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Fallacies of Vacuity

Circular Reasoning

  • To remember what a circular argument is, think of a P.I.E.
  • In circular arguments, a Premise Is Equivalent to the conclusion.
  • Definition: Circular Argument
  • An argument is circular if and only if there is a premise of the argument that is equivalent to, or simply is the conclusion of that argument.

Examples of Circular Arguments:

  • 1. Drugs that make people hallucinate should be banned.
  • Therefore, hallucinogenic drugs should be banned.
  • 2. Individuals that use the threat of violence in order to make others succumb to their demands should be tortured.
  • Therefore, terrorists should be tortured.

Question Begging

  • To remember what question begging is, think of a P.A.C.
  • In question begging arguments, Premises Assume Conclusions.
  • Definition: Question Begging
  • An argument is question begging if and only if there is a premise of the argument that assumes the conclusion of that argument without any independent reasons for accepting that premise.

Example of Begging the Question

  • Background: a debate over whether alcoholic beverages should be banned.
  • Foods and beverages that make people intoxicated should be banned.
  • Therefore, alcoholic beverages should be banned.


  • To remember what self-sealing is, think of N.E.A.T.
  • For self-sealing arguments, there is No Evidence Against Them.
  • Definition: Self-Sealing
  • An argument (position) is self-sealing if and only if no evidence can possibly be brought against it no matter what.

Three Ways to be Self-Sealing

  • 1. By universal discounting.
  • 2. By going upstairs.
  • 3. By definition.

Universal Discounting

  • dismiss every possible objection, usually in an ad hoc or arbitrary way.

Example of Self-Sealing: Universal Discounting

  • Conspiracy Theorists:
  • Suppose someone thinks that a select group of universities controls all NCAA football.
  • As evidence in support of their position, they point to the select group of universities that get ranked in the top ten year after year despite not having won a national championship within the last decade.
  • Of course, that select group has allowed some non-members to be ranked in the top ten. For example, they let Boise State into the top ten. However, that’s just to conceal their total domination over NCAA football.

Going Upstairs

  • dismiss objections as an indication that the objector is not in a position to grasp the argument, or that by objecting, the objector actually provides evidence that the argument is on the right track.

Example of Self-Sealing: Going Upstairs

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Suppose that Joe meets Fred the Freudian.
  • Fred tells Joe, “you want to sleep with your mother and kill your father.”
  • Joe replies, “That’s absurd!”
  • Fred responds, “You just aren’t aware of your Oedipus complex yet.”
  • Fred tells Joe, “all of this just shows that you really do want to sleep with your mother and kill your father.”
  • Joe replies, “Tell that to my wife!”
  • Fred responds, “maybe someday you’ll come to terms with your Oedipus complex, but your responses indicate that today is definitely not that day.”

By Definition

  • Make a substantive claim. Then, cleverly redefine a crucial term in a way that guarantees that the claim will be true. By doing so, this deprives the claim of any substantive content.

Example of Self-Sealing: By Definition

  • Selfishness
  • Suppose that someone claims that all human actions are selfish.
  • This is an interesting claim, but let’s try to think of some counterexamples involving self-sacrifice.
  • In response to proposed counterexamples based on self-sacrifice, a defender of the claim that all human actions are selfish might respond by saying that by performing an act of self-sacrifice, what one wants to do is to help others. Hence, even acts of self-sacrifice are ultimately selfish.


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