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mangeorge
01-30-2011, 10:54 AM
I searched here for an answer to my question but didn't find a satisfactory answer. So I went to wikipedia and did get an answer, but my poor 66 y/o brain needs simplicity. Aristotle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_the_question) was not simple ;).
What does "begs the question" mean? I hear and read the phrase a lot, so often in fact that I assume it's being much over (and incorrectly) used.
So please tell me, at a 1970s junior college level, how the phrase should be used correctly. A couple examples of actually begging the question would be nice.
Peace,
mangeorge
BTW; I do know what an idiom is. :)

Implicit
01-30-2011, 11:04 AM
The Nizkor Project has good explanations (including examples) of logical fallacies.

http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/begging-the-question.html

Chessic Sense
01-30-2011, 11:07 AM
It's simple, really. It uses "assume I'm right" to support the conclusion of the argument. A person asserts "P" and then uses that as proof. Such as:

Cecil Adams is never wrong. How do I know? He told me. And he's never wrong.

Andy L
01-30-2011, 11:13 AM
I searched here for an answer to my question but didn't find a satisfactory answer. So I went to wikipedia and did get an answer, but my poor 66 y/o brain needs simplicity. Aristotle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beg_the_question) was not simple ;).
What does "begs the question" mean? I hear and read the phrase a lot, so often in fact that I assume it's being much over (and incorrectly) used.
So please tell me, at a 1970s junior college level, how the phrase should be used correctly. A couple examples of actually begging the question would be nice.
Peace,
mangeorge
BTW; I do know what an idiom is. :)

A proper syllogism has premises like "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man" and uses them to answer the question "Is Socrates mortal" - begging the question is an argument that sneaks the answer into the premises - it's therefore a kind of circular reasoning where you start by assuming the statement that you are trying to prove is correct, and use that premise to "prove" that it is indeed correct.

A friend of mine always did that in college - he would write in a paper "The philosopher So-and-so argued that people are inherently evil; since people are inherently good, So-and-so was wrong." - the statement that people are inherently good amounts to nothing more than "So-and-so was wrong" so my friend was "begging the question" - asking that his answer to the question be assumed from the start.

Johnny L.A.
01-30-2011, 11:13 AM
Those sound like 'circular reasoning' to me. Is 'begging the question' 'circular reasoning'?

Here's how I think of it:

'If we reduce taxes for the rich, the economy will prosper because more money would be invested in business.'

But that begs the question of whether a consumer-based economy really is better helped by the assumed investments made possible by lower taxes for the rich, or whether it is better helped by consumer spending.

Not to start a debate; just the first thing that came to mind.

Implicit
01-30-2011, 11:16 AM
Those sound like 'circular reasoning' to me. Is 'begging the question' 'circular reasoning'?
Yes.

Randy Seltzer
01-30-2011, 11:25 AM
Those sound like 'circular reasoning' to me. Is 'begging the question' 'circular reasoning'?Yes, the terms are synonymous. Here's how I think of it:

'If we reduce taxes for the rich, the economy will prosper because more money would be invested in business.'

But that begs the question of whether a consumer-based economy really is better helped by the assumed investments made possible by lower taxes for the rich, or whether it is better helped by consumer spending.

Not to start a debate; just the first thing that came to mind.That's not really question begging. It's just an unstated premise. That is, it assumes a fact that is not part of the premise, namely that investments are better than consumer spending.

If you want to use the the phrase in its "proper," prescriptive way, you don't really say it "begs the question of" or it "begs the question that" anything. You just say that it begs the question. Or that the person is engaging in question begging.

It is important to note that such a high percentage of people use this phrase "incorrectly" to mean prompting a question that such a usage has essentially become the accepted meaning of the term.

panache45
01-30-2011, 03:31 PM
Yes, its original meaning was "circular reasoning."

