begging-the-question

Begging the Question

The Begging the Question Fallacy, also known as circular reasoning or petitio principii, occurs when an argument assumes the truth of the very thing it’s trying to prove. In essence, it involves using a statement or premise that depends on the conclusion being true as evidence for that conclusion.

AspectDescription
Key Elements1. Circular Reasoning: This fallacy involves a circular or self-referential argument where the conclusion is restated in one of the premises. 2. Presumption of Truth: It presumes that the conclusion is true without providing independent evidence or support. 3. Failure to Establish Validity: The argument lacks the necessary evidence or logical reasoning to demonstrate the truth of the conclusion. 4. Vicious Circle: It can create a circular chain of reasoning that goes nowhere in terms of proving or establishing the validity of the argument.
Common ApplicationThe Begging the Question Fallacy can appear in various contexts, including debates, advertisements, legal arguments, and philosophical discussions when an argument relies on an unproven assumption or uses circular logic.
Example“Aliens exist because there have been numerous sightings of unidentified flying objects, and these sightings are evidence of alien visitations.”
ImportanceRecognizing the Begging the Question Fallacy is essential for sound argumentation and critical thinking because it highlights the need for evidence and logical reasoning to support claims rather than relying on circular or unsupported assertions.
Case StudyImplicationAnalysisExample
Paranormal PhenomenaUnsupported claims and lack of evidence.Asserting the existence of ghosts based on eyewitness testimonies of ghost encounters. This argument assumes the truth of ghosts’ existence without providing independent evidence or addressing alternative explanations.Claiming that ghosts exist because people have reported ghost sightings, which are proof of their existence.
Religion and FaithCircular reasoning in religious arguments.Arguing that a particular holy book is true because the book itself claims to be the word of a deity. This reasoning relies on circular logic and does not offer independent evidence for the book’s divine origin.Believing in the divine authority of a religious text because the text states it is the word of a higher power.
Political Campaign PromisesLack of credibility in political discourse.A political candidate promises that their policies will create economic prosperity because their policies are designed to do so. This argument presumes the effectiveness of the policies without providing concrete evidence or reasoning.A candidate asserts that their economic policies will work because those policies were designed to create prosperity.
Alternative Medicine ClaimsUnsubstantiated health claims.Promoting the efficacy of a specific alternative medicine treatment because proponents believe in its effectiveness, ignoring the need for rigorous scientific studies to demonstrate its validity.Advocating a natural remedy’s healing properties because supporters believe it works based on anecdotal evidence.
Conspiracy TheoriesUnsupported claims based on assumptions.Proposing that a conspiracy theory is valid because certain individuals or organizations have a motive to cover up the truth, without offering concrete evidence to substantiate the conspiracy theory itself.Arguing that a secretive organization is responsible for a global conspiracy because they have a vested interest in maintaining the conspiracy.

Introduction/Definition

Begging the Question is a logical fallacy where the conclusion that one is trying to prove is assumed within the argument itself. This fallacy often takes the form of a circular argument, where the premises simply restate the conclusion in different terms. In essence, it doesn’t offer any real evidence or reasoning to support the conclusion; instead, it relies on the assumption that the conclusion is true from the outset.

Key Characteristics of Begging the Question:

Key Characteristics

  1. Circular Reasoning: Begging the Question is characterized by circular reasoning, where the argument restates the conclusion without providing independent evidence or support.
  2. Presupposed Conclusion: The conclusion is presupposed or taken for granted within the premises of the argument.
  3. Lack of New Information: The fallacy fails to introduce any new information or evidence to support the conclusion; it merely repeats the same idea.
  4. Deceptive Appearance: Arguments that beg the question can appear convincing at first glance, but upon closer examination, they reveal their circular nature.
  5. Vicious Cycle: It creates a circular or self-reinforcing loop where the conclusion relies on the premises, and the premises rely on the conclusion.

Examples of Begging the Question

To illustrate the concept of Begging the Question, let’s examine some common examples:

1. Circular Definitions

Scenario: A student argues, “The book is trustworthy because it contains only truthful information.”

