Begging the question is when you use the point you’re trying to prove as an argument to prove that very same point. Rather than proving the conclusion is true, it assumes it.

It’s also called circular reasoning and is a logical fallacy.

Should I trust Steve?

Premise: Steve is a trustworthy person because I trust him.

Conclusion: Therefore, you should trust Steve.

Let’s replace the word ‘trust’ with ‘love’.

Premise: Steve is a lovable person because I love him.

Conclusion: Therefore, you should love Steve.

Are you any closer to figuring out why Steve is trustworthy or loved?

As a logical argument, here’s how it looks.

Premise: Steve is X because X.

Conclusion: Therefore, you should X because X.

The conclusion and the premise make the same claim. That is, they say the same thing.

Though the logical structure is valid, there’s no argument to move on from. We’re no closer to understanding why Steve is trustworthy or lovable.  

Rather than assuming the conclusion is true from the beginning, let’s prove it.

Premise 1: Reliable people can be trusted.

Premise 2: Steve is a reliable person.

Conclusion 1: Therefore, Steve can be trusted by any person.

Premise 3: You are a person.

Conclusion 2: Therefore, you should trust Steve.

This way, even if Steve is clearly trustworthy, you’re using a good argument to help his case.

A leading question

Here’s another related example:

‘If we accept your argument that people who download movies should be put in jail, who should provide the education they receive while they’re in prison?’

This is called a leading question. It sneaks in a claim that needs to be argued for in the form of a question.

In this example, the claim is that people who are put in jail should receive education programs. That might be true, it might not, but because it forces the answer to go in a certain direction, it is an example of begging the question.

Radio interviews and talk shows conversations can beg the question by asking leading questions that try to box you in to a certain answer. Being able to spot a leading question is useful – it allows us to be critical not only of other people’s arguments, but the way they frame the question.

Note: when people say ‘this begs the question that’ they actually mean ‘this raises the question that’. In this context, they’re usually not referring to the logical fallacy.