Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blogging the Question

In an earlier post I whined about how people often misuse a particular logical fallacy. Here's another case: when people use "begs the question" (petitio principii) to mean "forces us to ask..."

People, that's not what "begs the question" means. It means presupposes (begs) what is at question. If an argument begs the question it means it is a circular argument: you are assuming the conclusion in order to argue for said conclusion. Take the following exchange as an example.

"X is true!"
"How do you know?"
"Because X says so."

In order to argue that X is true, the arguer presupposed that X is true. This is obviously fallacious, because it leaves unanswered the interlocutor's question of how we can know that X (and its statements about itself) are true. It begs the question.

Here is a simple way to know whether you are misusing the phrase: if you follow the statement "begs the question" with, you know, a question, then you have invited the mockery and scorn of pedantic philosophers around the world. Instead, substitute the phrase "forces us to ask" or something similar, and your argument will be potentially free of fallacies about fallacies.

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1 comment:

Kendalf said...

Hmm... I just misused "Begs the question" yesterday. It's "Forces us to ask" from now on! Thanks for straightening me out so that I no longer look like a fool! Though I don't think any of the people that I've been debating are pedantic philosophers, so I haven't actually been laughed and scorned at yet (knock on wood)...