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Circular Reasoning

Circular reasoning involves assuming as a premise that which you are trying to prove. Intuitively, it may seem that no one would fall for such an argument. However, the conclusion may appear to state something additional, or the argument may be so long that the reader may forget that the conclusion was stated as a premise.

The death penalty is appropriate for traitors because it is right to execute those who betray their own country and thereby risk the lives of millions.

This argument is circular because “right” means essentially the same thing as “appropriate.” In effect, the writer is saying that the death penalty is appropriate because it is appropriate.

Democracy is the best form of government yet created. Therefore, we must be vigilant in its defense; that is, we must be prepared to defend the right to freedom. Because this right is fundamental to any progressive form of government, it is clear that democracy is better than any other form of government.
Which one of the following illustrates the same flawed reasoning as found in the passage?
  1. I never get a headache when I eat only Chinese food, nor when I drink only wine. But when I eat Chinese food and drink wine, I get a headache. So the combination of the two must be the cause of my headaches.
  2. The two times I have gone to that restaurant something bad has happened. The first time the waiter dropped a glass and it shattered all over the table. And after the second time I went there, I got sick. So why should I go there again—something bad will just happen again.
  3. I would much rather live a life dedicated to helping my fellow man than one dedicated to gaining material possessions and seeing my fellow man as a competitor. At the end of each day, the satisfaction of having helped people is infinitely greater than the satisfaction of having achieved something material.
  4. I’m obsessed with volleyball; that’s why I play it constantly. I train seven days a week, and I enter every tournament. Since I’m always playing it, I must be obsessed with it.
  5. In my academic studies, I have repeatedly changed majors. I decide to major in each new subject that I’m introduced to. Just as a bee lights from one flower to the next, tasting the nectar of each, I jump from one subject to the next getting just a taste of each.
The argument in the passage is circular (and filled with non-sequiturs). It is incumbent on the writer to give evidence or support for the conclusion. In this argument, though, the writer first states that democracy is the best government, the rest is merely “noise,” until he restates the conclusion.
Choice (A) is a reasonably valid causation argument—eliminate.
(B) argues by generalization. Although it is of questionable validity, it is not circular because the conclusion, “it will happen again,” is not stated, nor is it implicit in the premises—eliminate.
(C) is not circular because the conclusion is mentioned only once—eliminate.
(D) begins by stating, “I’m obsessed with volleyball.” It does not, however, provide compelling evidence for that claim: training seven days a week, rather than indicating obsession, may be required for, say, members of the Olympic Volleyball Team. Furthermore, the argument repeats the conclusion at the end. So it is circular in the same manner as the original.
Hence, (D) is our answer.

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