Begging the question

Begging the question
Bust of Aristotle, whose Prior Analytics contained an early discussion of this fallacy.

Begging the question (or petitio principii, "assuming the initial point") is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise.

The first known definition in the West is by the Greek philosopher Aristotle around 350 BC, in his book Prior Analytics, where he classified it as a material fallacy. Begging the question is related to the circular argument, circulus in probando (Latin, "circle in proving") or circular reasoning, though these are considered absolutely different by Aristotle.[1]



The term was translated into English from Latin in the 16th century. The Latin version, Petitio Principii (petitio: 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 Latin phrase comes from the Greek 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) [of] 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.

Thomas Fowler believed that Petitio Principii would be more properly called Petitio Quæsiti, which is literally "begging the question".[2]


The fallacy of petitio principii, or "begging the question", is committed "when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof", or more generally denotes when an assumption is used, "in some form of the very proposition to be proved, as a premise from which to deduce it".[3] Thus, insofar as petitio principii refers to arguing for a conclusion that has already been assumed in the premise, this fallacy consists of "begging" the listener to accept the "question" (proposition) before the labor of logic is undertaken. The fallacy may be committed in various ways.

When the fallacy of begging the question is committed in a single step, it is sometimes called a hysteron proteron,[4][5] as in the statement "Opium induces sleep because it has a soporific quality".[6] Such fallacies may not be immediately obvious due to the use of synonyms or synonymous phrases; one way to beg the question is to make a statement first in concrete terms, then in abstract ones, or vice-versa.[6] Another is to "bring forth a proposition expressed in words of Saxon origin, and give as a reason for it the very same proposition stated in words of Norman origin",[7] as in this example: "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".[8]

When the fallacy of begging the question is committed in more than one step, it is sometimes referred to as circulus in probando or reasoning in a circle[4] but incorrectly so, if looked at the definition Aristotle gave in Prior Analytics.[1]

"Begging the question" can also refer to making an argument in which the premise "is different from the conclusion ... but is controversial or questionable for the same reasons that typically might lead someone to question the conclusion".[9]

.... seldom is anyone going to simply place the conclusion word-for-word into the premises .... Rather, an arguer might use phraseology that conceals the fact that the conclusion is masquerading as a premise. The conclusion is rephrased to look different and is then placed in the premises.
—Paul Herrick, [10]

Related fallacies

In informal situations, the term begging the question is often used in place of circular argument. In the formal context, however, begging the question holds a different meaning.[1] In its shortest form, circular reasoning is the basing of two conclusions through a reversed premise of the first argument. Begging the question does not require any such reversal.

Begging the question is similar to the fallacy of many questions: a fallacy of technique that results from presenting evidence in support of a conclusion that is less likely to be accepted, rather than merely asserting the conclusion. A specific form of this is reducing an assertion to an instance of a more general assertion which is no more known to be true than the more specific assertion:

Modern usage

Many English speakers use "begs the question" to mean "raises the question", and follow that phrase with the question that is raised;[11] for example, "this year's deficit is half a trillion dollars, which begs the question: how are we ever going to balance the budget?" Many philosophers and prescriptive linguists deem such usage incorrect.[12][13] Academic linguist Mark Liberman recommends avoiding the phrase entirely.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c The petitio principii or Begging the question is studied in Prior Analytics II, 64b, 34 – 65a, 9 and it is considered a fallacy. The circular argument, circulus in probando or circular reasoning, is explained in Prior Analytics II, 57b, 18 – 59b, 1 and it is not considered fallacy, rather they are logic argument as Aristotle says.
  2. ^ Fowler, Thomas (1887). The Elements of Deductive Logic, Ninth Edition (p. 145). Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
  3. ^ Welton (1905), 279.
  4. ^ a b Davies (1915), 572.
  5. ^ Welton (1905), 280-282.
  6. ^ a b Welton (1905), 281.
  7. ^ Gibson (1908), 291.
  8. ^ Richard Whately, Elements of Logic (1826) quoted in Gibson (1908), 291.
  9. ^ Kahane and Cavender (2005), 60.
  10. ^ Herrick (2000), 248.
  11. ^ see definitions at Wiktionary and at The Free Dictionary (accessed 30th May 2011); each source gives both definitions.
  12. ^ Follett (1966), 228; Kilpatrick (1997); Martin (2002), 71; Safire (1998).
  13. ^ Brians, Common Errors in English Usage: Online Edition (full text of book: 2nd Edition, November, 2008, William, James & Company)[1] (accessed 1 July 2011)
  14. ^ Language Log, 29th April 2010. [2] (accessed 14th October 2011)


  • Cohen, Morris Raphael, Ernest Nagel, and John Corcoran. An Introduction to Logic. Hackett Publishing, 1993. ISBN 0-87220-144-9.
  • Davies, Arthur Ernest. A Text-book of Logic. R.G. Adams and Company, 1915.
  • Follett, Wilson. Modern American Usage: A Guide. Macmillan, 1966. ISBN 0-8090-0139-X.
  • 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. ISBN 0-19-515503-3
  • Kahane, Howard, and Nancy Cavender. Logic and contemporary rhetoric : the use of reason in everyday life. Cengage Learning, 2005. ISBN 0-534-62604-1.
  • 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 the Title of This Book: A sourcebook of philosophical puzzles, paradoxes and problems. Broadview Press, 2002. ISBN 1-55111-493-3.
  • 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 method." A Manual of Logic, Vol. 2. London: W.B. Clive University Tutorial Press, 1905.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • begging the question —    Strictly speaking, to beg a question is to present as proof something that itself needs proving. Bernstein cites as an example the sentence Parallel lines will never meet because they are parallel. The second half of the sentence only seems to …   Dictionary of troublesome word

  • begging the question — noun A logical fallacy in which a premise of an argument contains a direct or indirect assumption that the conclusion is true; offering a circular argument; circular reasoning. It is an instance of begging the question to argue that God can only… …   Wiktionary

  • begging the question — The procedure of assuming what is at issue in an argument. Although the charge is commonly made, there is no logical definition of those kinds of argument that beg the question. In the widest sense, any valid argument might be thought to beg the… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • begging the question — An argument which assumes as proved the very thing in issue …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • question, begging the — See begging the question …   Philosophy dictionary

  • beg the question — verb a) To engage in the logical fallacy of begging the question (petitio principii). The objection is that the argument begs the question, meaning that the premise, that God has all the virtues, assumes the conclusion, that God is benevolent. b) …   Wiktionary

  • beg the question — {v. phr.}, {literary} To accept as true something that is still being argued about, before it is proved true; avoid or not answer a question or problem. * /The girls asked Miss Smith if they should wear formal dresses to the party; Miss Smith… …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • beg the question — {v. phr.}, {literary} To accept as true something that is still being argued about, before it is proved true; avoid or not answer a question or problem. * /The girls asked Miss Smith if they should wear formal dresses to the party; Miss Smith… …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • beg\ the\ question — v. phr. literary To accept as true something that is still being argued about, before it is proved true; avoid or not answer a question or problem. The girls asked Miss Smith if they should wear formal dresses to the party; Miss Smith said they… …   Словарь американских идиом

  • begs\ the\ question — Traditionally, this meant that the speaker was assuming that which was to be proved; it now is used to mean raises the question, or the following question is begging to be asked. The fact that Jack recently has been spending so much time with… …   Dictionary of american slang

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