Teaching The Brawndo Fallacy or Circular Reasoning

The Brawndo Fallacy or Circular Reasoning

by Mark Castricone

This movie clip, from the movie Idiocracy (2006), presents a future version of Earth where the average intelligence has dropped. They cannot grow crops anymore because they have been watering the crops with the sports drink akin to Gatorade.  Thus, the electrolytes or salts in the sports drink have halted the crop’s growth.  The time traveler ‘Notsure’ played by the actor Luke Wilson is now the smartest man on Earth and is trying to convince the less than intelligent presidential cabinet to use water on the crops.

Find the video here (or above).

I utilize this video clip when teaching students about logical fallacies, and in particular about circular reasoning/begging the question.  Oftentimes, the standard examples of begging the question or circular reasoning such as the following are not fully understood by students: “Drugs with dormative properties are sleep inducing. There are dormative properties found in opium/Ambien. Thus, opium/Ambien are sleep inducing drugs.” Then I show the students this clip from the movie Idiocracy which is obviously preposterous and humorous.

The movie clip which is 2:40 minutes long has a bit of set up before it presents the circular reasoning at 1:57-2:17. At this point the argument goes like this:

Cabinet Member: Brawndo has what plants crave. Yeah it’s got electrolytes.

Notsure: What are electrolytes. Do you even know?

Cabinet Member: It’s what they use to make Brawndo.

NotsureBut why do they use them to make Brawndo?

Cabinet Member: Cause Brawndo has electrolytes.

I let the clip run to the end because it is rather humorous and then I ask them if they noticed the circular reasoning in the clip.  I try to get some answers from the students before I write the above script lines on the whiteboard.  Then I ask if they can formulate the fallacy a bit more formally and ask someone to either come up and write it on the whiteboard or dictate it to me.  If they get it that is excellent and if not I present it more formally thusly:

P1. Plants crave electrolytes.

P2. Electrolytes are what they use to make Brawndo

C1. Thus, Brawndo has electrolytes.

Or even more simply put:

Electrolytes are what they use to make Brawndo because Brawndo has electrolytes.

There are many examples of begging the question that involve political, social, or religious issues, but I find that this one really makes the point clear. Also, they tend to pay more attention to things that they find humorous rather than dry.  Furthermore the students are often less receptive if they find the circularity offensive due to their own entrenched beliefs i.e. circularity about the Bible, abortion, or from a political stance or politician that they esteem.

Sources and other resources:

Mark Castricone is a PhD Candidate at the University of South Florida.  His forthcoming dissertation is entitled The Efficacy of Comedy and he was a USF Diverse Student Success Fellow.

This section of the Blog of APA is designed to share pedagogical approaches to using humorous video clips for teaching philosophy.  Humor, when used appropriately, has empirically been shown to correlate with higher retention rates. If interested in contributing please email William A. B. Parkhurst at parkhurst1@mail.usf.edu.

Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.

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Skye Clearyhttps://skyecleary.com
Skye Cleary PhD MBA is a philosopher and author of 'Existentialism and Romantic Love' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). She lectures at Columbia University, Barnard College, and City College of New York, and tweets at @skye_cleary.
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