Annoyances: begging/raising the question

Another annoyance post today – this time concerning the phrase “beg the question”. This is now such a common error that you can see it everywhere – television, newspapers, advertisements – the whole nine yards.

In basic terms, to beg the question does not mean the same as to “raise the question”. For example:

“I don’t like strawberries; which begs the question, why do I love strawberry Pop Tarts?”

This is quite simply wrong, no matter how many times you have heard the phrase being used in this sense. You should be raising the question here.

“Begging the question” actually refers to a type of logical fallacy, also known as petitio principii (Latin: “assuming the initial point”). Begging the question is a fallacy in which you make a claim, but have no evidence as to whether this claim is true or false other than the statement itself. For example:

“I don’t trust her, because she’s untrustworthy.”

Describing her as ‘untrustworthy’ does not actually explain why you don’t trust her, as they both mean the same thing. This is an example of somebody begging the question, thus creating a logical fallacy.

This, perhaps, raises the question: why is this error so often made? It seems to have slipped under the radar a long time ago, and now the incorrect meaning has simply been introduced into modern usage.

You can find out more at begthequestion.info, who give the following statement as to why they feel the error should be corrected:

While descriptivists and other such laissez-faire linguists are content to allow the misconception to fall into the vernacular, it cannot be denied that logic and philosophy stand to lose an important conceptual label should the meaning of BTQ become diluted to the point that we must constantly distinguish between the traditional usage and the erroneous “modern” usage. This is why we fight.

As a bit of a pedant myself, I completely agree. So remember, don’t beg questions – raise them.

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