Begging the Question: Circular Reasoning as a Tactic of Argumentation

By Douglas N. Walton | Go to book overview

5
Longer Case Studies

The method of argument reconstruction developed in chapter three is still a very crude instrument for its intended purpose, at its present state of development. The method, in a simple form, has proven its utility through its widespread use in recent textbooks in informal logic. Three separate research projects on this subject are yet unpublished but near completion-- one by James Freeman, one by Tjark Kruiger, and one by J. Anthony Blair and Robert Pinto. But many elementary theoretical questions about the method as a structure of argument analysis have hardly even been asked yet. It seems as though it is to be a very severe test to try to apply this simple and limited method to genuinely controversial and sophisticated arguments that occur in problematic contexts of scientific or philosophical reasoning.

Even so, it is necessary to attempt this step, because we will never achieve any real understanding of petitio principii as a serious fallacy, or shortcoming of argument, unless we get away from the preoccupation that the textbooks have with simplistic examples of outrageously circular arguments, chosen specifically to represent errors that students will willingly accept as fallacious instances of begging the question.

Petitio principii becomes a serious business when it is likely to go undetected, and therefore to succeed as a sophistical tactic to mask successfully an underlying weakness or opening for critical questioning in an argument. At the same time, however, it is just in these seriously interesting types of cases that the method of argument reconstruction runs up against some inherent limitations of its firm applicability.


1. LIMITS OF ARGUMENT RECONSTRUCTION

Argument reconstruction seems to come up against an inherent boundary when it confronts a scientific argument, or any kind of argument based on technical expertise in a specialized domain of knowledge. How can a critic interpret the argument, and correctly perform tasks of reconstruction, like filling in enthymemes, when he is not a specialist in the

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Begging the Question: Circular Reasoning as a Tactic of Argumentation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Philosophy ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Note xv
  • 1 - Origins, Preconceptions, and Problems 1
  • Notes 33
  • 2 - Contexts of Dialogue 35
  • Notes 85
  • 3 - Argument Diagramming 87
  • Notes 123
  • 4 - Shorter Case Studies 125
  • Notes 180
  • 5 - Longer Case Studies 183
  • Notes 212
  • 6 - Fallacies, Faults, Blunders, and Errors 215
  • Notes 246
  • 7 - Revising the Textbooks 249
  • Notes 283
  • 8 - A Theory of Begging the Question 285
  • Notes 325
  • Bibliography 327
  • Index 335
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