But the reason you've been hearing the phrase a lot is that in the last few years a second meaning has been introduced. For some reason, some people use "begs the question" when what they really mean is "raises the question," an entirely different meaning. For example, "John Smith lives a lavish lifestyle, in spite of the fact that he never works. It begs the question of where his money comes from." In the past, this phrase would have been "raises the question." I don't know why people began to use "begs the question" in this context, but the practice has caught on, and is likely to be considered "standard English" by now.

Crotalus
01-30-2011, 03:44 PM
The second meaning mentioned above is pretty much the only way the phrase is used in the media. I don't think I've seen "begging the question" used properly to describe a logical fallacy outside of a logic textbook.

Johnny L.A. even used "begs the question" to mean "raises the question" in his post above.

Heracles
01-30-2011, 03:54 PM
I am aware that "begging the question" is supposed to designate the logical fallacy described herein, but how did it get this name? Why "begging", and why "question"?

mangeorge
01-30-2011, 03:58 PM
Yes, its original meaning was "circular reasoning."

But the reason you've been hearing the phrase a lot is that in the last few years a second meaning has been introduced. For some reason, some people use "begs the question" when what they really mean is "raises the question," an entirely different meaning. For example, "John Smith lives a lavish lifestyle, in spite of the fact that he never works. It begs the question of where his money comes from." In the past, this phrase would have been "raises the question." I don't know why people began to use "begs the question" in this context, but the practice has caught on, and is likely to be considered "standard English" by now.
That's what caught my attention, and it's why I raised this question. I guess there's no way to make it stop. From now on I going to say "Bullshit, it's no such thing."
Peace,
mangeorge
BTW; John McLaughlin's doing both right now on his "One on One".
Why are his guests so nice to him? ;) They're discussing the book The View From The Center Of The Universe.
Oh yeah, what ever happened to "Pretzel logic"? Not the song.

mangeorge
01-30-2011, 04:03 PM
The second meaning mentioned above is pretty much the only way the phrase is used in the media. I don't think I've seen "begging the question" used properly to describe a logical fallacy outside of a logic textbook.

Oh I have, but I watch PBS and live in Berkeley. :confused:

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
01-30-2011, 04:11 PM
I am aware that "begging the question" is supposed to designate the logical fallacy described herein, but how did it get this name? Why "begging", and why "question"?Bad choice of words in the translation. A better translation would be "assumes the point." But there you have it. BTW, the use of it to mean "raises the question" is not recent. I found a reference from the early 20th century in Google News Archives.

thelurkinghorror
01-30-2011, 04:16 PM
Wikipedia says: "Circular reasoning is different from the informal logical fallacy "begging the question", as it is fallacious due to a flawed logical structure and not the individual falsity of an unstated hidden co-premise as begging the question is."

Not sure what you guys will make of that and agree/disagree, but I remember learning the two as separate fallacies way back.

Derleth
01-30-2011, 04:19 PM
Bad choice of words in the translation.Precisely. Some dumb translator did a calque (overly-literal word-for-word translation) instead of engaging his brain when he had to translate petitio principii from Latin into English. 'Circular logic' or 'circular reasoning' is a much better translation, as it actually gives an indication of what the fallacy is.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
01-30-2011, 04:23 PM
More info (http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxbegthe.html) As William F. Buckley once said, "There is no law in English save usage."

Johnny L.A.
01-30-2011, 05:14 PM
Johnny L.A. even used "begs the question" to mean "raises the question" in his post above.

What I meant was that someone makes a proposition on the assumption that 'A' is true. That is, 'This course of action is correct because "A" is correct, and "A" is correct because the course of action is correct.' Now that I write it that way, I see that it is circular reasoning.

The way I've thought about the phrase being used incorrectly is this: Assumption 'A' is correct. Therefore, proposition 'B' is correct. But that leads to a further question 'C'; not whether 'A' is correct.

