Begging the Question Fallacy
I. What is Begging the Question?
Begging the Question is a form of logical fallacy that is based on assumptions. We assume that something is true and has weight even though it may have no legs to stand on. The premises of the argument presuppose the conclusion. Most arguments made without reference to specific factual evidence essentially “beg the question.” It is also known as a form of circular reasoning, petitio pricipii, which translates as, “assuming the initial point,” and the vicious circle. The concept can be traced back to Aristotle in his Prior Analytics II.
II. Begging the Question Structure
- Claim X assumes that X is true.
- Therefore, claim X is true.
- X means Y because Y means X
Rock climbing is dangerous because it is unsafe. Gunpowder causes explosions because it burns. These are two examples of the circular reasoning behind begging the question.
A prosecutor may “beg the question” in a court room where he asks the defendant, “How did it feel to burglarize that place of business?” The question is asked with the assumption that the person committed the crime before there is any proof of it.
It could also be stated by someone, “telepathy is real because I’ve had experiences with it.” Unless the person proves that he or she experienced such phenomenon, any argument moving forward would have to assume that this person is telling the truth.
III. Begging the Question in Politics
Rick Santorum, former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, likes to constantly repeat that “marriage is … a union of a man and a woman” when it comes to debating whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal. This statement is begging the question. There are plenty of other places in the world where it is not the union of a man and woman. To name a few, there are the state of New York, Spain, South Africa, Canada, Iceland, Portugal, Argentina, among others. The definition that he harps upon is that of marriage as it is defined as a sacrament in the church. It is not the definition of civil marriage upheld in the court of law in the United States.
The X means Y because Y means X structure can be seen in President Trump’s Tweets from January 17, 2017.
With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S. (even before taking office), with all of the new auto plants coming back into our…country and with the massive cost reductions I have negotiated on military purchases and more, I believe the people are seeing “big stuff.”
The “big stuff” at the end of the above Tweet is the equivalent to the statement made at the beginning of the statement: “With all of the jobs I am bringing back into the U.S…” There’s also the time he stated, “The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
In “Argument: Logical Fallacies & Propaganda,” R. Gunnar illustrates this fallacy in this statement: These movies are popular because they make so much money. They make a lot of money because people like them. People like them because they are so popular.
IV. Begging the Question versus Raising the Question
There seems to be some confusion over the differences between Begging the Question and Raising the Question. In conversation, they sometimes are used interchangeably. Begging the question is assuming as a premise that which it needs to prove as a conclusion. It is really just avoiding the question or, more specifically, evading any additional factual information that might cause one to believe it. Raising a question is merely bringing up or inspiring the question.
V. Examples of Begging the Question in Film
This circular reasoning in Begging the Question shows up in Sherlock: Played for Laughs when Sherlock is scanning John.
Sherlock: You have a limp, which your therapist believes is psychosomatic –
John: How do you know I have a therapist?
Sherlock: You have a psychosomatic limp; of course you have a therapist.
Also, in Idiocracy this fallacy is illustrated when Joe tries to explain to the Presidential Cabinet members that they shouldn’t water plants with the sports drink Brawndo.
Attorney General: Brawndo’s got what plants crave.
Secretary of Energy: Yeah, it’s got electrolytes.
Joe: What are electrolytes? Do you even know?
Secretary of State: It’s what they use to make Brawndo.
Joe: Yeah, but why do they use them to make Brawndo?
Secretary of Defense: ‘Cause Brawndo’s got electrolytes.
c. Star Trek
It also shows up in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where the space machine V’Ger goes to Earth to find the Creator.
Probe!Ilia: The Creator is that which created V’Ger.
Captain Kirk: And what is V’Ger?
Probe!Ilia: V’Ger is that which seeks the Creator.
How to Tear Apart the Circular Reasoning of the Begging the Question Argument
You should set out to pick apart and prove that whatever is assumed is in fact false. That way, the arguer has no firm footing and the argument becomes null and void.