for God.

We can't think of something that does not exist? Really? How about invisible pink unicorns that live in my anus? Of course, if by "exist" you mean in concept, then existence is limited only by the imagination. Again, not a strong argument for God.

Yes, one thing you are correct about is arguing that "God doesn't exist because there's no God" is circular. If you ever hear anyone argue that point, tell them it is a fallacious argument point them to this page!
 
 
0 #8 jaimehlers 2013-10-31 14:02
I see you're already under siege.

The simplest way to explain fallacious circular reasoning is that it depends on logic and reasoning as its support structure, rather than reality. In other words, they are not falsifiable.

Plato's forms were a kind of circular reasoning, because he never attempted to discover whether his ideas reflected reality or not. Indeed, it would have been impossible for him to test this in any way.

That's why the concept of falsifiability is so important, because otherwise, you have no way at all to tell if your reasoning has any possible validity. In that case, the only way to give it validity is to use circular logic.
 
 
0 #9 Tim Yakich 2014-03-01 16:27
How do you know - have absolute certain knowledge - that your reasoning is valid without EVER using your own reasoning?
 
 
+1 #10 Bo Bennett 2014-03-01 18:12
Hi Tim! That is a good question, and any who claims they do have absolute certain knowledge is either lying or deluded. As mentioned in the exception, it is a philosophical problem.
 
 
-1 #11 Tim Yakich 2014-03-02 06:38
Bo, are you absolutely certain that whoever claims to have absolute certain knowledge is lying or deluded? You just made a truth claim, so how did you come to that conclusion?
 
 
+2 #12 Bo Bennett 2014-03-02 06:59
Hi Tim, you are asking me if I am absolutely certain when I just clearly stated that I do not accept claims absolutely certainty (common presuppositiona l apologetics trick). If I claimed I was absolutely certain that people who claim absolutely certainty are either lying or deluded, that would certainly be ironic (and moronic). We are moving out of fallacies here and into philosophical epistemology. In short, the epistemology I adopt is one that is probability based—so to answer your question, even my view on certainty is probable.
 
 
0 #13 Tim Yakich 2014-03-02 07:49
Bo, I must apologize because we got off topic. My question was not so much concerned about absolute certain knowledge, but how we know for certain that our own REASONING about things is valid...without using our own reasoning.
 
 
+1 #14 Bo Bennett 2014-03-02 08:05
No need to apologize, Tim—it is a commonly asked question with many complex answers—dependi ng on whom you ask. You are begging the question, however, by asking "HOW we can know for certain..." I would suggest that we can't know for certain, but we can know probabilistical ly by the outcomes of using reason.
 
 
-1 #15 Tim Yakich 2014-03-02 13:00
Bo, in answers/comment s #12 you state, "even my view on certainty is probable." Are you certain of that and is that the truth (I'm not calling you a liar)? Did you use your reasoning to come to that conclusion? Let me phrase it differently: Can you be certain of anything? If so, how? If not, then aren't you are still claiming certainty? Now, in #14 (looks like you're even and I'm odd...) you stated, "...but we can know probabilistical ly by the outcomes of using reason." So we know things because we know things? (Circular argument?) But how do we know that our reasoning is valid...without using our own reasoning?
 
 
0 #16 Bo Bennett 2014-03-02 13:15
Tim, before I continue, are you a presupposition apologist by any chance, trying to "prove" that without Jesus we can't know anything? Or can you honestly tell me that you have no religious agenda here an you are critically exploring these issues philosophically ? The reason I ask is because you seem to be ignoring my responses and sticking to the classic PA line of questioning. I have stated many times that I am not "certain"—not of even of my uncertainty.
 
 
-1 #17 Tim Yakich 2014-03-02 13:52
I'm a Christian (ad hominem disqualificatio n?), but which of your responses have I ignored? I numbered and quoted a few of your responses, then asked for clarification, that's all. Is that wrong to do?
 
 
+4 #18 Bo Bennett 2014-03-02 14:00
You did not answer my question, Tim. Your religion is not an issue here, but your adherence to presuppositiona l apologetics would be. Again, you keep asking me about my "certainty" when I keep responding that my views are based on probability and held provisionally. Even that is held provisionally. Tim, are you a presupposition apologist by any chance, trying to "prove" that without Jesus we can't know anything?
 
