That begs the question…

Alright people, gather around – the pedant is ranting again. Lend me your ears sermonisers, lecture-givers and off-the-cuff orators this is important: I’m calling you to repent so do not harden your hearts.

Have you ever said, “ahh, yes but that begs the question….” and then raised a question that is raised by a prior assertion? Have you? You have – haven’t you! Don’t deny it. Well it’s OK. I forgive you. But now let me introduce you to the correct way to use this phrase.

“Begging the question” is a type of logical fallacy (that is, a way of proving something that is false). What it involves is proving something to be true by assuming that it’s true. Another phrase we use for this is a circular argument, though some people (including Aristotle) dispute that these two are exactly alike.

Begging the question looks something like this:

2GB Shock Jock: “The belief in mandatory detention of refugees is universal in Australia. After all, everyone in Australia thinks we should lock up refugees!”

See what happened there? The shock jock puts the point and then tries to prove it by, well, restating the point using different words.

Usually these chains are a bit longer, and therefore sound more sophisticated. They’ll say something like A is true because B is true, B is true because C is true and C is true because A is true.

Listen I know this sounds a bit… erm… wanky. But could you all please stop using “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”? Just say raises the question. You’ll still sound smart, I promise.

In the next few days I’m going to post on a response to the philosophy101 lecturer’s favourite circular argument:

How do we know that the Bible is the word of God? Because God says it is. Where does he say it is? In the Bible.



Filed under Uncategorized

6 responses to “That begs the question…

  1. Hey Steve, I’m keen to read your next blog post. Ages ago I asked the same question to CASE and the Atheist Foundation of Australia on how the bible is true because it says it is, and how our reason is true because our reason tells us that it is.

    Only the Atheists got back to me on that one:

  2. Stephanie Stoker

    Thanks for educating the masses 🙂

  3. So how would you use the phrase ‘that begs the question’ in a sentence?

    • steveboxwell

      It’s a little more complicated than that Anton. In saying, “that begs the question” what you’re really doing is describing an argument. It’s like exclaiming “That’s a deductive argument”.

      You could say, “that argument begs the question” and what you’re really saying is “you haven’t proved anything because all you’ve done is assumed the truth of the thing you’re trying to prove in order to prove it”.

      So if I were to say answer the question “Can a person quit smoking?” with “Of course — as long as he has sufficient willpower and really wants to quit” then you could say “NAHA, Steve! You just begged the question.

  4. tom

    Just wanting to know if you were still going to respond to “the philosophy101 lecturer’s favourite circular argument”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s