Circular Reasoning Fallacy | Definition & Examples
The circular reasoning fallacy is an argument that assumes the very thing it is trying to prove is true. Instead of offering evidence, it simply repeats the conclusion, rendering the argument logically incoherent.
People may commit circular reasoning fallacy unintentionally because they are convinced of their own assumptions and take them as given. Sometimes, circular reasoning is used deliberately to mask the speaker’s lack of understanding or evidence.
What is circular reasoning fallacy?
A circular reasoning fallacy occurs when the evidence offered to support a claim is just a repetition of the claim itself.
Circular reasoning is a form of informal logical fallacy where the error lies in the content of the argument, rather than its form. More specifically, circular arguments are logically invalid because they offer no justification for their conclusion. Even so, circular arguments can be convincing because repeating the same thing makes it seem self-evident.
What is a circular argument?
A circular argument (or circular reasoning) is an argument that comes back to its beginning without having proven anything.
An argument consists of one or more statements (premise) and a claim (conclusion). A premise is any reason or evidence that supports the argument’s conclusion. In a good argument, we say that a conclusion follows from the premise. In other words, it is supported by the evidence presented in the premise.
In a circular argument, the same proposition occurs as both a premise and a conclusion—the argument validates itself. However, self-validation is poor reasoning: an argument’s claim needs to be supported by actual evidence.
How does circular reasoning fallacy work?
A circular reasoning fallacy consists of an argument that starts with a premise (A) and moves to a conclusion (B), where A is logically equivalent to B either explicitly or implicitly. In other words, both the premise and conclusion rely on the other’s truthfulness:
- A is true, because B is true
- B is true, because A is true
By the end of a circular reasoning fallacy, the argument will have come full circle, without actually having proven anything. It will use the fact that A can prove B and vice versa. This happens because the speaker already believes the claim is true.
In the previous example, the parent’s first statement (the conclusion in this case) and the justification they offer (the premise) are identical. The parent simply restated the claim as supporting evidence. However, no real explanation is offered as to why it is time to go to bed/it’s bedtime, such as “if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be tired at school tomorrow”.
Circular reasoning fallacy examples
Simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. The weakness of such arguments is particularly clear in some cases: “X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true”.
Although one may find good arguments for the existence of God, people often commit circular reasoning due to their own deeply held belief, which they assume is self-evident.
Circular reasoning is usually (but not always) fallacious.
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Frequently asked questions about the circular reasoning fallacy
- Which type of fallacy uses circular reasoning to support an argument?
Circular reasoning fallacy uses circular reasoning to support an argument. More specifically, the evidence used to support a claim is just a repetition of the claim itself. For example: “The President of the United States is a good leader (claim), because they are the leader of this country (supporting evidence)”.
- What is the difference between circular reasoning fallacy and begging the question?
Although many sources use circular reasoning fallacy and begging the question interchangeably, others point out that there is a subtle difference between the two:
- Begging the question fallacy occurs when you assume that an argument is true in order to justify a conclusion. If something begs the question, what you are actually asking is, “Is the premise of that argument actually true?” For example, the statement “Snakes make great pets. That’s why we should get a snake” begs the question “are snakes really great pets?”
- Circular reasoning fallacy on the other hand, occurs when the evidence used to support a claim is just a repetition of the claim itself. For example, “People have free will because they can choose what to do.”
In other words, we could say begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.
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