 
-1 #19 Tim Yakich 2014-03-02 17:42
Bo, sorry it took so long to respond...in Pittsburgh (snow shoveling, and had to go to work. AsI said, I am a Christian, so my worldview is that the omniscient Creator, God of the Bible, reveals knowledge to those whom He created in His image. That is what I am presupposing coming into this conversation. I make truth/knowledge claims and back them up by siting the Holy Bible. I believe that truth is of utmost importance when conversing/pres enting arguments and I believe that there are certain truths to be known. My reasoning is part of the argument, but I admit that I can only know what has been revealed to me. There, I think that should suffice for an answer to your question. Now, if we can get back to my original question: Can you justify what you know/believe through your reasoning without using your reasoning? And since you admit that you are not certain about anything, then you can't be certain that presuppositiona l arguments are not valid. Isn't that true?
 
 
+3 #20 Bo Bennett 2014-03-02 18:06
Justification is reasoning process. Your question demands that I use reasoning to justify reasoning. The way PA works (as you know) is to construct questions so the person is forced to answer them in a way that leads to absurdity. Tim, if I said that nothing can be known for certain (in an absolute, philosophical sense), is it really necessary to ask me if I can be certain about X, Y or Z?

Tim, how do you know something has been revealed to you?
 
 
-2 #21 Tim Yakich 2014-03-03 00:43
Bo, o.k., then if my question leads you to answer in a way that leads to absurdity, does that in of itself make my question invalid? You are the one who wrote an extensive book on logical fallacies yet you admit - I didn't force you to admit it - that you cannot be certain about anything...I hope you can comprehend that by saying, "you CAN'T be certain of anything" is absurd because it is a statement of certainty. I know that something has been revealed to me the same way that you know that something has been revealed to you : God revealed it, thus we know it. There I said it, you cannot know anything without God/Jesus...the Creator revealing it to you. Take a deep breath and think about this claim...we are created beings, and a loving Creator wants us to be in relationship with Him, so like a loving father, He teaches us things as we need to know them. Awesome.
 
 
+2 #22 Bo Bennett 2014-03-03 05:35
Tim, you asked, "if my question leads you to answer in a way that leads to absurdity, does that in of itself make my question invalid?" Not by default. This is where critical thinking comes in—there are no black and white or "certain" answers here. If I asked you what is north of the North Pole because I wanted to "prove" that the world was flat, I would be setting you up for a "nothing" answer. The question is absurd, but that does not mean that nothing is beyond the North Pole. Likewise, when you ask me how I "justify" reason, the question is absurd because justification is part of the reasoning process, but that does not mean that reason is invalid, useless, or needs magic to make it work.

You said, "You are the one who wrote an extensive book on logical fallacies yet you admit - I didn't force you to admit it - that you cannot be certain about anything." This is a great example of a non sequitur. My probabilistic wordview where I hold information provisionally has nothing to do with logical fallacies.

You said, "I hope you can comprehend that by saying, 'you CAN'T be certain of anything' is absurd because it is a statement of certainty." You are grossly mistaken here. The use of the word "can't" does not imply certainty in any way; it refers to a level of confidence. You are trying to make me claim certainty when I repeatedly say that I am not. You have even asked me if I am certain about my uncertainty, and I said no. Lack of certainty is not an intellectual weakness, but a strength that is necessary for learning.

You said, " I know that something has been revealed to me the same way that you know that something has been revealed to you : God revealed it, thus we know it." This is a great example of the complex question fallacy (see http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/69-complex-question-fallacy). You assume in the question that I "know" things have been "revealed" to me—again, a presuppositiona l apologetic trick right out of the Sye Ten Bruggencate playbook.

Tim, I have debated presuppositiona l apologists for many years and we never get anywhere because of the radical departure from reason the presuppositiona l apologist must take and the use of countless unjustified presuppositions , claims, and assertions. We are not speaking the same language, my friend. You could be 100% right about everything—but presuppositiona l apologetics is outside the realm of rational discourse, as made clear by your last post.

If you want to continue this conversation I encourage you to post it on debategod.org. Thanks, Tim.
 
 
0 #23 Ran Rainington 2014-04-07 22:51
Circular reasoning is unhelpful.
Circular definitions are annoying.
Example:
Multiplication is the inverse operation of division.
Division is the inverse operation of multiplication.

However, circles are just cool in my opinion.
 

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