Begging the Question Fallacy | Examples & Definition

Reasoning updated on  May 29, 2024 5 min read

Begging the question is a fallacy of circular reasoning in which at least one premise assumes the truth of the argument’s conclusion. This informal logical fallacy renders an argument unsound.

Begging the question is often a result of faulty reasoning rather than an attempt at manipulation.

Begging the question fallacy example
“The government must be conducting secret time travel research. The advanced technology they possess could only have come from the future.”

In this example, the premise (the advanced technology must have come from the future) assumes the truth of what the argument sets out to prove (that the government is conducting time travel research). Both the premise and the conclusion assume the debatable idea that time travel is possible.

What is the begging the question fallacy?

Begging the question, also known as petitio principii (Latin for “assuming the principle”), occurs when an argument attempts to prove a statement’s truth by asserting that something logically equivalent to it is true.

The terms “begging the question” and “circular reasoning” are often used interchangeably. However, some distinguish between the two fallacies based on the subtlety and complexity of the reasoning involved.

In circular reasoning, an argument’s premises and conclusion are essentially identical, making the circularity blatant. For example, saying “This politician is popular because he has a lot of supporters” is a clear case of circular reasoning, as the premise and conclusion have the same meaning.

Begging the question, while a form of circular reasoning, often involves more complexity. It includes additional information or more intricate constructions in the argument. However, it ultimately relies on a premise that, either directly or indirectly, assumes the truth of the conclusion. This assumption is not as immediately obvious as in straightforward circular reasoning.

An example of begging the question would be the argument “The court’s decision must be fair because it was made by an unbiased judge and jury.” Unlike clear-cut circular reasoning in which the premise and conclusion are perfectly equivalent, this example of begging the question implies an underlying assumption (the lack of bias in judges and juries) that requires independent evidence.

What does begging the question mean?

As a logical fallacy, “begging the question” refers to an error in inductive reasoning in which an argument includes a premise that assumes the truth of its conclusion.

However, in common parlance, the phrase “this begs the question” is often used to mean “this raises the question.” For example, one might say, “The fact that plants have been grown in space begs the question of how soon it might be possible to establish a space colony.” This colloquial usage has become increasingly accepted in many contexts, but it is best avoided in formal writing.

Why is begging the question fallacious?

A sound inductive argument presents premises that are logically connected and provide strong support for the conclusion, though they don’t guarantee its truth. In these arguments, the evidence or premises suggest a high probability of the conclusion being true, based on observed patterns, statistical evidence, or experiences.

In arguments that beg the question, the premises present information that assumes the truth of the conclusion, often in a somewhat subtle way. The argument isn’t persuasive because instead of proving its claims, it restates the same claims in different ways.

Begging the question fallacy examples

The begging the question fallacy is sometimes obvious, but it may go unnoticed in more complex cases.

Begging the question fallacy example in real life
“Strict gun control laws are ineffective because policies that heavily regulate firearms don't reduce crime.”

In this example, the premise (policies that heavily regulate firearms don’t reduce crime) is just a rephrased version of the conclusion (strict gun control laws are ineffective). This circular argument assumes the truth of what it’s trying to prove without offering supporting evidence.

Arguments that beg the question can seem especially convincing to audiences that already hold the same views and assumptions as the speaker. In such cases, the audience is unlikely to notice the argument’s lack of supporting evidence.

Begging the question fallacy example in media
An op-ed in a technology journal argues, “Cybercrime is a serious problem, and legislation is the only effective way to combat cybercrime. Therefore,the proposed cybersecurity legislation must be enacted.”

This argument exemplifies the fallacy of begging the question because it assumes in the premise (cybersecurity legislation is the only effective method to combat cybercrime) what it is trying to prove in the conclusion (the necessity of enacting the proposed legislation).

The argument does not provide external justification or evidence to explain why the proposed legislation is the only option. It instead assumes the legislation’s effectiveness as a given fact, which is the central point in contention.

To avoid begging the question, an argument must have premises that are supported with independent evidence or coherent reasoning, and it must thoughtfully address counterarguments. This approach ensures that an argument avoids circularity and builds a reasonable case for its conclusion.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Common mistakes

Commonly confused words

Rhetoric

Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser

Metonymy

Theirs or their's

Accept vs except

Synecdoche

Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between

Irony

Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more

Grawlix


Frequently asked questions about begging the question fallacy

What is the difference between circular reasoning fallacy and begging the question?

Although many sources use circular reasoning fallacy and begging the question interchangeably, others point out that there is a subtle difference between the two:

  • Begging the question fallacy occurs when you assume that an argument is true in order to justify a conclusion. If something begs the question, what you are actually asking is, “Is the premise of that argument actually true?” For example, the statement “Snakes make great pets. That’s why we should get a snake” begs the question “Are snakes really great pets?”
  • Circular reasoning fallacy, on the other hand, occurs when the evidence used to support a claim is just a repetition of the claim itself. For example, “People have free will because they can choose what to do.”

In other words, we could say begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.

What is the difference between a complex question fallacy and begging the question fallacy?

The complex question fallacy and begging the question fallacy are similar in that they are both based on assumptions. However, there is a difference between them:

  • A complex question fallacy occurs when someone asks a question that presupposes the answer to another question that has not been established or accepted by the other person. For example, asking someone “Have you stopped cheating on tests?”, unless it has previously been established that the person is indeed cheating on tests, is a fallacy.
  • Begging the question fallacy occurs when we assume the very thing as a premise that we’re trying to prove in our conclusion. In other words, the conclusion is used to support the premises, and the premises prove the validity of the conclusion. For example: “God exists because the Bible says so, and the Bible is true because it is the word of God.”

In other words, begging the question is about drawing a conclusion based on an assumption, while a complex question involves asking a question that presupposes the answer to a prior question.


Tags

Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.