It is often helpful to have included in an apologetic arsenal a basic understanding of fallacies. One popularly used fallacy is called “Begging the Question”. It may be summed up in simple terms as merely assuming the same thing one is attempting to prove. Do not misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with an assumption or attempting to prove an assumption, but there is something wrong with setting forth a mere assumption as though it constitutes an argument; as though the assumption of the very thing someone is attempting to prove is itself the proof! An interesting illustration of this fallacy may be found on Urban Philosophy in a post by Mitch LeBlanc.1 Mitch asks us to consider two propositions, (11) and (12). Only (11) is needed for the purpose of this post.
(11) It is not the case that it is not that P and not P (law of non-contradiction denied, meaning it would be possible for your apple to be both orange and not orange simultaneously)
Mitch then writes about how there are problems with affirming (11).
In attempting to affirm (11), one arrives at an obvious logical incoherence. How could an apple be both orange and not orange simultaneously? In this sense, it is logically incoherent to affirm (11).
There are undoubtedly many who would accept this part of the argument and move on, however it is important to follow even this step closely to see whether or not Mitch has actually proven something or if he has just assumed that which he has set out to prove in which case he commits the fallacy of Begging the Question. Recall his proposition (11).
(11) It is not the case that it is not that P and not P
Proposition (11) expresses a denial of the law of non-contradiction. If proposition (11) is true then an apple might very well be both orange and not orange at the same time and in the same respect. Mitch then makes the assertion, “In attempting to affirm (11), one arrives at an obvious logical incoherence”.2 Mitch claims that there is a logical incoherence in affirming (11). Does he support this claim?
If Mitch does in fact support his assertion that affirming (11) results in logical incoherence, it is difficult to find where he does so. In his very next line Mitch writes, “How could an apple be both orange and not orange simultaneously?” One might wonder why the answer to the question is not obvious to Mitch. An apple might be both orange and not orange at the same time and in the same respect (“simultaneously”) if one affirms (11). Why Mitch misses this is puzzling, as the exemplary consequence of (11) he provides when stating (11) is that “it would be possible for your apple to be both orange and not orange simultaneously”. From here, he concludes, “In this sense, it is logically incoherent to affirm (11)”. In what sense? Mitch has not shown us what he states about the logical incoherence of the affirmation of (11), he has merely assumed it and hence commits the fallacy known as Begging the Question.
1 Click to read the original post.
2 It is worth mentioning that in philosophical discourse the use of words such as “obvious” are usually quite inappropriate, for sometimes what one individual finds “obvious” another rejects as “absurd”. The serious use of a word like “obvious” in an argument is likely to be mere rhetoric, even question begging rhetoric. While Mitch and even I may believe something to be “obvious”, there are those who would disagree with our assessments so that nothing is really added to the argument by the use of the word.