fallacy of begging the question



In classical
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate par ...
logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. It is a formal science investigating how conclusions follow from premi ...
, begging the question or assuming the conclusion (
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of ...
: ') is an informal fallacy that occurs when an argument's premises assume the truth of the conclusion, instead of supporting it. For example: * "Green is the best color because it is the greenest of all colors" This statement claims that the color green is the best because it is the greenest – which it presupposes is the best. It is a type of
circular reasoning Circular may refer to: * The shape of a circle * ''Circular'' (album), a 2006 album by Spanish singer Vega * Circular letter (disambiguation) ** Flyer (pamphlet), a form of advertisement * Circular reasoning, a type of logical fallacy * Circular ...
: an argument that requires that the desired conclusion be true. This often occurs in an indirect way such that the fallacy's presence is hidden, or at least not easily apparent.Herrick (2000) 248.


The original phrase used by
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of p ...
from which ''begging the question'' descends is: τὸ ἐξ ἀρχῆς (or sometimes ἐν ἀρχῇ) αἰτεῖν, "asking for the initial thing". Aristotle's intended meaning is closely tied to the type of
dialectic Dialectic ( grc-gre, διαλεκτική, ''dialektikḗ''; related to dialogue; german: Dialektik), also known as the dialectical method, is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to ...
al argument he discusses in his '' Topics'', book VIII: a formalized debate in which the defending party asserts a thesis that the attacking party must attempt to refute by asking yes-or-no questions and deducing some inconsistency between the responses and the original thesis. In this stylized form of debate, the proposition that the answerer undertakes to defend is called "the initial thing" (τὸ ἐξ ἀρχῆς, τὸ ἐν ἀρχῇ) and one of the rules of the debate is that the questioner cannot simply ask for it (that would be trivial and uninteresting). Aristotle discusses this in '' Sophistical Refutations'' and in ''
Prior Analytics The ''Prior Analytics'' ( grc-gre, Ἀναλυτικὰ Πρότερα; la, Analytica Priora) is a work by Aristotle on reasoning, known as his syllogistic, composed around 350 BCE. Being one of the six extant Aristotelian writings on logic ...
'' book II, (64b, 34–65a 9, for circular reasoning see 57b, 18–59b, 1). The stylized dialectical exchanges Aristotle discusses in the ''Topics'' included rules for scoring the debate, and one important issue was precisely the matter of ''asking for the initial thing''—which included not just making the actual thesis adopted by the answerer into a question, but also making a question out of a sentence that was too close to that thesis (for example, '' PA'' II 16). The term was translated into English from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through the power of ...
in the 16th century. The Latin version, ', "asking for the starting point", can be interpreted in different ways. ' (from '), in the
post-classical In world history, post-classical history refers to the period from about 500 AD to 1500, roughly corresponding to the European Middle Ages. The period is characterized by the expansion of civilizations geographically and development of trade ...
context in which the phrase arose, means ''assuming'' or ''postulating'', but in the older classical sense means ''petition'', ''request'' or ''beseeching''. ',
genitive In grammar, the genitive case (abbreviated ) is the grammatical case that marks a word, usually a noun, as modifying another word, also usually a noun—thus indicating an attributive relationship of one noun to the other noun. A genitive can a ...
of ', means ''beginning'', ''basis'' or ''premise'' (of an argument). Literally ' means "assuming the premise" or "assuming the original point". The Latin phrase comes from the Greek (', "asking the original point") in Aristotle's ''Prior Analytics'' II xvi 64b28–65a26: Aristotle's distinction between apodictic science and other forms of nondemonstrative knowledge rests on an
epistemology Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Epi ...
metaphysics Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality, the first principles of being, identity and change, space and time, causality, necessity, and possibility. It includes questions about the nature of conscio ...
wherein appropriate
first principles In philosophy and science, a first principle is a basic proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption. First principles in philosophy are from First Cause attitudes and taught by Aristotelians, and nua ...
become apparent to the trained dialectician: Thomas Fowler believed that ' would be more properly called ', which is literally "begging the question".Fowler, Thomas (1887)
''The Elements of Deductive Logic, Ninth Edition''
(p. 145). Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.


