Fallacy Follies Frolic

burns_allen_1952

Gracie: Gentlemen prefer blondes.

George: How do you know that?

Gracie: A gentleman told me so.

George: How did you know he was a gentleman?

Gracie: Because he preferred blondes.

(comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, quoted by Ronald J. Waicukauski et al. in The Winning Argument. American Bar Association, 2001)

Begging the Question, aka Circular Argument or Tautology

First of all, we need to acknowledge a common misconception about the meaning of the phrase begging the question. Or maybe it’s a shift in meaning that’s underway. At any rate, many people today use the phrase as if it means “evading the question.” Essentially, begging the question is claiming that a premise is true because it’s true. The structure of the fallacy is circular in that sense. It’s trying to look like an argument when it isn’t one because no real evidence is offered. To find this fallacy, we want to look for restatement and redundancy.

Examples:

1. The reason there’s such a long waiting list is because everyone wants to get in.

2. Morality is very important, because without it people would not behave according to moral principles.

3. Phyllis failed the test because she got too many wrong answers.

4. Good athletes need to exercise regularly and be careful about what they eat. Therefore, attention to diet and staying in good physical condition are necessary to be a good athlete.

Commentary:

In sentence 1, the second clause—“everyone wants to get in”—is really just a definition or a repetition or a description of “long waiting list”  and not an actual reason or cause.

“Morality” and “behave according to moral principles” in sentence 2 are the same thing. When we unravel this we get: “Morality is important because without it people would not be moral.” Not a reason, not an argument. Just a bunch of nonsense.

Phyllis in sentence 3 failed by definition: getting too many answers wrong is failure, not the reason for it.

Sentence 4 gives us a bonus beg, so to speak. It’s a double fallacy. There are two ideas that get re-defined or re-worded: “exercise regularly” and “careful about what they eat.” There are no reasons offered, only a re-naming: “staying in good physical shape” and “exercise regularly” are the same, and “careful about what they eat” is the same thing as “attention to diet.”

Author: Craig Butcher

Craig Butcher is an award-winning educator who has taught critical thinking skills for more than two decades. In addition, He has worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional aide and has been a top-rated broadcaster.