“Just take the first shot. I’m begging you, take a shot. Just one hit. Come on, that’s all I need, just one swing.”—Principal Vernon in “The Breakfast Club,” showing the proper way for school administrators to deal with problem teens
This week, I’m begging you: please stop misusing the phrase “begging the question.”
More than two centuries ago, writer Alexis de Tocqueville famously fretted about the anti-intellectualism lurking in American society. He warned about an underlying dumb streak that could threaten to spoil the whole democratic experiment for everyone.If he could only see us now.
What would he say if we forced him to keep up with the Kardashians? What if we introduced him to Honey Boo Boo and her teratoid family? How about if we gave him the “Clockwork Orange” treatment for a “Duck Dynasty” marathon? Alexis would probably transmogrify into the frozen-in-horror Post-traumatic Stress Dog.
Let’s do our part to smarten up society.
All too often, people say something “begs the question” when they mean to indicate that something raises a question. However, that’s not what “begging the question” means.
“Begging the question” is a specific logical fallacy that occurs when a statement puts forth a claim that refers to itself to prove the truth of the statement. This statement assumes its claim to be true without exploring why it is true in the first place. The simplest way to illustrate this is to say, “Statement A is true because Statement A is true.”
The following examples beg the question by simply restating their claims:
Admittedly, explaining begging the question is a bit tricky, especially since the fallacy is rarely so obvious. However, the important thing to remember is this: when you want to say something raises or provokes a question, never say it begs the question.