A black and white image of a boy laughing at his dog while it chases its tail

Circular Reasoning in a Book

It’s 1991 and I’m in my backyard laughing at my dog. His name is Maverick. He’s a springer spaniel with big brown ears and the need to chase his tail. I’m laughing because every time Maverick spins in a circle, I count – and I’m currently at 76. This dog has ambition.

I’ve had a lot of dogs, but Maverick is my favorite. He goes fishing with me at Mayor’s Pond, licks my wounds when I fall off my bike, and helps me cope with my teenage psychosis. But more than that, Maverick is a teacher. Today, his lesson is on circular reasoning. He’s never going to catch that tail, but I still cheer for him. He reminds me of people (myself included) who run in circles to make sense of something.

This is important stuff for you a reader. When you open a book, you’re opening yourself to the author’s arguments. He or she is trying to convince you to think in a new way. Is their argument right? Is it based on sound evidence? How do you know? To figure that out, we need to define two words.

An argument has two parts: the conclusion and the premise. The conclusion is what the author wants you to believe. The premise is the reasoning behind the idea.


Premise – If I put two pennies in one hand and two pennies in the other, I count a total of four pennies.

Conclusion – 2 plus 2 equals 4.

This structure works. The problem is when people use circular reasoning which relies on the conclusion as evidence for the premise. That’s a bit heady, so let’s unpack it.

Examples of Circular Reasoning

Let me try circular reasoning on you. The Bible is true because the Bible says so. The conclusion (The Bible is true) is reached through a mirrored premise (because the bible says so). You can’t use the conclusion to prove itself.

As a reader, you must learn to look out for these traps. More examples include:

  1. Stephen King’s books make a reader violent because violent readers love his work.
    • Not true, by the way. I love his books and I’m a pretty mellow guy.
  2. Professor Gendler’s lecture was brilliant because she’s a brilliant teacher.
  3. Everyone loves Sarah because she’s so popular.

You get the idea. The premise offers no evidence; it rehashes the conclusion. This kind of thinking sends people into mental circles (a dog chasing its tail). Next time you read a book, essay, or paper and the author commits this logical sin, remember my dog Maverick who spent hours getting dizzy. Demand more from your authors by putting the book down in favor of better arguments. Expect them to provide you with external evidence.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.


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