Begging the Question
- Petitio principii (Latin: "pursuit/attack of the source")
"Proving" that something is true by taking your conclusion as one of your premises, usually done implicitly rather than explicitly. Few people are fooled by having your conclusion as your only premise
, as in "Joe is mad at Jill, therefore Joe is mad at Jill.". Such arguments are called tautologies
and are valid, and sound if the premises are true, but utterly meaningless. Put broadly, this fallacy applies to any argument where one or more premises are at least as contentious as the conclusion itself, and for the same reasons, such as:
Alice says she is honest.
If an honest person says something, it must be true.
Therefore Alice is an honest person, because an honest person says so.
"Begging the question" is often used to mean "leading inevitably to the question" (similar to how something can be said to "invite criticism" or someone can be "asking for a smack") in popular media, though this usage is a common Berserk Button
for academics aware of the original use noted above (it doesn't help that the academic meaning is not only horribly counter-intuitivenote
, but also a mistranslation; as stated above, the original Latin means something more like "arguing the source"). Nevertheless, to avoid confusion, this fallacy is sometimes referred to by its Latin name, petitio principii
in more formal settings.
See also No True Scotsman
. If both parties accuse each other of begging the question, then it's a philosophical impasse — no one can agree on a common set of premises; compare Values Dissonance
. See also Tautological Templar
, who believes that since they are good, everything they do is justified.
- A classic Bill Mauldin political cartoon from the early 1960s features an American soldier standing in a field of large cartoon mushrooms, a shout-out to the conical hats worn by Asian field workers and guerrillas, explaining to a comrade the challenge of ground combat in Vietnam: "You got your mushrooms and your toadstools. The mushrooms are harmless, the toadstools will kill you. You'll know it's a toadstool if it kills you."note
- In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Snake wants to know the difference between two snakes who look very similar, but one of which will poison him if he eats them. Para-Medic suggests an easy way to tell them apart: eat one. If it's poisonous, then he knows it's the poisonous one.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, accepting the red text as only speaking the truth requires you believe both that Beatrice is being honest and that the red text speaks only the truth when statements like "The red text speaks only the truth!" come up. Well, at least that's the case until we see Battler attempt to use the red to say something that turns out to be untrue. That said, it does happen to be true: Anything said in red is at worst misleading.
- In the days of Usenet, in a football forum, one poster postulated that you need a great coach to win a Super Bowl. He then defined a "great coach" as one who had won a Super Bowl.
- A number of bad religious and political arguments work this way. We're not going to give any examples, except for the common one of "my interpretation of X is the only valid interpretation", which is proven by interpreting X in the interpretation's favour.