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Begging the Question

petitio principii

(also known as: assuming the initial point, assuming the answer, chicken and the egg argument, circulus in probando, circular reasoning [form of], vicious circle)

Description: Any form of argument where the conclusion is assumed in one of the premises.  Many people use the phrase “begging the question” incorrectly when they use it to mean, “prompts one to ask the question”.  That is NOT the correct usage. Begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.

Logical Form:

Claim X assumes X is true.

Therefore, claim X is true.

Example #1:

Paranormal activity is real because I have experienced what can only be described as paranormal activity.

Explanation: The claim, “paranormal activity is real” is supported by the premise, “I have experienced what can only be described as paranormal activity.”  The premise presupposes, or assumes, that the claim, “paranormal activity is real” is already true.

Example #2:

The reason everyone wants the new "Slap Me Silly Elmo" doll is because this is the hottest toy of the season!

Explanation: Everyone wanting the toy is the same thing as it being "hot," so the reason given is no reason at all—it is simply rewording the claim and trying to pass it off as support for the claim.

Exception: Some assumptions that are universally accepted could pass as not being fallacious.

People like to eat because we are biologically influenced to eat.

References:

Walton, D. N., & Fallacy, A. A. P. (1991). Begging the Question.



Registered User Comments

Stefan
Monday, September 17, 2018 - 04:40:43 PM
Hi, I'm currently in an online discussion with a Christian. This is his argument: "Everything in the cosmos tactions on the LOI and LNC. both impact everything. Only God has the ontic capacity to account for LOI/LNC." Is this begging the question?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, September 17, 2018 - 05:09:37 PM
I don't know what "tactions", "LOI and LNC", or "ontic capacity" mean.

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Stefan
Monday, September 17, 2018 - 06:04:47 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: That makes two of us. Anyway, could you please answer my question whether his argument is begging the question as he assumed that "God" exists and is the only explanation for whatever he talked about?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, September 17, 2018 - 06:22:32 PM
@Stefan: Yes, because God must exist to be the only one who can... whatever. Now if he rephrased this to say that "a being that has the characteristics of God is the best explanation" then that would be much better, because we are now working with the hypothetical and not making any claims to God's existence or that he is the ONLY one who can do whatever.

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Anthony
Tuesday, August 21, 2018 - 10:37:56 AM
The first example could also be categorized as 'an argument from ignorance'. Correct?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Tuesday, August 21, 2018 - 02:28:40 PM
Perhaps more so if worded as "Paranormal activity is real because I have no idea how what I experienced could be natural."

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Bill Shaw
Wednesday, March 08, 2017 - 02:47:59 PM
Boy this stuff is tricky! Why isn't the paranormal example like this:
I've experienced paranormal activity.
What I experience is real. (unstated assumption)
Therefore PA is real.
You can question the experience and require a precise definition of PA but is it circular?
Also, why isn't the elmo example not a simple tautology:
Everyone wants slap me silly elmo because everyone wants it.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, March 09, 2017 - 06:48:01 AM
Begging the question / circular reasoning / tautology - all share similar characteristics. Your example works, as well.

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David Salzillo Jr.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 10:53:16 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
But what about the first part of Bill's comment?

"I've experienced paranormal activity
What I experience is real (unstated assumption)
Therefore PA is real."

To me at least, the argument really rests on that unstated assumption. It doesn't really seem to beg the question at all. Can you explain that?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 01:29:42 AM
@David Salzillo Jr.: Claim X assumes X is true. -> to say that one has experienced PA, is to assume PA is true, otherwise, they would say "I experienced something really strange."

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NJH
Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 08:31:48 PM
#1 Paranormal activity is going to be true if there is evidence and valid argument supporting the claim. There could be other explanations for strange experiences, explanations which have been passed over too quickly to get to the the conclusion: its PA activity.
#2 is a vacuous tautological statement which only tells us nothing new: "it is desirable because it is desired".

People like to eat (which seems a true statement) for a number of reasons including the one that they like to stay alive hence the "biologically influenced to eat". Is this an example of the Broken Compass fallacy? The premise can point to a number of possible directions including the one stated.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, December 11, 2017 - 06:32:25 AM
Never heard of the Broken Compass fallacy, but your question gets to the heart of causality. There are often countless "reasons" for something, and different levels of reasons. If I said that I am hungry, and when asked why, I responded "Because I haven't eaten in 12 hours," then this is not fallacious, although I can also be hungry due to a much more scientific and complex biological answer. If I claimed that was the ONLY reason I was hungry, then this is simply not true.

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