Philster
01-31-2011, 08:46 AM
Since corn is the most effective way of producing sugar, help me find ways to produce more corn. I want to get rich, because having sugar is the fastest way to raise money.

Isn't this a great example of 'begging the question" ?

Doug K.
01-31-2011, 09:45 AM
I think the easiest way to understand what begging the question means is to think of one of the classic objections in courtroom dramas: "Assumes facts not in evidence."

Chessic Sense
01-31-2011, 10:25 AM
I am aware that "begging the question" is supposed to designate the logical fallacy described herein, but how did it get this name? Why "begging", and why "question"?

"to beg" means to sidestep, avoid, or dodge. "the question" is the interlocutors' "Why do you think that?" or "How so?" as in:

"Cecil never lies."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because he said so, and he never lies."

The second response is where the fallacy occurs. It dodges the challenge "Why do you think that?" by restating the line that came before it. Dodging the challenge = begging the question.

thelurkinghorror
01-31-2011, 01:01 PM
Since corn is the most effective way of producing sugar, help me find ways to produce more corn. I want to get rich, because having sugar is the fastest way to raise money.

Isn't this a great example of 'begging the question" ?

-Je bois pour oublier

-Mais tu bois pour oublier quoi?

-Oublier que j'ai honte

-Que tu as honte de quoi?

-Que j'ai honte de boire

---Le Petit Prince

Roughly, "I drink to forget... to forget that I'm ashamed... I'm ashamed that I drink." The even lines are just interrogations.

Malacandra
01-31-2011, 01:21 PM
Since corn is the most effective way of producing sugar, help me find ways to produce more corn. I want to get rich, because having sugar is the fastest way to raise money.

Isn't this a great example of 'begging the question" ?

No; at no time in the discussion has the question of whether having sugar is a fast money-raiser even been in dispute.

"Shaving makes your hair grow faster!" "Why?" "Because it stimulates the growth." -- "Stimulates the growth" just means "makes it grow faster"

"Why can we see through glass?" "Because it is transparent". -- A transparent substance is one that can be seen through.

"I have the right to abortion, because the foetus is using my body for support against my will, and nothing has the right to do that" -- We may agree that nothing else has the right to use your body for support against your will, but the question of whether nothing has will not be settled until we have established whether the foetus does have such a unique claim... which is the very point at issue.

md2000
01-31-2011, 01:35 PM
My understanding of "that begs the question..."

A person makes a statement or explanation. However, that explanation either is not complete, or opens further topics that may need elaboration. "Begs the question" literally means, "I have told you that information, and you would most likely then ask this follow-up question..." or simpler, "it's almost like I am begging you to ask me the follow-up question."

For example...
"Fred lives in a rundown slum house, but drives a Ferrari and flies to Bermuda 4 times a year.
This begs the question, why does he not move to a better house? It's because..." etc.
It's a rhetorical device to bypass the pause for questions, or ensure the next step in the exposition is the direction the speaker wants to go.

Doug K.
01-31-2011, 01:42 PM
"Why can we see through glass?" "Because it is transparent". -- A transparent substance is one that can be seen through.



I think it would be more like:

"We know the wall is made of glass because it's transparent" assumes that glass is the only transparent material.

Earl Snake-Hips Tucker
01-31-2011, 01:49 PM
My understanding of "that begs the question..."Is apparently mistaken, as I tried to get people up to speed earlier (http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxbegthe.html).:sigh:

pulykamell
01-31-2011, 02:02 PM
The second meaning mentioned above is pretty much the only way the phrase is used in the media. I don't think I've seen "begging the question" used properly to describe a logical fallacy outside of a logic textbook.


Same here. I've never heard this phrase being used in the technical sense outside of perhaps these boards and textbooks. I'm not sure when "begging the question" became the standard phrasing for "raising the question," but I feel that it's been common for at least a few decades.

Philster
01-31-2011, 02:14 PM
My understanding of "that begs the question..."

