When a Fallacy Isn’t Really a Fallacy
Students often ask me to recommend a good introduction to philosophy, and now the question can be answered more easily than in years past. Michael Huemer’s Knowledge, Value, and Reality, published last April, contains a profusion of arguments on important topics and is written in a conversational style that is easy to follow, and is often very funny as well. Huemer is especially good at coming up with objections and counters to these objections, in a way that shows how contemporary analytic philosophers work.
In what follows, I’m going to discuss a few of his points about fallacies in reasoning. He notes that some philosophers misuse “begging the question.” “The philosopher starts out with the idea that an argument begs the question (and therefore is fallacious) when someone who rejects the conclusion wouldn’t (or shouldn’t, or couldn’t reasonably be expected to) accept all the premises. That italicized phrase is treated as something like a definition of the fallacy.” (p.70, emphasis in original)
Consider the following argument:
- It’s wrong for any person to initiate force against other people
- People in the government are people
- It’s wrong for people in the government to initiate force against other people.
Suppose a statist looks at this argument and says, “I think that people in the government should be able to initiate force against others. I reject the conclusion, so something is wrong with this argument.” (It is likely that he will reject the first premise: denying the second doesn’t seem promising.) Are those who use the argument guilty of begging the question against statists?
No, they aren’t. Huemer points out that the definition given of “begging the question” is wrong: “People who fall for this mistake often fail to notice that it represents a rejection of all valid deductive reason
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