Definition and Examples of the Logical Fallacy

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

George Burns and Gracie Allen
Comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen (See the Lighter Side of Begging the Question at the end of this article.). (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Begging the question is a fallacy in which the premise of an argument presupposes the truth of its conclusion; in other words, the argument takes for granted what it's supposed to prove.

In Critical Thinking (2008), William Hughes and Jonathan Lavery offer this example of question begging: "Morality is very important, because without it people would not behave according to moral principles." 

"An argument that begs the question isn't an argument at all," say George Rainbolt and Sandra Dwyer.

"It's an assertion disguised to look like an argument" (Critical Thinking: The Art of Argument, 2015)

Used in this sense, the word beg means "to avoid," not "ask" or "lead to." Begging the question is also known as  acircular argument, tautology, and petitio principii (Latin for "seeking the beginning").

See Examples and Observations below.

Examples and Observations

  • "The meaning of the idiom [beg the question] is to assume as true the very point that is under discussion. . . . Frequently, but erroneously, the phrase is used as if it meant to evade a direct answer to a question."
    (Theodore Bernstein, Miss Thistlebottom's Hobgoblins, 1971)
  • "Here is an example [of begging the question] taken from an article on exclusive men's clubs in San Francisco. In explaining why these clubs have such long waiting lists, Paul B. 'Red' Fay, Jr. (on the roster of three of the clubs) said, 'The reason there's such a big demand is because everyone wants to get in them.' In other words, there is a big demand because there is a big demand."
    (Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life, 10th ed. Wadsworth, 2006)
  • Begging the Batman Question
    "Here is one reason we cannot use: Batman is great and so his gadgetry must be pro. Of course, this would beg the question, since we are trying to figure out why Batman is so great. If you think about this argument, it would go like this: Batman is great because he has awesome gadgetry, and his awesome gadgetry is great because he's Batman, and Batman is great. This argument travels in a circle. To avoid begging the question, we need to straighten that circle out. To do this, we need to justify the greatness of Batman independently of how we already feel about Batman."
    (Galen Foresman, "Why Batman Is Better Than Superman." Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, ed. by Mark D. White and Robert Arp. Wiley, 2008)
  • When Does Misuse Become Use?
    - "[T]ake the very common expression to beg the question. This is certainly one that's currently shifting in meaning. Originally it referred to the practice of assuming something that implies the conclusion or, as The Macquarie Dictionary more elegantly puts it, 'to assume the point that is being raised in the question.' . . . But this is not how beg the question is often used these days. . . . Since the general understanding of beg is 'to ask for,' it's hardly surprising that speakers have reinterpreted the phrase beg the question as meaning 'raise a question.'
    (Kate Burridge, Weeds in the Garden of Words: Further Observations on the Tangled History of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • The Lighter Side of Begging the Question
    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.
    (George Burns and Gracie Allen, quoted by Ronald J. Waicukauski et al. in The Winning Argument. American Bar Association, 2001)