If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Fallacies: Begging the Question

In this video Matthew C. Harris of Duke University explains the informal logical fallacy called begging the question and the associated concept of circular reasoning.

Speaker: Matthew C. Harris, Duke University

.
Created by Gaurav Vazirani.

Want to join the conversation?

  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Cyan Wind
    What are the differences between begging the question and asking a question? I am confused because it seems to be the thin line between them.
    (9 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf red style avatar for user Noble Mushtak
      To beg the question as in a fallacy is to have a circular argument or have a dubious premise in your argument. This is an informal fallacy that's discussed in the video.
      Example:
      P1: A has a mass of 500 grams.
      C: A has a mass of 0.5 kilograms.
      This "begs the question" because P1 is saying exactly the same thing as the conclusion so nothing has really been proved.

      To ask a question is to ask a question.
      Example:
      Why is the sky blue?
      Sometimes when examining certain situations that come up in arguments, you might ask yourself certain questions that the situation calls for. This is also called "raising the question."

      This is completely different from begging the question as in a fallacy, but sometimes people will says "This begs the question [...]" in place of "This raises the question [...]" This is confusing, but the part from to explains this well.

      I hope this helps!
      (9 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Shariq Mushir
    Worst video of all. Not at all clear. And the narrator is in some sort of hurry. Maybe he has to take a class.
    (7 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • marcimus orange style avatar for user little ares
    I find this too hard to understand, i've been watching 3 times though
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Vian
    Why do we have to raise the question?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine seed style avatar for user auroraheath
    In the video (-) he says that Begging the Question is an informal logical fallacy, the flaw being in the content of the argument. But in the quiz on Begging the Question, the correct answer says that the flaw is in the form of the argument and not in the content. So I was just wondering whether it was an informal or formal logical fallacy.
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Iivis
    Sorry, English is not my first language so I am having a bit of trouble understanding this. So, begging the question means the same as having a circular reasoning. What does the "question" have to do with this? Or is this just an idiom, like "pulling a fast one"? Also, could someone explain to me the part that starts at ? I am confused. Does cheating mean the same as "begging the question"? :S
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Catherine  Bouington
    I found this video that may help a little to explain begging the question in an entertaining and easy to understand manner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAXKc-rvMa8
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf green style avatar for user Frances Posnanski
    After viewing all the videos and answering the questions, why is it still not showing 100% complete?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Kyle
    What is the difference between circular reasoning and begging the question?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • male robot johnny style avatar for user Fraser Daniel
    If I make an argument as follows, would it be reasoning in circles?
    1. If God's very nature is to love, he can't act in contrary to his nature and hate anyone.
    2. God is love
    C: Therefore, God can't act in contrary to his nature and hate anyone.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(intro music) Hello, I'm Matthew Harris. I'm a PhD student at Duke University, and in this video I'll be discussing the informal logical fallacy[br]called "begging the question," and the related concept[br]of circular reasoning. Begging the question is an[br]informal logical fallacy, which means it has to do with a flaw in the argument's content. An argument that begs the question assumes a proposition[br]that's in need of proof. The term itself can be[br]a source of confusion because it's often used to[br]suggest different things. Often, we say that an[br]argument begs the question to mean that it's inherently circular. In other cases, the same phrase indicates the presence of a questionable assumption. Sometimes people use it loosely to mean "raising the question." Accusing someone's argument[br]of begging the question is to suggest that they[br]have unjustly assumed a proposition that is in need of proof. Think of it like this. Suppose, instead of arguing,[br]that you and your opponent are on opposing teams[br]in a game of tug-of-war. Teams A and B are supposed[br]to pull on the rope. It'd be cheating if either[br]team arranged to have the line that is supposed to be drawn[br]to divide the two of them already on B's or A's side of the divide. Similarly, people engaged[br]in an argument can object that their opponent's[br]premises presuppose what's at stake during the disagreement, by accusing them of begging the question. Statements and arguments can be accused of begging the question[br]in different senses. The first sense we'll look at is when question-begging concerns[br]a questionable premise. Of course, a premise, like[br]the foundation of a house, cannot give support to its[br]conclusion if it itself is not supported on independent grounds. Next, there's the colloquial[br]sense of begging the question that can be used very differently. This sense is controversial[br]because it often is unrelated to the logical fallacy that[br]is the term's origin. For example, someone might say in response to a particular statement or argument that it begs the question,[br]to mean that it raises, relates, or introduces some other topic of question for discussion. However, the context of conversations are often complicated matters. Lastly, we have the most common sense in which the term begging[br]the question is used, which brings us back[br]to circular reasoning. When someone says that[br]an argument really is question-begging in this sense, they mean that there is a circularity in the chain of reasoning. typically about justification or meaning. We can distinguish these cases of circularity into two main sorts: circularity by equivalency and circularity by dependency. In cases of circularity by equivalency, one of the premises of an argument asserts a proposition that is equivalent to that argument's conclusion. For example, the premise[br]and conclusion might express the same proposition twice by substituting synonymous words to say the same thing. An example of this would be to argue that music is a superior[br]art to film; therefore, organized sounds are better[br]than organized images. And the other[br]type of circularity, circularity by dependency, is the charge that the conclusion and the premise are mutually dependent. For example, imagine that Cowboy Ted is claiming to have a five-thousand-pound horse. Now, he claims to know that his[br]horse weighs five thousand pounds because he used a highly[br]accurate scale on his ranch. But he also claims to know[br]that the scale is precise because he personally calibrated it by the horse's weight of[br]five thousand pounds. This argument is circular by dependency because the extravagant claims[br]about the horse's weight and the reliability of the scale are mutually dependent upon each other. Importantly, it is not the[br]presence of circularity that is problematic per se, but[br]the lack of an independently grounded source of justification. If the horse looked like it[br]weighed five thousand pounds, you might consider this[br]an independent reason. Or even better, if someone from the Federal Scale Inspection[br]Agency inspected the scale, we might have stronger independent reasons to accept his argument. Though the circularity would still exist, we would not consider it bad. For more videos like this one, be sure to check out the rest of the formal and informal fallacies in the critical thinking section. Subtitles by the Amara.org community