To "beg the question" (also called ') is to attempt to support a claim with a premise that itself restates or presupposes the claim.Welton (1905), 279., "Petitio principii is, therefore, committed when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof." It is an attempt to prove a proposition while simultaneously taking the proposition for granted. When the fallacy involves only a single variable, it is sometimes called a '' hysteron proteron''Davies (1915), 572.Welton (1905), 280–282. (Greek for "later earlier"), a
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate par ...
al device, as in the statement: * "Opium induces sleep because it has a ''soporific'' quality."Welton (1905), 281. Reading this sentence, the only thing one can learn is a new word in a more classical style (soporific), for referring to a more common action (induces sleep), but it does not explain why it causes that effect. A sentence attempting to explain why opium induces sleep, or the same, why opium has soporific quality, would be the following one: * "Opium induces sleep because it contains
Morphine-6-glucuronide Morphine-6-glucuronide (M6G) is a major active metabolite of morphine. M6G is formed from morphine by the enzyme UGT2B7. It has analgesic effects more potent than morphine. M6G can accumulate to toxic levels in kidney failure. History of discover ...
, which inhibits the brain's receptors for pain, causing a pleasurable sensation that eventually induces sleep." A less obvious example from Fallacies and Pitfalls of Language: The Language Trap by S. Morris Engel: * "Free trade will be good for this country. The reason is patently clear. Isn't it obvious that unrestricted commercial relations will bestow on all sections of this nation the benefits which result when there is an unimpeded flow of goods between countries?" This form of the fallacy may not be immediately obvious. Linguistic variations in syntax, sentence structure, and the literary device may conceal it, as may other factors involved in an argument's delivery. It may take the form of an unstated premise which is essential but not identical to the conclusion, or is "controversial or questionable for the same reasons that typically might lead someone to question the conclusion": For example, one can obscure the fallacy by first making a statement in concrete terms, then attempting to pass off an identical statement, delivered in abstract terms, as evidence for the original. One could also "bring forth a proposition expressed in words of
Saxon The Saxons ( la, Saxones, german: Sachsen, ang, Seaxan, osx, Sahson, nds, Sassen, nl, Saksen) were a group of Germanic * * * * peoples whose name was given in the early Middle Ages to a large country ( Old Saxony, la, Saxonia) near the No ...
origin, and give us a reason for it the very same proposition stated in words of Norman origin", as here: * "To allow every man an unbounded freedom of speech must always be, on the whole, advantageous to the State, for it is highly conducive to the interests of the community that each individual should enjoy a liberty perfectly unlimited of expressing his sentiments." When the fallacy of begging the question is committed in more than one step, some authors dub it ' (''reasoning in a circle'')Bradley Dowden
in ''Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy''.
or, more commonly, ''circular reasoning''. Begging the question is not considered a formal fallacy (an
argument An argument is a statement or group of statements called premises intended to determine the degree of truth or acceptability of another statement called conclusion. Arguments can be studied from three main perspectives: the logical, the dialect ...
that is defective because it uses an incorrect deductive step). Rather, it is a type of informal fallacy that is logically valid but unpersuasive, in that it fails to prove anything other than what is already assumed.The reason ' is considered a fallacy is not that the
inference Inferences are steps in reasoning, moving from premises to logical consequences; etymologically, the word ''infer'' means to "carry forward". Inference is theoretically traditionally divided into deduction and induction, a distinction that in ...
is invalid (because any statement is indeed equivalent to itself), but that the argument can be deceptive. A statement cannot prove itself. A premiss must have a different source of reason, ground or evidence for its truth from that of the conclusion: Lander University
"Petitio Principii"

Related fallacies

Closely connected with begging the question is the fallacy of
circular reasoning Circular may refer to: * The shape of a circle * ''Circular'' (album), a 2006 album by Spanish singer Vega * Circular letter (disambiguation) ** Flyer (pamphlet), a form of advertisement * Circular reasoning, a type of logical fallacy * Circular ...
('), a fallacy in which the reasoner begins with the conclusion. The individual components of a circular argument can be logically valid because if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true, and does not lack relevance. However, circular reasoning is not persuasive because a listener who doubts the conclusion also doubts the premise that leads to it. Begging the question is similar to the '' complex question'' (also known as ''trick question'' or ''fallacy of many questions''): a question that, to be valid, requires the truth of another question that has not been established. For example, "Which color dress is Mary wearing?" may be fallacious because it presupposes that Mary is wearing a dress. Unless it has previously been established that her outfit is a dress, the question is fallacious because she could be wearing an outfit that was not a dress, such as pants and no dress. Another related fallacy is '' ignoratio elenchi'' or ''irrelevant conclusion'': an argument that fails to address the issue in question, but appears to do so. An example might be a situation where A and B are debating whether the law permits A to do something. If A attempts to support his position with an argument that the law ''ought'' to allow him to do the thing in question, then he is guilty of '.


