Begging the Question
I concede that the
battle is going badly and that ignorance has almost won one more round, but I
still cringe when I hear newscasters saying, “that begs the question,” as if it
meant, “that brings up or raises the question.”
TV Guest: The lack of limits on campaign financing
means that billionaires will have more political influence than all the rest of
TV Host: So, Senator, that begs the question, what
can be done about it?
bile-producing. Perhaps it’s because I was a philosophy major at one stage of
my education. To beg the question is a term previously reserved exclusively as
the name of a logical fallacy, and it tracks all the way back to Aristotle. The
fallacy consists in assuming the
truth of your conclusion instead of actually proving it. It’s like a dog
chasing its own tail: it’s circular reasoning.
Here are a couple of
(1) "He can't possibly be lying because he's a truthful
person." If you examine that one closely, the absurdity leaps out at
do you know that he’s truthful? Because he can’t lie.
How do you know that he can’t
lie? Because he’s truthful.
Disguised repetition takes the place of proof, and assumption tries to overwhelm.
(2) "God exists because the Bible says so, and God wrote the
Bible, so it can't be wrong."
How do you know that God
exists? Because the Bible says so.
How do you know that the Bible
is correct? Because God wrote it.
Bryan Garner (Modern American Usage) calls disputed
phrases such as begs the question
When a word
undergoes a marked change from one use to another — a phase that might take ten
years or a hundred — it's likely to be the subject of dispute. Some people
(Group 1) insist on the traditional use; others (Group 2) embrace the new use.
… A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of
it is likely to distract some readers. The new use seems illiterate to Group 1;
the old use seems odd to Group 2. The word has become "skunked."
[Citation by Ben Zimmer on Language Log]
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