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.

Circular reasoning fallacy example
Parent: “It’s time to go to bed.”

Child: “Why?”

Parent: “Because this is your bedtime.”

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.

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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.

What is circular reasoning fallacy?

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.

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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”.

Circular reasoning fallacy in politics
“Only an untrustworthy person would run for president. The fact that politicians are untrustworthy is proof of that.”The claim relies on its own premise (i.e., “politicians are untrustworthy”) to support its conclusion that only an untrustworthy person would run for president.

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 fallacy in religion
Person 1: “God must exist.” (A)

Person 2: “How do you know?”

Person 1: “Because it says so in the Bible.” (B)

Person 2: “Why should I believe the Bible?”

Person 1: “Because it is the divine work of God.” (C)

In the above argument structure, notice that the premises rely on each other for their validity:

  • Statement A is true because of B.
  • Statement B is true because of C.
  • Statement C is true because of A.

This is problematic because A is both a reason supporting the argument and is itself supported by the argument, forming a circle.

Circular reasoning is usually (but not always) fallacious.

Circular reasoning fallacy argument
Journalist: “Please explain the current economic recession.”

Economist: “A lot of people are leaving the state. Things are very poor in the building industry, for example, because there is no need for new housing.”

Journalist: “Why are people leaving the state?”

Economist: “Because the economy is depressed. People can’t find jobs with the economy being so slow at the moment.”

Here, the sequence of questions and answers has formed a full circle: the economy is in a bad state because people are leaving, and people are leaving because of the poor economy.

On the one hand, this seems like an example of circular reasoning. On the other hand, the circularity in this argument is due to how things work in real life: if people leave, things get worse. And if things get worse, people leave in even greater numbers. Therefore, this is not a fallacy.

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Other interesting articles

If you want to know more about fallacies, research bias, or AI tools, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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.

Sources for this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

This Scribbr article

Nikolopoulou, K. (2023, August 21). Circular Reasoning Fallacy | Definition & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved 22 February 2024, from https://www.scribbr.co.uk/fallacy/circular-reasoning/

Sources

Rips, L. (2002). Circular reasoning. Cognitive Science, 26(6), 767–795. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0364-0213(02)00085-x

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specialises in writing about research methods and research bias.

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