Thursday, September 15, 2005

How to Beg the Question

Posted in: Philosophy

(This is a re-post of an article that was lost in the great purge of '05)

This is a pet peeve of mine that I hope to solve beginning here. I am constantly hearing the expression "this begs the question . . . " on radio and TV and it is almost always used incorrectly. Begging the question is not simply raising a question. For example, if I see a car for sale that looks great but only costs $14.95 it does not beg the question "What is wrong with that car?" (although that is certainly a question that should be asked).

So for you non-logic-nerds out there, here is what this phrase means: To beg the question is a technical phrase in logic that refers to someone inserting the conclusion of an argument into the support for the conclusion. Thus, it "begs the very question" under discussion. For example, suppose that you and I are arguing over whether or not Star Wars is the greatest movie of all time and I give the following argument:

1. Whatever has nothing better than itself is the greatest.
2. There is no better movie than Star Wars.
3. Therefore Star Wars is the greatest movie.

The argument is valid (its conclusion follows necessarily from its premises), however I have sneaked in the conclusion that I was arguing for into premise 2 - thus, I have "begged the question." This is a fallacy and makes the argument faulty.

Ahhh. I feel better now.

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