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.