Circular Reasoning Fallacy | Definition & Examples

Reasoning updated on  January 22, 2024 4 min read

Circular reasoning is an informal logical fallacy that assumes the truth of a conclusion without providing independent evidence or valid reasoning.

Circular reasoning fallacy example
Politician: Everyone in our party should vote for the incumbent candidate because he’s the only one who stands a chance to win.
Journalist: Why should voters who disagree with his foreign policy support him?
Politician: Voters must support the party’s candidate based on electability.

In everyday discourse, circular statements aren’t inherently fallacious. They are commonly used to emphasize ideas or convey cultural norms (e.g., “Justice is important because we all deserve equal rights”). Circular statements can also be used to define or clarify concepts (e.g., “This shape is a rectangle because it has four 90-degree angles”).

Circular reasoning is fallacious specifically when used in argumentation. Fallacies of circular reasoning are often used either as a result of cognitive biases or as a rhetorical tactic to mask a lack of evidence.

What is the circular reasoning fallacy?

Circular reasoning features redundant logic, with the argument circling back to its starting point, offering no new information. It is marked by a lack of independent evidence, relying on its own assertions. A circular argument can appear logical at first, but closer examination reveals a lack of substance.

Circular reasoning is an informal fallacy characterized by a deficiency in the argument’s content. Arguments based on circular logic are unsound because they fail to provide substantive justification for their conclusions.

In circular reasoning, the repeated assertion of an idea, even if logically flawed, can create an illusion of coherence, making it appear compelling. Repetition can be persuasive because it capitalizes on the human inclination to perceive consistency as convincing.

What is a circular argument?

An argument is composed of one or more premises, which provide reasons or evidence, and a conclusion that logically follows from the premises. In a sound argument, the premises robustly support the conclusion. Circular arguments defy the principles of inductive reasoning by introducing premises that fail to contribute meaningfully to the conclusion.

The term “circular reasoning” is often used interchangeably with “begging the question,” but a subtle distinction can be made. Begging the question can be considered a type of circular reasoning in which the premises aren’t exactly equivalent to the conclusion, but instead they assume the truth of the conclusion.

Another category of circular reasoning is tautology. Tautological arguments employ circular reasoning to present statements that have a logically valid structure but make a trivial, self-evident point. For example, the statement “The sun will either rise or not rise tomorrow” exemplifies a tautology.

How does the circular reasoning fallacy work?

Circular arguments involve a form of reasoning in which the conclusion is either directly or indirectly based on the same claims found in the premises, creating a logical loop without independent evidence or support.

For example, in the argument “There is irrefutable proof of alien abductions, so it’s clear that humans have made contact with aliens,” the premise and conclusion both include the same assumptions. The argument is circular because it states as self-evident claims that are debatable, without adding any information to support the assumption.

Examples of circular reasoning fallacies

The fact that inadequate reasoning or evidence is provided in a circular argument doesn’t mean the argument itself is false. It may be based on correct information that is simply omitted.

Circular reasoning fallacy example in sales
Salesperson: You should buy this product because it’s known for its exceptional quality.
Customer: What makes it such a good product?
Salesperson: Everyone knows it’s the best in the industry.

Although repeating a claim can be persuasive in some circumstances, in other situations the error is more obvious.

Circular reasoning fallacy example in recruitment
Speaker 1: We should hire this candidate because she has a strong track record.
Speaker 2: What makes her track record strong?
Speaker 1: She’s done a great job in previous roles.

In this scenario, circular reasoning is evident as Speaker 1’s response simply reiterates the initial premise without providing specific evidence. The argument for hiring the candidate is based on her track record, which is described as strong due to past excellence, but no details are included.

Circular reasoning doesn’t add meaningful information and often rests on repeating an unsupported claim using different wording.

Circular reasoning fallacy example in science
Person A: Climate change is a hoax propagated by scientists with ulterior motives.
Person B: Why do you believe that?
Person A: Because scientists who support the idea are just trying to get more funding for their research.

In this argument, Person A dismisses climate change by claiming it’s a hoax, but the only reason provided (scientists’ presumed motives) relies on the assumption that climate change is a hoax.

Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Other

Offence vs offense

Participial phrase

At your earliest convenience

Humor or humour

Superlative adjective

Yours truly

Realise or realize

Comparative adjective

Sincerely yours

Learnt or learned

Nouns

Class act

Cancelled or canceled

Pronouns

Devil’s advocate


Frequently asked questions about the circular reasoning 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.

Which type of fallacy uses circular reasoning to support an argument?

The circular reasoning fallacy is a logical fallacy in which the evidence used to support a claim assumes that the claim is true, resulting in a self-reinforcing but ultimately unconvincing argument. For instance, someone might argue, “This brand is the best (conclusion) because it’s superior to all other brands on the market (premise).”




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Magedah Shabo

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

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