Explanation: In this case, the student’s argument begs the question by defining the book as trustworthy based on the assumption that it contains only truthful information. The argument doesn’t provide any independent evidence to support this claim.

2. Faith-Based Circular Argument

Scenario: A person claims, “The Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible.”

Explanation: This example demonstrates Begging the Question by using the Bible’s own statement to support its status as the word of God. The argument relies on the presupposition that the Bible is authoritative without offering external evidence.

3. Begging the Ethical Question

Scenario: An individual argues, “Euthanasia is morally wrong because it’s ethically unacceptable.”

Explanation: This argument begs the question by assuming that euthanasia is ethically unacceptable without providing any ethical principles or evidence to support this assertion.

4. Circular Political Argument

Scenario: A political candidate states, “I am the best choice for the job because I am the most qualified candidate.”

Explanation: This political argument falls into Begging the Question by asserting that the candidate is the most qualified without offering any specific qualifications or evidence to substantiate the claim.

5. Circular Scientific Explanation

Scenario: A scientist explains, “Gravity exists because objects are attracted to each other due to gravitational forces.”

Explanation: This scientific explanation engages in Begging the Question by assuming the existence of gravity to explain why objects are attracted to each other. The argument doesn’t provide independent evidence for the existence of gravity.

Implications of Begging the Question

Begging the Question can have several significant implications and consequences:

1. Lack of Convincing Argument

Arguments that beg the question lack the power to persuade or convince others because they rely on circular reasoning rather than presenting new evidence or reasons.

2. Stagnation of Knowledge

Engaging in this fallacy can hinder intellectual progress because it discourages the exploration of new ideas and evidence.

3. Confirmation Bias

Begging the Question can reinforce existing beliefs or biases by assuming the truth of a preferred conclusion.

4. Misleading Appearance

Circular arguments can appear reasonable at first glance, potentially deceiving those who do not critically examine the reasoning.

5. Impediment to Debate

Engaging in Begging the Question can hinder productive debate and dialogue because it fails to address opposing viewpoints or consider alternative explanations.

Avoiding Begging the Question

To avoid falling into the trap of Begging the Question, consider the following strategies:

1. Examine Assumptions

Critically examine the premises of your argument to ensure that they do not presuppose the truth of the conclusion.

2. Seek External Evidence

Support your claims with external evidence, reasoning, or facts rather than relying on circular definitions or self-referential statements.

3. Challenge Your Own Argument

Actively question your own arguments to identify any circular reasoning or presuppositions.

4. Invite Critical Feedback

Encourage others to provide feedback on your arguments and be open to constructive criticism.

5. Consider Alternative Explanations

Explore alternative explanations and viewpoints to avoid reinforcing your own biases.

Real-World Significance

Begging the Question is relevant in various aspects of life, including philosophy, science, religion, politics, and everyday reasoning:

1. Philosophy

In philosophical debates, Begging the Question can undermine the validity of arguments and hinder progress in addressing complex questions.

2. Science

In scientific inquiry, circular reasoning can impede the pursuit of new knowledge by assuming the truth of certain hypotheses without rigorous empirical testing.

3. Religion

Circular arguments are sometimes used to support religious beliefs, but they may not convince skeptics or those from different belief systems.

4. Politics

Begging the Question can be observed in political discourse when candidates assert their qualifications or positions without offering independent evidence.

5. Everyday Reasoning

People may inadvertently engage in this fallacy in everyday conversations, potentially leading to misunderstandings and unproductive discussions.

Conclusion

Begging the Question is a logical fallacy that involves circular reasoning, where the conclusion is presupposed within the argument’s premises. Recognizing and avoiding this fallacy is crucial for constructing sound and persuasive arguments that rely on evidence and logical reasoning rather than circularity. By critically examining assumptions, seeking external evidence, and inviting feedback, individuals can strengthen their arguments and engage in more constructive and meaningful dialogue.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

convergent-vs-divergent-thinking
Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

critical-thinking
Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Biases

biases
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

second-order-thinking
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

lateral-thinking
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

bounded-rationality
Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger-effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

occams-razor
Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

lindy-effect
The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.

