Speaking of Which | Begging the Question

25 Jan,2013

By Vidya Heble


“Begs the question” does not mean “Gives rise to the question,” which is how I see it used sometimes, much to my dismay. Begging the question is not a phrase or clause, it is a logical fallacy, and it’s been around much before any of our identifiable ancestors. It is one of the classic informal fallacies in Aristotle’s Prior Analytics. The fallacy of petitio principii, or “begging the question”, is committed “when a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof.” “Beg the question”, simply, means “to assume the truth of the conclusion of one’s argument without bothering to prove it”.


Begging the question is what one does in an argument when one already assumes what one is supposed to be proving. Or, states question itself as the answer to the question. “Why is this a popular programme? Because viewers like it.” The fact that viewers like it makes it popular, so the response to this is, “That begs the question.” Another example is, “Why does opium induce sleep? Because it has a soporific quality.”


“Begs the question” does not need to have an actual question following it; it is a phrase in itself, and the “question” it refers to is already inherent in the statement being discussed. Therefore, desist from talking about begging the question, unless you know for sure that you are using it in the right context. Or, of course, if you’re involved in a philosophical-logical discussion.


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