The simplest definition of circular reasoning is: assuming what you’re trying to prove.
But that makes no sense.
As an abstract example—it always rains in Seattle. Today, it’s cloudy in the city. Therefore, it’s going to rain today.
Not necessarily, unless you assume up front that it “always” rains in Seattle. You give the impression of proving it’s going to rain today, but actually you’re already assuming that.
How about this? Mayor X is a racist. When he says he hopes black people living in the city will help the police catch criminals by providing eyewitness testimony, he’s demeaning black people.
Well, no. He may be correct or incorrect in believing these residents will, in fact, make reports to the police, but his statement isn’t, on its own, racist—unless you assume, in advance, that the mayor IS racist.
And if you do assume he is, then you ought to provide evidence.
—To which some readers will reply, “What you’re talking about here is miles beyond what happens in real life. There is no thought in real life. There are just knee-jerk reactions.”
No, not among all people. Raising the level of logic and understanding is an extremely worthwhile activity, and it benefits those who can grasp the essentials.
Here is another example: “We know Senator X is guilty of the crime he’s charged with, because no one reaches the level of senator unless he’s been blackmailed for committing crimes.” There are people who would accept this as a given, but it’s spreading a generality over all senators. And furthermore, even if Senator X has committed crimes, that doesn’t means he’s guilty of the one he’s been charged with recently. Perhaps, for instance, he’s been charged in order to smear his reputation, because he’s supporting a bill that would endanger the profits of a large corporation.
Here are three slightly different versions of circular reasoning:
“There is no reason to allow Politician X to air his views on television talk shows. He doesn’t have a following because his ideas don’t make an impact.” Really? Perhaps his ideas make no impact because no one will allow him exposure on national television.
“If the herbal treatment you’re suggesting had value, it would have been studied and tested at universities.” Is that so? Maybe it wasn’t tested at universities because it did have potential value, and would present a challenge to pharmaceutical drugs.
“Europe doesn’t need a leader like him. He’s a divider, he sets people against each other, and we need unity.” Again, the person being marginalized is rejected by definition. Maybe he divides people because he’s the only one who will speak up against a unity based on submission and abject compliance.
How about this? “The science is settled, and here comes that professor with his crazy ideas.” The professor is defined as crazy and out of step. But maybe he’s the one who will show the science isn’t settled at all, or shouldn’t be.
“He’s all about money. We want a better society where everyone can share, but he wants to keep everything for himself. He’s a greedy capitalist. Capitalism is dead. It’s been discredited.” The person being attacked is buried under a welter of preconceptions, with no evidence offered as to why he’s “bad.”
In circular reasoning, the deception happens right at the beginning. That’s where the conclusion is embedded. Then, some appearance of reasoning and proof are advanced. But there is no reasoning or proof.
Here is an example I would call disguised circular reasoning. It’s a bit slippery: “Frank’s cousin Sam was convicted of bank fraud in 1998. Now Frank has been brought up on the same basic charge. Wouldn’t you say that’s a pretty odd coincidence?” Yes, it is odd, but if you’re going to imply Frank is guilty, you’re going to need more than his cousin’s conviction. A lot more. Some people would call this example guilt by association, and it is, but there is also the telltale assumption of “proof” right at the start, when there is no proof.
“Look, I just counted 27 articles in respected newspapers claiming that the Russians hacked the election. I mean, what else do you want? The facts are obvious. So this guy who comes along and says there is no evidence—he’s spreading fake news. That’s the other thing all these newspapers are talking about: the pernicious spread of fake news.” Same basic approach, used with a bit more complexity: pile on the preconceptions right from the get-go, and then make it seem as if actual reasoning and evidence are being supplied to demean the “denier.” This is also an example of the ad hominem fallacy: attack the person and ignore what he has to say.
“Three reporters from a website I never heard of just came out with the crazy theory that people don’t really have SARS because, when they were tested, there was no sign of the SARS virus. That’s ridiculous. I don’t even know what that means. These reporters are just making it up. They’re on the fringe, and they’re looking for visibility. Get it? They want readers to pay attention. This always happens. Meanwhile, actual doctors and PhDs in labs are analyzing the disease and have the actual facts…” By definition, by accusation, by attack, by generality, this is assuming what is supposed to be proven, and no evidence is offered to refute the claims of these three reporters. The “reasoning” is circular.
(To read about Jon’s mega-collection, The Matrix Revealed — which
includes the Logic And Analysis course, click here.)
Finally, here is an example that builds up even more vague complexity, as a substitute for verification of assertions. And there is no complete chain of reasoning: “Globalism is a structure with many moving parts, and one can’t hope to understand it by using a few simple ideas. Across national borders, massive confusion could stifle the trade of goods and services, if there were tariffs. Globalism eliminates those tariffs. That’s what we mean by free trade. These treaties on trade are worked out with great care, and the result is the smooth flow of goods. Besides, Globalism promotes an overall sense of international cooperation, which is something we all need in these times of danger. It’s drawing the world closer together…”
This argument, designed to defeat people who oppose Globalism, simply piles up a group of statements that define Globalism as something good and necessary. The statements aren’t connected in a single chain of reasoning. Examine each statement and find its flaws. Spot the vagueness. Figure out what is being omitted—for example, the loss of American jobs when US corporations go overseas and thus throw huge numbers of workers on to unemployment lines.
Circular reasoning: assuming what you’re trying to prove. It poses as logic, but it isn’t.
The author of three explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED, EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, and POWER OUTSIDE THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free emails at NoMoreFakeNews.com or OutsideTheRealityMachine.