Begging the question is a type of logical fallacy that is based on assumptions rather than on concrete evidence. It is often unpersuasive and can be easy to spot in its simple forms; it uses the claim it is trying to prove as a premise for the argument in order to prove the very same claim.
It’s also known as petitio principii (Latin for “assuming the initial point”) and “chicken and the egg argument”, and it’s seen as a form of circular reasoning.
✍️ The fallacy of begging the question occurs when the conclusion of an argument is assumed in one of its premises. The validity of this type of argument requires its own conclusion to be true.
As such, the logical form for this is:
- Claim Y assumes X is true.
- Therefore, X is true.
- X is true because X is true.
An example is:
Dear Friend, a man who has studied law to its highest degree is a brilliant lawyer, for a brilliant lawyer has studied law to its highest degree.Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
As you can see, here, one makes the same point both at the beginning and end of the statement rather than provide independent evidence to support what they are trying to prove.
Usage of the Term
Note that in some contemporary usage, the term “begs the question” is used to mean “invites the question” or “raises the question”. However, this is typically considered to be the incorrect usage of the term, and the way it is used in classical rhetoric and logic is seen as the correct one.
- “The Beatles is the greatest band of all time because they’ve sold more records than any other band.”
- “Love is the most important emotion since all the other emotions are inferior to it.”
- “God has all the virtues. One of the virtues is benevolence. Therefore, God is benevolent.”
- “Murder is always morally wrong. Therefore, abortion is morally wrong.”
- “The rights of the criminal should be as important as the rights of the victim because everyone’s rights should be equal.”
- “Same-sex marriage is unnatural since human beings are naturally attracted to the opposite sex.”
Begging the Question vs Circular Reasoning
Begging the question is closely related to circular reasoning. In fact, the two work is practically the same: in both fallacies, either part of the argument is supported by the other part, which creates a fallacious circle in reasoning. Despite this, they are typically specified as separate fallacies.
The distinguishing factor may be, at least in some cases, that begging the question is often shorter in form than its counterpart.