I grew up in South Carolina, USA, and I currently live in Tokyo, Japan. I am well versed in religion, various cultures, and world politics.
What Is Circular Reasoning?
Circular reasoning, which comes from the Latin phrase circulus in probando, literally means proving the validity of a subject by using that subject to prove its validity. This is a logical fallacy where someone basically starts and ends their reasoning on the same thing. This can also be referred to as the "begging the question" fallacy.
Basically, an argument that uses circular logic would look like this:
- Barack Obama is a great communicator.
- Because he is able to talk effectively to people.
Notice the rhythm. In the first sentence, it is stated that Barack Obama is a good communicator. In the following sentence, it basically just repeats the previous sentence from a different angle. This logic provides no proof or reasoning of Barack Obama being a good communicator outside of simply being good at communication.
Offenders of circular reasoning tend to be convinced of the truth in their mind as simply being true because that is what they have always been told. Circular logic lacks open-mindedness and an ability to truly understand other perspectives, and it quite directly demeans those on the receiving end for not following the strange logic.
The Use of Circular Reasoning
Users of circular reasoning tend to lack a broad sense of argument. The reason they are using circular logic is because they do not quite have a full grasp of the subject at hand.
Circular Logic in General Situations
In a normal conversation or casual discussion, it is not uncommon to find circular reasoning creeping in at the oddest of times.
When friends and family talk about their favorite restaurants, sports teams, or TV shows, for example, the following uses of circular reasoning come in and can possibly divide the crowd based on its illogical approach:
- This restaurant is better than all other restaurants; therefore this restaurant is the best restaurant.
- That show has the deepest storyline in all of television, because it really makes the audience think more than any other show.
- The best basketball player plays on my favorite team, so my team has the best player in the league.
Notice that all of these examples give no real reasoning outside of simply using the source material. It is a massive reason why friends and family fight over such trivial matter regularly.
Circular Logic in Religion
In certain religions, circular reasoning is just commonplace. In Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, for example, the Bible or the Quran is the word of God because the same book says it is the word of God. The argument is simply using the source itself to justify its status.
Atheists also use a similar argument when fighting against religious individuals. The following are examples of how religious people and atheists use circular logic in their approaches:
- God does not exist because there is no evidence for God, and any evidence for God is not evidence because God does not exist.
- I know angels and demons exist, because I have seen them in dreams!
- Muhammad was a trustworthy man, because he never lied.
Take note of how the approach starts and ends. In all of the examples, the words are not presented in a way that offers an understanding discussion. Each of these statements is presented so as to halt the conversation and lay claim that the statement is absolute. Any further discussion is deemed unnecessary.
Circular Logic in Politics
In politics, circular reasoning exists heavily on both sides and is a constant in the political landscape. From views of how the government functions to social issues to political leanings, politicians find circular reasoning to be among the most useful when it comes to making their claims and standing on their rock solid foundation.
When two opposing political views interact, the aggressive and circular arguments fly and neither side is willing to give up and attempt to understand the other. The following are common examples in the political scene:
- Our second amendment rights are absolute; therefore gun control laws are illegal.
- Affirmative action can never be fair or just. You cannot remedy one injustice by committing another.
- The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.
- Smoking pot should be illegal, because it is against the law.
Full disclosure: all four of those examples are actual quotes from politicians and political leaders. To be honest, it was difficult boiling it down to four.
But notice how reasoning and real understanding is thrown out the window in favor of creating confusion and misunderstanding. Politicians are masterminds at avoiding deep dives and creating an atmosphere that creates more questions than it does answer any questions.
Why Circular Reasoning Is Used
Circular reasoning is simply a trick used to prove or disprove something. Sometimes it is used mistakenly in passionate speech oozing from strong emotion or personal experience, but oftentimes it is a deliberate action in order to hide facts or a lack of evidence.
Most users of circular reasoning hide behind a veil of professionalism but lack genuine understanding of the topic being discussed. The reason for this circular logic is wide and varied, but oftentimes it comes from a heart of fear.
When considering all of the topics covered so far, in most cases, there really is a strong sense of the unknown being present. For humans, the unknown is quite terrifying, and it is in these circular reasonings that we give some understanding to the unknown. Unfortunately in many cases, the circular reasoning becomes gospel and rises to the status of an absolute truth instead of an apparent fallacy.
This is why so many passionate people in so many areas of life will argue their version of the truth until they are red in the face, because if their truth is not reality then they have to revert back to wondering what exactly is the unknown.
For many of these people, it feels much safer to stand on a firm foundation based on illogical reasoning than to stand in muddy waters based on the harsh reality of being human and not fully knowing.
Eliminating Circular Reasoning From Our Lives
Circular reasoning is simply a crutch, and it handicaps us. This logic pretends to know everything and disallows us from actually learning and growing. Romain Rolland from his book Above the Battle pointed to the following truth:
“Discussion is impossible with someone who claims not to seek the truth, but already to possess it.”
The beauty of discussion is that, by its very definition, we process things together in order to reach a decision or exchange ideas. Circular reasoning is the opposite of what makes a discussion wonderful. It is not about processing. It is not about reaching a decision. It is not about exchanging ideas. And the saddest part, it is not about togetherness.
We have to stand against this. In order for the world to truly grow and learn to better understand each other, we must humbly enter conversations with a mind that does not have all of the answers, but instead, a heart that desires to bond with the person across from us. For this to happen, though, eliminating circular reasoning from our vernacular is an absolute necessity.
Instead of all of us having our own truths, let us strive forward seeking truth together, always with a mind and heart that is ready to learn, grow, and even be challenged.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Jason Reid Capp