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Begging the question

The fallacy of Begging the question was first identified by the Greek philosopher Aristotle around 350 B.C, in his book Prior Analytics.

Also known as a circular argument, or circular reasoning, begging the question in its original form describes a type of logical fallacy in which the evidence given for a proposition contains the proposition itself.

Table of contents
1 Confusion in the Term "Begging the Question"
2 Circular Argument
3 Raising the Question

Confusion in the Term "Begging the Question"

In popular usage, however, the phrase is often taken to be synonymous with "raising the question". For this reason, Steven Toulmin, Richard Rieke, and Alan Janik, in their book "An Introduction to Reasoning" seem to go by the increasingly popular practice of separating "Begging the Question" into two subcategories. Though many logic textbooks do not openly categorize them, for the sake of easier assimilation and clarification, we will consider them here:
  1. Circular Argument
  2. Raising the Question

Part of the reason for the misunderstanding over what "begging the question" means may be due to the confusing term itself, which was translated into
English from Latin in the 16th century. The Latin version, Petitio Principii, would be translated more accurately as "Petitioning the Principle," or "Claiming the truth of the very matter in question," but the more pithy "Begging the question" has become the well-known translation.

Circular Argument

A Circular argument is one which assumes the very thing it aims to prove; in essence, the proposition is used to prove itself, a tactic which fails because it is not very persuasive. For example:

I am not lying. Since I'm not lying, I must be telling the truth.

While at first glance these statements appear logical, it does nothing to convince one of the truthfulness of the speaker. In seeking to prove his own truthfulness, the speaker asks his audience to assume that he is telling the truth.

It is important to note that such arguments are logically valid. That is, the conclusion does in fact follow from the premise, since it is in some way identical to the premise. All circular arguments have this characteristic: that the proposition to be proved is assumed at some point in the argument.

See also: circular definition

Raising the Question

As the phrase "Your statement begs the question..." is used today, a question-begging argument needn't go so far as to include its conclusion in its premises. Rather, the argument need only rest upon premises so contentious that no detractor of the conclusion would accept them anyway.

For example, the argument "The Bible says God exists, and the Bible is always right, therefore God exists," raises the question, "how do you know that the Bible is always right?" For no atheist would accept that the Bible is always right. Though the argument is not circular, it is as good as circular, given the context of the dispute. In such a situation it is necessary to prove that the Bible is always right.

Though, it's not always wrong to use raising the question in discussion with someone who does not question the argument, the question that is raised must be addressed with someone who wishes to interrogate the argument. If, however, it was assumed that it would never be questioned, and the arguer can't supply a good reason for the assertion, then the assertion becomes a fallacy.