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Encyclopedia > Begging the question

In logic, begging the question describes a type of logical fallacy, petitio principii, in which the conclusion of an argument is implicitly or explicitly assumed in one of the premises.[1] Stephen Barker explains the fallacy in The Elements of Logic: "If the premises are related to the conclusion in such an intimate way that the speaker and listeners could not have less reason to doubt the premise than they have to doubt the conclusion, then the argument is worthless as a proof, even though the link between premises and conclusion may have the most cast-iron rigor".[1] In other words, the argument fails to prove anything because it takes for granted what it is supposed to prove. Image File history File links Broom_icon. ... Logic (from Classical Greek λόγος logos; meaning word, thought, idea, argument, account, reason, or principle) is the study of the principles and criteria of valid inference and demonstration. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Fallacy. ...

Begging the question is related to the fallacy known as circular argument, circulus in probando, vicious circle or circular reasoning. As a concept in logic the first known definition in the West is by the Greek philosopher Aristotle around 350 B.C., in the Prior Analytics. Logic (from Classical Greek λόγος logos; meaning word, thought, idea, argument, account, reason, or principle) is the study of the principles and criteria of valid inference and demonstration. ... A philosopher is a person who thinks deeply regarding people, society, the world, and/or the universe. ... Aristotle (Greek: Aristotélēs) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... Centuries: 5th century BC - 4th century BC - 3rd century BC Decades: 400s BC 390s BC 380s BC 370s BC 360s BC - 350s BC - 340s BC 330s BC 320s BC 310s BC 300s BC 355 BC 354 BC 353 BC 352 BC 351 BC - 350 BC - 349 BC 348 BC 347... Prior Analytics is Aristotles work on deductive reasoning, part of his Organon, the organ of logical and scientific methods. ...

Outside of logic, "begs the question" is commonly used to mean "raises the question," i.e., "begs the question be asked"—using a more common sense of the word beg, rather than the rarer sense "assume without proof" that the technical term uses.[1]



The term was translated into English from the Latin in the 16th century. The Latin version, Petitio Principii (petitio: seeking, petition, request; principii, genitive of principium: beginning, basis, premise of an argument), literally means "a request for the beginning or premise." That is, the premise depends on the truth of the very matter in question. The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... For other uses, see Latin (disambiguation). ... (15th century - 16th century - 17th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 16th century was that century which lasted from 1501 to 1600. ...

The Latin phrase comes from the Greek εν αρχή αιτείσθαι (en archei aiteisthai) in Aristotle's Prior Analytics II xvi:

"Begging or assuming the point at issue consists (to take the expression in its widest sense) in failing to demonstrate the required proposition. But there are several other ways in which this may happen; for example, if the argument has not taken syllogistic form at all, he may argue from premises which are less known or equally unknown, or he may establish the antecedent by means of its consequents; for demonstration proceeds from what is more certain and is prior. Now begging the question is none of these. [...] If, however, the relation of B to C is such that they are identical, or that they are clearly convertible, or that one applies to the other, then he is begging the point at issue.... [B]egging the question is proving what is not self-evident by means of itself ... either because predicates which are identical belong to the same subject, or because the same predicate belongs to subjects which are identical."

Fowler's Deductive Logic (1887) argues that the Latin origin is more properly Petitio Quæsiti which is literally "begging the question" as opposed to "petitioning the premise."

A generalization, assuming a point at a(n) issue(s).


As noted by Simon Blackburn in A Dictionary of Philosophy, describing something as "begging the question" can be problematic because such arguments are logically valid. That is, the conclusion does in fact follow from the premises, since it is already contained in the premises. All circular arguments have this characteristic: the proposition to be proved is assumed at some point in the argument. This is why begging the question was classified as a material fallacy rather than a logical fallacy by Aristotle and, similarly, is classified as an informal fallacy today. For one person, to whom the premises obviously contain the conclusion, an argument might beg the question, but for many people the connection may not be so apparent and thus the argument might be enlightening. Only in the case where the premises formally contain the conclusion can a case of begging the question be definitively be said to arise. Simon Blackburn (born 1944) is a British academic philosopher also known for his efforts to popularise philosophy. ... In logic, the form of an argument is valid precisely if it cannot lead from true premises to a false conclusion. ... A conclusion is a final proposition, which is arrived at after the consideration of evidence, arguments or premises. ... In discourse, a premise (also premiss in British usage) is a claim which is part of a reason or objection. ... The term Fallacy denotes any mistaken statement used in an argument. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Fallacy. ... Aristotle (Greek: Aristotélēs) (384 BC – 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... In Philosophical logic, an informal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning which is false due to the falsity of one or more of its premises. ...

