Today I want to
rant talk about circular reasoning, also known as paradoxical thinking, circular arguments, etc.. I want to talk about it because it seems to me as though this issue is at the heart of so many of my qualms with prevailing ideologies among people my age (although we do not shoulder the blame alone). I’m sure I’m not unique in my experience of general unrest or dissonance with some of the current pillars of popular culture and the ways we interact with others. I’m a 20-something, it’s our destiny to be lost in the wilderness (…right?).
The cartoon I’ve included above is a workable example of circular reasoning. We see circular reasoning in many places throughout our adventures in social media land, the workplace, the classroom, and anywhere ideas are shared. To give an example, “The bible is the word of god because the bible says the bible is the word of god.” Another instance where we might see this is in a thesis wherein disagreement proves the hypothesis, such as “The government is controlling our minds with fluoride in the water and if you disagree that’s because the government is controlling your mind with fluoride in the water.”
You can imagine that this would result in a rather one-sided discussion (or perhaps “no sided”, given the geometry of a circle). Not only does it totally shut down conversation and the exchange of ideas, it also isn’t a very good type of argument (it’s hardly an argument at all). Now you’re probably saying “this is childish, people don’t really make arguments this simplistic or oblivious”, or maybe you aren’t saying that because you’re already a jaded little shit. Nevertheless, I’m sure most of us have already heard the bible argument I used above. What other examples are there? (open question)
What about “There is patriarchal system in place that subjugates women and if your a woman who doesn’t agree with that it’s because you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchal system…which exists.”? Or maybe “We need this law because it will protect us from terrorists and if you disagree then you’re a terrorist and we need a law to protect us against you.”? Ring any bells? I’m not saying we don’t need that law, and I’m not saying we aren’t living in that patriarchal system. I’m not even saying the bible isn’t the word of God. This is something that people often get caught up in when they hear me talk about things like this. If someone is making a political argument with which I do not agree, I rarely take object to it because I don’t usually feel very strongly one way or the other. Except for a few issues, I’m a middle-of-the-line kinda guy. However, I do very often take object with circular reasoning. Even if we do need the anti-terror law, your argument doesn’t prove that (or anything) and I’m not going to pretend it does.
This is something I try to watch out for in my everyday life. As someone who is very invested in science and science literacy, I do my best not to succumb to my own circular demons “Science is empirical because all empirical things are science!” or “Result X is valid because Result Y is valid because Result X is valid.” It’s hard to recognize our own circular logic when it isn’t taken out of context by someone else or examined closely. This is true, I have a hunch, because part of us is intentionally obscuring the flaws in our own logic, because we care more about being comfortable than we do about the truth. More on that to come.