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Circular cause and consequence is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. It is exemplified in the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Examples

There are many real world examples of circular cause-and-effect, in which the chicken-or-egg question helps identify the analytical problem:

  • Expectation of economic downturn cause people to spend less, which reduces demand, causing economic downturn.
  • Expectation of violence/war can make people more defensive/violent, the resulting tension/violence will cause more fear (see security dilemma), also self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Without a treadmill test, it is not possible to ascertain the health of the heart, but taking such a test can cause the heart to fail
  • More jobs cause more consumption, which requires more production, and thus more jobs
  • Jobs are not readily available to people who have little to no experience in the field, yet workers cannot get experience without getting a job.
  • An individual with no credit history (not to be confused with poor credit history) has trouble getting credit, yet creditors are hesitant to give loans to people who have little to no credit history.
  • An increase in production to feed a growing population leads only to a further increase in population.
  • An actor cannot join the actor's union unless he has played a role in a union film, but a non-union actor cannot get a role in a union film because he isn't in the union.

This would only be a fallacy when saying "only A causes B, and only B causes A.". If the word "only" is removed then this would not be a fallacy. This might be understood as the "fallacy of begging the question".

Contradictions

Circular cause and consequence is often confused with mutually contradictory statements, such as the famous "Catch-22", in which two mutually exclusive statements seem to send the reader back and forth in a cycle. Circular reasoning however is a problem of finding the 'root cause' however (e.g. which came first) which is not the basis of the Catch-22 or any of the following examples of contradictions.

For example, Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, where the White Queen states "Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today". Since every tomorrow becomes eventually today as the future turns into present, and past is gone forever, the result is that poor Alice will never have jam.

A real-life mutual contradiction is that one cannot get a job without experience, but one cannot get experience without a job. In this respect, the initial move to the job market can be very challenging. However, as with many possible examples, this isn't an absolute circular cause, since there are some jobs that require no experience, and people can get hired without experience for others in certain cases. In this way, a circular cause and consequence is usually short-circuited by extenuating circumstances.

Mutual contradiction is much akin to No true Scotsman fallacy, but where "No true Scotsman" fallacy assumes the premise wrong in an exception, the circular cause and consequence implies an impossible outcome in an exception. This implication makes circular cause and consequence similar to a Catch-22, where two mutually exclusive premises are required to reach the conclusion, hence the conclusion is impossible.

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