vernacular A vernacular or vernacular language is in contrast with a "standard language". It refers to the language or dialect that is spoken by people that are inhabiting a particular country or region. The vernacular is typically the native language, n ...
English,Follett (1966), 228; Kilpatrick (1997); Martin (2002), 71; Safire (1998). ''begging the question'' (or equivalent rephrasing thereof) often occurs in place of "raises the question", "invites the question", "suggests the question", "leaves unanswered the question" etc.. Such preface is then followed with the question, as in: * " ..personal letter delivery is at an all-time low... Which begs the question: are open letters the only kind the future will know?" * "Hopewell's success begs the question: why aren't more companies doing the same?"beg the question
. ''Collins Cobuild Advanced English Dictionary'' online, accessed on 2019-05-13
* "Spending the summer traveling around India is a great idea, but it does beg the question of how we can afford it."beg the question
''Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus'' online, accessed on 2019-05-13
Sometimes it is further confused with " dodging the question", an attempt to avoid it, or perhaps more often ''begging the question'' is simply used to mean leaving the question unanswered.

See also

Ambiguity Ambiguity is the type of meaning in which a phrase, statement or resolution is not explicitly defined, making several interpretations plausible. A common aspect of ambiguity is uncertainty. It is thus an attribute of any idea or statement ...
* Catch-22 (logic) *
Circular definition A circular definition is a description that uses the term(s) being defined as part of the description or assumes that the term(s) being described are already known. There are several kinds of circular definition, and several ways of characteri ...
* ''
Consequentia mirabilis ''Consequentia mirabilis'' (Latin for "admirable consequence"), also known as Clavius's Law, is used in traditional and classical logic to establish the truth of a proposition from the inconsistency of its negation. It is thus related to ''red ...
'' * Euphemism treadmill * Fallacies of definition * * Open-question argument *
Polysyllogism A polysyllogism (also called multi-premise syllogism, sorites, climax, or gradatio) is a string of any number of propositions forming together a sequence of syllogisms such that the conclusion of each syllogism, together with the next proposition, ...
* Presuppositional apologetics * Regress argument (') * Spin (propaganda)



* Cohen, Morris Raphael, Ernest Nagel, and John Corcoran. ''An Introduction to Logic''. Hackett Publishing, 1993. . * Davies, Arthur Ernest. ''A Text-book of Logic''. R.G. Adams and Company, 1915. * Follett, Wilson. ''Modern American Usage: A Guide''. Macmillan, 1966. . * Gibson, William Ralph Boyce, and Augusta Klein. ''The Problem of Logic''. A. and C. Black, 1908. * Herrick, Paul. ''The Many Worlds of Logic''. Oxford University Press, 2000. * Kahane, Howard, and Nancy Cavender. ''Logic and contemporary rhetoric: the use of reason in everyday life''. Cengage Learning, 2005. . * Kilpatrick, James. "Begging Question Assumes Proof of an Unproved Proposition". ''Rocky Mountain News (CO)'' 6 April 1997. Accessed through Access World News on 3 June 2009. * Martin, Robert M. ''There Are Two Errors in the Title of This Book: A sourcebook of philosophical puzzles, paradoxes, and problems''. Broadview Press, 2002. . * Mercier, Charles Arthur. ''A New Logic''. Open Court Publishing Company, 1912. * Mill, John Stuart. ''A system of logic, ratiocinative and inductive: being a connected view of the principles of evidence, and the methods of scientific investigation''. J.W. Parker, 1851. * Safire, William
"On Language: Take my question please!"
''The New York Times'' 26 July 1998. Accessed 3 June 2009. * Schiller, Ferdinand Canning Scott. ''Formal logic, a scientific and social problem''. London: Macmillan, 1912. * Welton, James. "Fallacies incident to the method"
''A Manual of Logic'', Vol. 2.
London: W.B. Clive University Tutorial Press, 1905. {{Logic Barriers to critical thinking Cognitive inertia Dogmatism Error Fallacies Ignorance Informal fallacies