This post is one in a series on the logical fallacies that I have run across in handling South Carolina appeals. This one is on circular reasoning and begins with petitio principii, literally meaning “assuming the initial point.” It is better known as begging the question.
In an appeal I am handling, an insurance company is arguing that one of its policy exclusions is valid. I respond that case law shows that such exclusions are not valid. So far, so good. The argument over the exclusion’s validity is joined. But the company then replies that these decisions are distinguishable because they do not involve exclusions that are valid. I respond that the decisions show that such exclusions are not valid. And round and around we go. To distinguish the cases, the insurance company is forced to assume that its exclusion is valid — the very conclusion that it is advocating. This begs the question.
A similar fallacy is known as the complex question. It occurs when one asks a question that contains an unproven assumption. When did you stop beating your wife? This has come up in an appeal of mine where opposing counsel suggested to the South Carolina Supreme Court that my clients were atheists. But the record citations from the trial were only to cross-examination questions that at best assumed that my clients were atheists. From the same record citations, I was able to show that the witnesses, in answering the questions, denied the assumption.
Have you run across circular reasoning too? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a reply or reach me at www.attorneyroberthill.com.