Nonsuch30I recently read about a man who had been trying to sail from Gillingham, about 35 miles east of London, to Southampton by following the southern coast of England. He was trying to navigate with the help of only a roadmap, keeping the coastline to  his right.

‘But he ended simply doing laps of the 36-square mile Isle of Sheppey a short distance away in the mouth of the Thames.’

He must have wondered why he did not reach his destination even after sailing for hours! The poor fellow’s motorboat finally ran out of fuel after circling the island repeatedly, and he had to be rescued by coastguards.

After this experience, I don’t suppose he will attempt sailing again anytime soon, at  least not without maritime charts or navigational aids!

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Circles can be deceptive, not only physically- as the sailor in the above story experienced- but also in reasoning.

Petitio Principii is the fallacy of circular reasoning. It is, in general, the fallacy of assuming as a premiss a statement which has the same meaning as the conclusion.

A common example of this fallacy is-

“There are many juvenile delinquents because many juveniles break the law, and the reason so many juveniles break the law is that they are juvenile delinquents.”

This is a fallacy, because, of course, a statement cannot prove itself. The argument has simply gone around, and returned to the same place.

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Circular definitions are somewhat similar. These are definitions which do not really define the words. Wikipedia gives us an interesting example of circular definition.

The 2007 Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “hill” and a “mountain” this way:

Hill – ” a usually rounded natural elevation of land lower than a mountain”

Mountain – ” a landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings and is higher than a hill”

Well, these two definitions seems to define each other, without really defining anything!

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These above circles are somewhat innocuous, entertaining even. But we also read about circles which are not so harmless.

These are vicious circles.

We read about the vicious circles of poverty, of illiteracy, of low agricultural production. These are cruel circles, which prevent development from taking place.

The vicious circle of poverty means in general that once people are poor, they are likely to remain poor, unless there is some outside remedial intervention. Poor families have less resources, their children have less access to education.

These families have disadvantages because of their poverty which make it difficult for them to escape from poverty.

In short, a vicious circle.

Many economists and sociologists feel that ensuring the education and general development of poor children is the key to breaking this circle.

In India, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 has been passed. This provides for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years.

There is also the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which provides for improvement in school facilities, coverage of special underprivileged focus groups, among other things.

To try to alleviate the poverty of rural families, the government has launched the National Rural Employment Guarantee schemes which guarantees one hundred days of employment in every financial year to members of rural households. These schemes are aimed at increasing the purchasing power of rural families- trying to lessen the disadvantages of their poverty, and thus help them to come out of the vicious circle.

There are many such schemes and programmes launched by the government. It is to be hoped, though, that they do actually have the effect that they are intended to have. Far too often we read about development programmes which were not successful even though there was ample funding available.

Then we wonder what the reason was. Could it be that the funds earmarked for the schemes never actually reached the intended beneficiaries?

Rural Development Minister C.P. Joshi said recently that ‘only’ Rs.7 crore has been siphoned off from a flagship rural jobs scheme.

Maybe the schemes themselves were flawed? Reports from West Bengal make us feel that the NREGA schemes are funding the building of roads that protestors have earlier dug up. Protests go on perpetually, so this building of roads will continue perpetually, without there being any actual increase in roadways.

Is there any thought going into these schemes, or does the government sanction huge amounts and then simply hope for the best?

Perhaps we are doing the same thing that the sailor from England did. He sailed without charts, and ended up circling the same island repeatedly.

Are we making the same mistake?