A person makes a statement or explanation. However, that explanation either is not complete, or opens further topics that may need elaboration. "Begs the question" literally means, "I have told you that information, and you would most likely then ask this follow-up question..." or simpler, "it's almost like I am begging you to ask me the follow-up question."

For example...
"Fred lives in a rundown slum house, but drives a Ferrari and flies to Bermuda 4 times a year.
This begs the question, why does he not move to a better house? It's because..." etc.
It's a rhetorical device to bypass the pause for questions, or ensure the next step in the exposition is the direction the speaker wants to go.

This raises the question: Have you been paying attention... at all? :confused:

Seriously.

Labdad
01-31-2011, 03:22 PM
From The Economist’s style guide (bolding theirs):

Beg the question means neither raise the question, invite the question nor evade the answer. To beg the question is to adopt an argument whose conclusion depends upon assuming the truth of the very conclusion the argument is designed to produce. All governments should promote free trade because otherwise protectionism will increase. This begs the question.

Chessic Sense
01-31-2011, 04:07 PM
I think it would be more like:

"We know the wall is made of glass because it's transparent" assumes that glass is the only transparent material.

That's affirming the consequent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirming_the_consequent), not begging the question:

1. If something is glass, it's transparent.
2. The wall is transparent.
3. Therefore, the wall is glass.

From The Economistís style guide (bolding theirs):

That's not a good example. "All governments should promote free trade because otherwise protectionism will increase" is a tautology. It says, essentially "Do X, because otherwise you won't be doing X." It would be question-begging if it said "All governments should promote free trade because governments should avoid protectionism."

Doug K.
01-31-2011, 04:26 PM
That's affirming the consequent (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affirming_the_consequent), not begging the question:

1. If something is glass, it's transparent.
2. The wall is transparent.
3. Therefore, the wall is glass.




What I was trying to get at would be more like:

1. The wall is transparent.
2. Therefore, the wall is glass.

Assumes that the question "What materials are transparent?" has already been asked, and that the answer is "Glass, and nothing else."

Chessic Sense
01-31-2011, 04:44 PM
What I was trying to get at would be more like:

1. The wall is transparent.
2. Therefore, the wall is glass.

Assumes that the question "What materials are transparent?" has already been asked, and that the answer is "Glass, and nothing else."

How can you conclude (2) from (1) without some "If, then" statement? Your syllogism is incomplete.

Even if you did assume that the answer was "glass and nothing else", then the conditional premise becomes "If transparent, then glass" and the conclusion "therefore, the wall is glass" holds, so I'm not sure what you're getting at here.

Why are you assuming questions are being asked that aren't in your syllogism?

Doug K.
01-31-2011, 06:52 PM
How can you conclude (2) from (1) without some "If, then" statement? Your syllogism is incomplete.

Even if you did assume that the answer was "glass and nothing else", then the conditional premise becomes "If transparent, then glass" and the conclusion "therefore, the wall is glass" holds, so I'm not sure what you're getting at here.

Why are you assuming questions are being asked that aren't in your syllogism?

That's the whole point. You can't conclude 2 from 1 without the missing "If, then" question. The person begging the question is pretending that X is already established, when in fact it hasn't even been investigated yet. That's why it's a fallacy.

Martini Enfield
02-01-2011, 01:49 AM
Same here. I've never heard this phrase being used in the technical sense outside of perhaps these boards and textbooks. I'm not sure when "begging the question" became the standard phrasing for "raising the question," but I feel that it's been common for at least a few decades.

Even as a writer and editor/sub-editor, this is the only usage of the word I've ever actually seen.

As to "How did "begs the question" come to mean "Raises the question?", my educated guess is something like this:

Begging for something is usually associated with "asking or imploring for something [money, assistance, favours, etc]". So, "Begging a question" just seems to naturally imply "Asking a question so obvious that it's practically begging to be asked", at least IMHO.

The "traditional" usage just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense to me, FWIW.