Sunday, January 15, 2006

Begging the question

Yet another phrase is being transformed from its original meaning to something entirely different:  "begging the question."

In formal logic, to beg a question originally and correctly means to improperly take for granted or as true the conclusion one is attempting to reason towards or prove--when the proposition to be proved is assumed in one of the premises.  For example, "The defendant must be liable for the plaintiff/smoker's lung problems because it's an evil big tobacco company"; "I should get a good grade in LRW because I work really hard"; "Smoking marijuana is bad for you because it's against the law."  Begging the question and circular reasoning are related.

The increasingly common usage is to mis-use "begs the question" to mean "brings about the question"--wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!!  I realize that one can engage in an argument about the evolution of our language and can be comfortable with one phrase having two meanings, but why is it good to take a phrase that meant and conveyed one discrete idea and turn it into a phrase that means two quite different things?  There were already plenty of ways to express the "new meaning" of the phrase--raises the question, brings about the question, leads to the question.  No need to add another expression that meant (and for many continues to mean) something quite different.


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