Consider the following: X is a computer because it correctly performs mathematical operations. To someone who knows the usual meaning of the word "computer", such an argument appears to beg the question; however, to someone who does not understand how the word computer is usually used, it does not. Absent some formal definition of the word "computer", whether or not the argument begs the question cannot be settled. This article is about the machine. ...


In a related sense, the phrase is occasionally used to mean "avoiding the question." Those who use this variation are explaining that the argument lacks a premise, and they have missed the self-circularity of the argument because of it.

Fowler's Modern English Usage classifies begging the question in a somewhat different fashion (from, for example, the meanings from Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Dictionary). Fowler's states that it is "[t]he fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself." This is more commonly known as the fallacy of many questions. A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, often referred to simply as Fowlers Modern English Usage, or Fowler, is a style guide to British English usage, authored by Henry W. Fowler. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ...

Related fallacies

Though "begging the question" and "circular reasoning" are often used interchangeably, some textbooks maintain that this is not quite correct in the strictest sense. In this view there is the following difference between them: Circular Reasoning is the basing of two conclusions each upon the other (possibly with one or more intermediate steps). That is, if you follow a chain of arguments, the conclusion of some argument is used as a premise in one of the earlier arguments that eventually led to that conclusion. Begging the question can occur within one argument; on this understanding, begging the question occurs if and only if the conclusion is implicitly or explicitly a component of an immediate premise.

Contested modern usage

More recently, "begs the question" has been widely used as though it is equivalent to "invites the question," "prompts the question," "raises the question," or to indicate that "the question ought to be addressed." In this usage, "the question" is stated in the next phrase. For example: "This year's budget deficit is half a trillion dollars. This begs the question: how are we ever going to balance the budget?" This usage has met with substantial resistance among prescriptive grammarians.[2][3][4][5][6] . Argument over whether this usage should be considered "incorrect" is an example of the debate between linguistic prescription and description. A budget deficit occurs when an entity (often a government) spends more money than it takes in. ... In linguistics, prescription is the laying down or prescribing of normative rules for the use of a language. ...

See also

This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... Fallacies of definition refer to the various ways in which definitions can fail to have merit. ... Catch 22 has become a term, inspired by Joseph Hellers novel Catch-22, describing a general situation in which A must have been preceded by B, and B must have been preceded by A. Symbolically, (~B => ~A) & (~A => ~B) where either A or B must come into being first. ... A circular definition is one that assumes a prior understanding of the term being defined. ... Reification (also known as hypostatization or concretism) is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction (abstract belief or hypothetical construct) is treated as if it represented a concrete, real event or physical entity. ...


  1. ^ a b Barker, Stephen [1965] (2003). ""Chapter 6: Fallacies"", The Elements of Logic, Sixth Edition, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, pp. 159-161. ISBN 0-07-283235-5. 

