In a recent article Galen Strawson, on the topic of consciousness deniers, states that:

To say that consciousness is really nothing more than (dispositions to) behavior is to say that it doesn’t exist. Reductionists may continue to deny this, or claim that it begs the question—that it assumes the truth of the conclusion for which it’s arguing. Formally speaking, it does beg the question, and begging the question is a well known theoretical sin. Sometimes, however, it is the correct response.

Can anyone think of any other potential examples where begging the question may be "the correct response"?

  • 1
    Well, any bad-defined concept. Consciousness is not really well-defined, therefore it begs the question. The fact is it begs the question from both sides.
    – rus9384
    May 29, 2018 at 12:39
  • So for example: "happiness is an internal feeling of joy" would be a similar case due to the lack of a rigorous definition of happiness?
    – Matt-T
    May 29, 2018 at 14:09
  • Your "happiness is an internal feeling of joy" already is the definition of happiness. Many arguments begin because people do not agree on definitions. But they argue on consequences...
    – rus9384
    May 29, 2018 at 16:56
  • Just removing the Logic tag, as this is an argumentation question.
    – Paul Ross
    Jul 1, 2018 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


Begging the question - simpliciter or relatively ?

It is useful to draw a distinction within the concept of begging the question. Joashua Gert is helpful here :

... it is worth getting a little clearer about this notion. To begin with, it is possible to criticize an argument for begging the question simpliciter. This happens when the argument more or less directly assumes what is to be proven. Some attempts to justify a principle of induction in epistemology seem to beg the question in this way: they claim to provide an argument that the future course of the world will resemble its past course, but they base their argument on the fact that in the past, the past has always resembled the future, and they then use the disputed principle of induction to support that very principle. In contrast to question-begging simpliciter , there is also a relative form question-begging. That is, an argument can beg the question relative to one sort of opponent, but not relative to another. What this means is that the argument relies on a premise that the first opponent would reject, and offers no support for that premise, while the same cannot be said about the argument against the second opponent. To illustrate: both rule- and act-utilitarians beg the question against Kantians in this relative way, in holding that - at bottom - it is only utility that has normative significance. But neither sort of utilitarian begs the question on this matter, in this relative way, against the other. (Joshua Gert, 'Begging the Question: A Qualified Defense', The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 18, No. 3 (September 2014), pp. 279-297: 281.)

If a utilitarian, act- or rule, has a thought out, well-argued position (whether we think it watertight or not), it is not irrational for them in arguing against each other to beg the question against Kant. They can and should confront Kant elsewhere but in this precise context of argument, in which the point at issue is internal to utilitarianism, it strikes me as perfectly in order, in this limited way, to beg the question against Kant. One cannot take on all opponents at once.


Joshua Gert, 'Begging the Question: A Qualified Defense', The Journal of Ethics, Vol. 18, No. 3 (September 2014), pp. 279-297.

Richard Robinson, 'Begging the Question, 1971', Analysis, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Mar., 1971), pp. 113-117. (An amusing and not unsubtle argument to show that begging the question is not a fallacy at all. Ironic ? It hardly matters : just follow the argument.)

Allan Hazlett, 'Epistemic Conceptions of Begging the Question', Erkenntnis (1975-), Vol. 65, No. 3 (Nov., 2006), pp. 343-363.

  • That's interesting, I haven't come across the relative/simpliciter distinction in this context before. Would it then be fair to say that Strawson's point in the original post is that his argument is only question-begging relative to the consciousness denier's perspective?
    – Matt-T
    May 29, 2018 at 17:49
  • 1
    @Matt Turner. Strawson's argument could be read as you suggest. Consciousness-asserters may disagree among themselves (as the utilitarians do in the answer) but beg the question against the Deniers because they have good and sufficient reason, as they suppose, to reject reductionism (as the utilitarians have, as they suppose, to reject Kant). There may be more at play in Strawson but, even if this isn't quite what he meant (though it may be!), it seems to fit his position and not to caricature it. Hope this helps. Best - Geoff
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    May 29, 2018 at 18:35

Axiomatic concepts are circular (i.e., they correctly "beg the question")

The article you are quoting follows a similar reasoning to Rand's discussion of axiomatic concepts and the stolen concept fallacy. That is, the author is saying that various purported reductions of consciousness to other concepts constitute a denial of the existence of consciousness, and since these denials use consciousness, they are contradictory. Rand made the same argument when she put forward her views on the axiomatic concepts that are at the base of metaphysics (one of which was that consciousness exists). As Rand describes it:

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.

For axiomatic concepts, any denial of the concept implicitly assumes it to be real, and so it is self-refuting. By the same token, any affirmation of the concept, or attempted justification or "proof" of the concept is "circular" or "question-begging". This circularity of reasoning does not invalidate the axiom, since circularity is a legitimate property of axiomatic concepts. Since axiomatic concepts form the base of reasoning, any discussion of these concepts (including any purported denial of the concept or proof of the concept) implicitly accepts the concept in the first place.

  • Does Rand offer an argument as to why the primary axiomatic concepts (existence, identity and consciousness) are irreducible? My worry with this position is that one could stipulate many axiomatic concepts that by Rand's definition are then immune to challenge. E.g. I could claim that God (or magic, or Platonic forms), as axiomatic concept, is a primary fact of reality, implicit in all other facts. Also, to accept someone's position for the purposes of arguing against it is a common argumentative move, (e.g. reductio ad absurdum ) does this undermine Rand's stolen concept fallacy?
    – Matt-T
    May 30, 2018 at 11:14
  • She has written quite a bit about these axioms, so it would be best to read her work for details. Reductio is effectively the converse of the stolen concept - in reductio you take X to be true and then show that this implies that X is false; in stolen concept you try to argue that X is false, but doing so implicitly accepts that X is true.
    – Ben
    May 30, 2018 at 12:38

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