Antifragility

antifragility
Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Ergodicity

ergodicity
Ergodicity is one of the most important concepts in statistics. Ergodicity is a mathematical concept suggesting that a point of a moving system will eventually visit all parts of the space the system moves in. On the opposite side, non-ergodic means that a system doesn’t visit all the possible parts, as there are absorbing barriers

Systems Thinking

systems-thinking
Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

vertical-thinking
Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Metaphorical Thinking

metaphorical-thinking
Metaphorical thinking describes a mental process in which comparisons are made between qualities of objects usually considered to be separate classifications.  Metaphorical thinking is a mental process connecting two different universes of meaning and is the result of the mind looking for similarities.

Maslow’s Hammer

einstellung-effect
Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

peter-principle
The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

straw-man-fallacy
The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Google Effect

google-effect
The Google effect is a tendency for individuals to forget information that is readily available through search engines. During the Google effect – sometimes called digital amnesia – individuals have an excessive reliance on digital information as a form of memory recall.

Streisand Effect

streisand-effect
The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.

Compromise Effect

compromise-effect
Single-attribute choices – such as choosing the apartment with the lowest rent – are relatively simple. However, most of the decisions consumers make are based on multiple attributes which complicate the decision-making process. The compromise effect states that a consumer is more likely to choose the middle option of a set of products over more extreme options.

Butterfly Effect

butterfly-effect
In business, the butterfly effect describes the phenomenon where the simplest actions yield the largest rewards. The butterfly effect was coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1960 and as a result, it is most often associated with weather in pop culture. Lorenz noted that the small action of a butterfly fluttering its wings had the potential to cause progressively larger actions resulting in a typhoon.

IKEA Effect

ikea-effect
The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that describes consumers’ tendency to value something more if they have made it themselves. That is why brands often use the IKEA effect to have customizations for final products, as they help the consumer relate to it more and therefore appending to it more value.

Ringelmann Effect 

Ringelmann Effect
The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.

The Overview Effect

overview-effect
The overview effect is a cognitive shift reported by some astronauts when they look back at the Earth from space. The shift occurs because of the impressive visual spectacle of the Earth and tends to be characterized by a state of awe and increased self-transcendence.

House Money Effect

house-money-effect
The house money effect was first described by researchers Richard Thaler and Eric Johnson in a 1990 study entitled Gambling with the House Money and Trying to Break Even: The Effects of Prior Outcomes on Risky Choice. The house money effect is a cognitive bias where investors take higher risks on reinvested capital than they would on an initial investment.

Heuristic

heuristic
As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

recognition-heuristic
The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

representativeness-heuristic
The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

take-the-best-heuristic
The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

bundling-bias
The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

barnum-effect
The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

Anchoring Effect

anchoring-effect
The anchoring effect describes the human tendency to rely on an initial piece of information (the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgments or decisions. Price anchoring, then, is the process of establishing a price point that customers can reference when making a buying decision.

Decoy Effect

decoy-effect
The decoy effect is a psychological phenomenon where inferior – or decoy – options influence consumer preferences. Businesses use the decoy effect to nudge potential customers toward the desired target product. The decoy effect is staged by placing a competitor product and a decoy product, which is primarily used to nudge the customer toward the target product.

Commitment Bias

commitment-bias
Commitment bias describes the tendency of an individual to remain committed to past behaviors – even if they result in undesirable outcomes. The bias is particularly pronounced when such behaviors are performed publicly. Commitment bias is also known as escalation of commitment.

First-Principles Thinking

first-principles-thinking
First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

ladder-of-inference
The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

goodharts-law
Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

six-thinking-hats-model
The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

mandela-effect
The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

crowding-out-effect
The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

bandwagon-effect
The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

moores-law
Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

disruptive-innovation
Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

value-migration
Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

bye-now-effect
The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.

Groupthink

groupthink
Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.

Stereotyping

stereotyping
A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

murphys-law
Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

law-of-unintended-consequences
The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

fundamental-attribution-error
Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

outcome-bias
Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

hindsight-bias
Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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