Logically Delicious is part of a
continuing series within Thinking About Thinking. I’m hunting bad takes in The
Wild, and exposing the logical fallacies that fester within.
Today, we talk about an oft-misused
phrase – begging the question!
Often, you’ll see people say an argument
is “begging the question” just because they have a question about what was
said. While that usage of the phrase is pretty intuitive, it’s not correct –
begging the question is actually a form of circular reasoning.
FALLACY DIAGNOSIS: Begging the Question
Begging the question takes place
when the conclusion of an argument is assumed in one of its premises. The “begging”
is the assumption that the premise is true.
of it as roughly analogous to defining a word while using that word in the
definition – if the reader doesn’t already know what the word means, that
definition is unhelpful!
too, with begging the question. If your evidence relies on accepting the
premise of your argument in order to support itself, and that premise can be
undermined, it’s not actually supporting itself!
An often-cited example of begging the question is
“I know ghosts exist, because I’ve had experiences with
The problem – the argument relies on the assumption that ghosts are real to support itself, and therefore can’t be accepted as a logical answer to the question “Are ghosts real?”
HOW TO CONFRONT Begging the question is a shockingly common logical fallacy. Most people make arguments that beg the question without even realizing they’re doing it. Because of this, catching the fallacy and confronting it requires a trained eye – and practice.
Socrates was a master of exposing this fallacy, and his method (The Socratic Method) can help root it out. Simply continue to ask questions about your interlocutor’s premises until they either collapse under their own pressure, or they’re refined to the point that they can support themselves.
Until next time…keep thinking!