Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Begging the question as a pragmatic fallacy

  • 137 Accesses

  • 16 Citations


The aim of this paper is to make it clear how and why begging the question should be seen as a pragmatic fallacy which can only be properly evaluated in a context of dialogue. Included in the paper is a review of the contemporary literature on begging the question that shows the gradual emergence over the past twenty years or so of the dialectical conception of this fallacy. A second aim of the paper is to investigate a number of general problems raised by the pragmatic framework.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Aristotle: 1928,The Works of Aristotle Translated into English, edited by W. D. Ross, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

  2. Aristotle: 1955,On Sophistical Refutations, translated by E. S. Forster, Loeb Classical Library Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and William Heinemann Ltd., London.

  3. Barker, John A.: 1976, ‘The Fallacy of Begging the Question’,Dialogue 15, 241–55.

  4. Barker, John A.: 1978, ‘The Nature of Question-Begging Arguments’,Dialogue 17, 490–8.

  5. Basu, Dilip K.: 1986, ‘A Question of Begging’,Informal Logic 8, 19–26.

  6. Biro, John: 1977, ‘Rescuing Begging the Question’,Metaphilosophy 8.

  7. Biro, John: 1984, ‘Knowability, Believability and Begging the Question: A Reply to Sanford’,Metaphilosophy 15, 239–47.

  8. Carlson, Lauri: 1983,Dialogue Games: An Approach to Discourse Analysis, D. Reidel, Dordrecht.

  9. Hamblin, Charles L.: 1970,Fallacies, Methuen, London. [Reprinted by Vale Press, Newport News, Virginia, 1986.

  10. Hamblin, Charles L.: 1971, ‘Mathematical Models of Dialogue’,Theoria 37, 130–55.

  11. Hintikka, Jaakko: 1970, ‘Surface Information and Depth Information’, in Jaakko Hintikka and Patrick Suppes (eds.),Information and Inference, D. Reidel, Dordrecht, pp. 263–97.

  12. Hintikka, Jaakko: 1981, ‘The Logic of Information-Seeking Dialogues: A Model’, in Werner Becker and Wilhelm K. Essler (eds.),Konzepte der Dialektik, Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt.

  13. Hintikka, Jaakko: 1987, ‘The Fallacy of Fallacies’,Argumentation 1, 211–38.

  14. Hintikka, Jaakko and James Bachman: 1991,What If? Toward Excellence in Reasoning, Mountain Views, Mayfield Publishing Co., California.

  15. Hoffman, Robert: 1971, ‘On Begging the Question at Any Time’,Analysis 32, 51.

  16. Jackson, Frank: 1984, ‘Petitio and the Purpose of Arguing’,Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 65, 26–36.

  17. Krabbe, Erik C. W.: 1990, ‘Inconsistent Commitment and Commitment to Inconsistencies’,Informal Logic 12, 33–42.

  18. Mackenzie, J. D.: 1979, ‘Question-Begging in Non-Cumulative Systems’,Journal of Philosophical Logic 8, 117–33.

  19. Mackenzie, J. D.: 1980, ‘Why Do We Number Theorems?’,Australasian Journal of Philosophy 58, 135–49.

  20. Mackenzie, J. D.: 1981, ‘The Dialectics of Logic’,Logique et Analyse 94, 159–77.

  21. Mackenzie, J. D.: 1984, ‘Begging the Question in Dialogue’,Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62, 174–81.

  22. Palmer, Humphrey: 1981, ‘Do Circular Arguments Beg the Question?’,Philosophy 56, 387–94.

  23. Rescher, Nicholas: 1987, ‘How Serious a Fallacy is Inconsistency?’,Argumentation 1, 303–16.

  24. Robinson, Richard: 1971, ‘Begging the Question, 1971’,Analysis 31, 113–7.

  25. Sanford, David H.: 1972, ‘Begging the Question’,Analysis 197–9.

  26. Sanford, David H.: 1977, ‘The Fallacy of Begging the Question: A Reply to Barker’,Dialogue 16, 485–98.

  27. Sanford, David H.: 1981, ‘Superfluous Information, Epistemic Conditions of Inference, and Begging the Question’,Metaphilosophy 12, 145–58.

  28. Sanford, David H.: 1988, ‘Begging the Question as Involving Actual Belief and Inconceivable Without It’,Metaphilosophy 19, 32–6.

  29. Sidgwick, Alfred: 1910,The Application of Logic, MacMillan, London.

  30. Sidgwick, Alfred: 1914,Elementary Logic, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  31. Smith, Michael: 1987, ‘Virtuous Circles’,Southern Journal of Philosophy 25, 207–20.

  32. Snoeyenbos, Milton H.: 1980, ‘Proofs and Begging the Question’,Informal Logic 3, 13.

  33. Van Eemeren, Frans: 1986, ‘Dialectical Analysis as a Normative Reconstruction of Argumentative Discourse’,Text 6, 1–16.

  34. Van Eemeren, Frans, and Rob Grootendorst: 1984,Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions, Foris Publications, Dordrecht and Cinnaminson.

  35. Walton, Douglas N.: 1985, ‘Are Circular Arguments Necessarily Vicious?’,American Philosophical Quarterly 22, 263–74.

  36. Walton, Douglas N.: 1991,Begging the Question: Circular Reasoning as a Tactic of Argumentation, Greenwood Press, New York.

  37. Walton, Douglas N. and Lynn M. Batten: 1984, ‘Games, Graphs and Circular Arguments’,Logique et Analyse 106, 133–64.

  38. Whately, Richard: 1836,Elements of Logic, William Jackson, New York.

  39. Woods, John and Douglas Walton: 1978, ‘Arresting Circles in Formal Dialogues’,Journal of Philosophical Logic 7, 73–90.

  40. Woods, John and Douglas Walton: 1982a, ‘ThePetitio: Aristotle's Five Ways’,Canadian Journal of Philosophy 12, 77–100.

  41. Woods, John and Douglas Walton: 1982, ‘Question-Begging and Cumulativeness in Dialectical Games’,Noûs 4, 585–605.

Download references

Author information

Additional information

The work in this paper was supported by a Fellowship from the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) and a Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Thanks are due to Erik Krabbe for discussions, and to the members of the NIAS Research Group on “Fallacies as Violations of Rules of Argumentative Discourse”: Frans van Eemeren, Rob Grootendorst, Sally Jackson, Scott Jacobs, Agnes Haft van Rees, Agnes Verbiest, Charles Willard, and John Woods.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Walton, D.N. Begging the question as a pragmatic fallacy. Synthese 100, 95–131 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01063922

Download citation


  • General Problem
  • Contemporary Literature
  • Gradual Emergence
  • Pragmatic Framework
  • Dialectical Conception