Begging the Question Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 A Faulty Argument?
  • 0:54 Circular Reasoning
  • 1:47 Characteristics
  • 3:17 Examples
  • 4:52 Other Uses of the Phrase
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

In this lesson, you'll learn how to identify a type of faulty logic known as begging the question. You'll be able to pinpoint when others are using this fallacy in their arguments and avoid confusion with other ways people use the phrase.

A Faulty Argument?

Ten-year-old Colby is playing video games when his mother comes in and says it's time to go. They have errands to run, and she doesn't want to leave him home alone. When he asks why he can't stay home, she uses a phrase many parents know well: 'Because I'm your mother and I said so.'

But Colby isn't your typical ten-year-old. He's a philosophy genius. He's going to give his mom a hard time about what she just said. 'Mom, that's begging the question. That's a philosophical fallacy, a faulty argument.'

Her first reaction is to just angrily repeat what she said, but he's struck her curiosity. Colby's mom asks him to explain what he means before they head out to do the errands. By the end of this lesson, you'll know the characteristics of this fallacy, and you'll be able to identify arguments that use it.

Circular Reasoning

Colby explains to his mom, 'when I asked you for reasons why I can't stay home on my own, you said it was because you said I couldn't. So, you were telling me I can't stay home because you say I can't stay home. You didn't give good evidence for why I should listen to what you're telling me to do.' His mom has to stop herself from getting angry with Colby. She says, 'but the reason I say it like that is because it's obviously true. You have to believe me because what I tell you is the truth.'

'There you go again, mom. That's a type of circular reasoning, starting one's argument with the conclusion to the argument. It doesn't give evidence at all.' His mom is reaching her limit for her son's philosophical arguments, but she's still intrigued. She asks, 'tell me more about what you mean.'

Characteristics of Begging the Question

Colby explains that in any argument, you start with a premise, or theory, and then must give evidence to prove that theory and draw conclusions. He goes back to their conversation. 'For instance, when you said that I must do what you tell me to do, the next step would be to give evidence for why this is true. But when a person uses evidence that is just restating their claim, it's known as begging the question, a form of circular reasoning. This is an argument with a conclusion that appears as one of its premises. This is how people typically make a faulty argument by begging the question.'

He writes on his mini-chalkboard: X is true. The evidence for this is X.

A person starts off by stating that a certain thing is true, then they do not give any real evidence for that. Instead, they restate the same general information. So, no evidence is really given. No progress is made in the argument. A parent saying you have to listen to me because I said you should listen to me uses this fallacy.

A better argument would be: X is true. The evidence for this is Y.

Colby says to his mom that if she told him instead that the reason he must listen to her is because she has the responsibility to protect him from harm, that would be better evidence than 'because I said so.'

Examples of Begging the Question

By now, Colby's mom is irritated but also still interested in the topic. 'What other examples can you give me?' she asks. His mom is a math professor, so Colby asks her how she would respond if someone asks her why is she qualified to be a math professor? She says it's because she's completed graduate studies in the subject and learned to communicate the information to those with less knowledge.

Colby says that this is a reasonable argument. But, what if she had said something instead like, 'a math professor is qualified to teach math because they are a math professor.' That's not very convincing is it? That's one type of begging the question, a simple one to identify because it's word-by-word repetition.

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