In Philosophical logic, an informal fallacy is a pattern of reasoning which is false due to the falsity of one or more of its premises. ... Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves. ... Ignoratio elenchi (also known as irrelevant conclusion or irrelevant thesis) is the formal fallacy of presenting an argument that may in itself be valid, but doesnt address the issue in question. ... The gamblers fallacy is a logical fallacy which encompasses any of the following misconceptions: A random event is more likely to occur because it has not happened for a period of time; A random event is less likely to occur because it has not happened for a period of... The inverse gamblers fallacy is a tempting mistake in judgments of probability, comparable to the gamblers fallacy whence its name derives. ... A fallacy of distribution is a logical fallacy occurring when an argument assumes there is no difference between a term in the distributive (referring to every member of a class) and collective (referring to the class itself as a whole) sense. ... A fallacy of composition arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some (or even every) part of the whole. ... A fallacy of division occurs when someone reasons logically that something that is true of a thing must also be true of its constituents. ... This article or section does not adequately cite its references or sources. ... In logic, correlative-based fallacies, also known as fallacies of distraction, are logical fallacies based on correlative conjunctions. ... The form of the fallacy of false dichotomy as an argument map with the conclusion at the top of the tree. ... The perfect solution fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when an argument assumes that a perfect solution exists and/or that a solution should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist after it was implemented. ... The logical fallacy of denying the correlative is the opposite of the false dilemma, where an attempt is made at introducing alternatives where there are none. ... The logical fallacy of suppressed correlative is a type of argument which tries to redefine a correlative (two mutually exclusive options) so that one alternative encompasses the other, i. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... The logical fallacy of accident, also called destroying the exception or a dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid, is a deductive fallacy occurring in statistical syllogisms (an argument based on a generalization) when an exception to the generalization is ignored. ... The logical fallacy of converse accident (also called reverse accident, destroying the exception or a dicto secundum quid ad dictum simpliciter) is a deductive fallacy that can occur in a statistical syllogism when an exception to a generalization is wrongly called for. ... A faulty generalization, also known as an inductive fallacy, is any of several errors of inductive inference: Hasty generalization is the fallacy of examining just one or very few examples or studying a single case, and generalizing that to be representative of the whole class of objects or phenomena. ... Hasty generalization, is a logical fallacy of faulty generalization by reaching an inductive generalization based on insufficient evidence. ... A biased sample is one that is falsely taken to be typical of a population from which it is drawn. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ... The logical fallacy of misleading vividness involves describing some occurrence in vivid detail, even if it is an exceptional occurrence, to convince someone that it is a problem. ... The conjunction fallacy is a logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than general ones. ... Ambiguity is one way in which the meanings of words and phrases can be unclear, but there is another way, which is different from ambiguity: vagueness. ... Look up ambiguity in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... In debate or rhetoric, the slippery slope is an argument for the likelihood of one event or trend given another. ... Continuum fallacy, also called fallacy of the beard is a logical fallacy which abuses the paradox of the heap. ... Equivocation, also known as amphibology, is classified as both a formal and informal fallacy. ... The fallacy of a false attribution occurs when an advocate appeals to an irrelevant, unqualified, unidentified, biased or fabricated source in support of an argument. ... It has been suggested that Contextomy be merged into this article or section. ... Lokis Wager is a form of logical fallacy. ... No true Scotsman is a term coined by Antony Flew in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking – or do I sincerely want to be right?[1]: Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Press and Journal and seeing an article about how the Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again. ... Fallacies of questionable cause, also known as causal fallacies, non causa pro causa (non-cause for cause in Latin) or false cause, are informal fallacies where a cause is incorrectly identified. ... Correlation does not imply causation is a phrase used in the sciences and statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not imply there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. ... The West Wing, see Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (The West Wing). ... The regression (or regressive) fallacy is a logical fallacy. ... The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is a logical fallacy where a cluster of statistically non-significant data is taken from its context, and therefore thought to have a common cause. ... Circular cause and consequence is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. ... Wrong direction is a logical fallacy of causation where cause and effect are reversed. ... The fallacy of the single cause, also known as joint effect or causal oversimplification, is a logical fallacy of causation that occurs when it is assumed that there is one, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient...

External links

  • Fallacy Files
  • Skepdic
  • Datanation.com
  • An academic example
  • Dictionary.com
  • Common Errors in English Usage
  • Petitio Principii
  • World Wide Words: Beg the question

  Results from FactBites:
Begging the question - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1252 words)
In logic, begging the question is the term for a type of fallacy occurring in deductive reasoning in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises.
Begging the question is also known by its Latin name petitio principii and is related to the fallacy known as circular argument, circulus in probando, vicious circle or circular reasoning.
Begging the question is also related to the Fallacy of many questions—a fallacy of technique that results from presenting evidence in support of a conclusion that is logically more difficult to accept than the mere assertion of the conclusion on its own.
  More results at FactBites »



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