Begging the Question—Circular Reasoning
Arguers beg the question when they provide a reason that simply restates the claim in different words. Here is an example: “Abortion is murder because it is the intentional taking of the life of a human being.” Because “murder” is defined as “the intentional taking of the life of a human being,” the argument is circular. It is tantamount to saying, “Abortion is murder because it is murder.” In the abortion debate, the crucial issue is whether a fetus is a “human being” in the legal sense. So in this case the arguer has fallaciously “begged the question” by assuming from the start that the fetus is a legal human being. The argument is similar to saying, “That person is obese because he is too fat.”
This fallacy occurs when an arguer oversimplifies a complex issue so that only two choices appear possible. Often one of the choices is made to seem unacceptable, so the only remaining option is the other choice. “It’s my way or the highway” is a typical example of a false dilemma. Here is a more subtle one: “Either we allow embryonic stem cell research, or we condemn people with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or spinal injuries to a life without a cure.” Clearly, there may be other options, including other approaches to curing these diseases. A good extended example of the false dilemma fallacy is found in sociologist Kai Erikson’s analysis of President Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb on Hiroshima. His analysis suggests that the Truman administration prematurely reduced numerous options to just two: either drop the bomb on a major city, or sustain unacceptable losses in a land invasion of Japan. Erikson, however, shows there were other alternatives.