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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: January ::
Begging the Question


	

			

					

							

									

											

															

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0049  Saturday, 30 January 2010

 

[1] From:     Marcus Geduld < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 15, 2010 12:22:13 PM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0036 Begging the Question 

 

[2] From:     Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 15, 2010 12:38:13 PM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question 

 

[3] From:     Annie Martirosyan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 15, 2010 12:54:21 PM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0036 Begging the Question 

 

[4] From:     David Evett < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 16, 2010 12:24:18 PM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question 

 

[5] From:     William Sutton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 17, 2010 12:30:58 PM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question 

 

[6] From:     Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:     January 18, 2010 12:54:04 AM EST

     Subj:     Re: SHK 21.0029  Begging the Question 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:         Marcus Geduld < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 15, 2010 12:22:13 PM EST

Subject: 21.0036 Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0036 Begging the Question

 

With respect, it's odd to hear a Shakespearean argue against corruptions of the language.

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:         Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 15, 2010 12:38:13 PM EST

Subject: 21.0036  Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question

 

I suppose the linguists would have something to say about this thread, in line with their Humpty Dumpty attitude toward the meaning of words. 

 

I am no ready to give up on it, but I suppose "enormity" has come to mean "immensity" and "problematical" now means "having problems." 

 

I am ready to announce my resignation that "decimation" has become synonymous with "devastation."

 

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:         Annie Martirosyan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 15, 2010 12:54:21 PM EST

Subject: 21.0036 Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0036 Begging the Question

 

I suggest you refer this (seems, quite painful to many) linguistic point to Professor David Crystal. He will kindly respond to it in his blog (http://www.david-crystal.blogspot.com) and everybody will be happy.

 

Regard

Annie

 

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:         David Evett < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 16, 2010 12:24:18 PM EST

Subject: 21.0036  Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question

 

I'd like to hear from some practicing linguisticists on this one. I'm pretty sure they think - as I do - that the barbarians have not only landed but conquered already.

 

David Evett

 

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:         William Sutton < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 17, 2010 12:30:58 PM EST

Subject: 21.0036  Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0036  Begging the Question

 

For the logical fallacists:

http://begthequestion.info

 

I learned from this interchange that I was wrong in begging for an answer to my question. Now I too can teach others the error of their ways. Particularly looking forward to using point 1, under the how can I help section.

 

 

How did the erroneous usage of "beg the question" come about?

 

It's an understandable error: the original Latin term petitio principii was translated into English in the 16th Century as "beg the question." Given that we today understand "beg" to mean "ask," our modern vocabulary would parse construe the phrase with less regard for its intended meaning. Michael Quinion believes the phrase is better translated today as "laying claim to the principle."

 

Shouldn't we accept that words change in meaning over time?

 

True, words like "cool" and "gay" gained new meaning via a process of modern association with their understood meanings, but BTQ abuse rises from a misunderstanding of its original use. It would be as though people started using "the die is cast" to mean dying, simply because the word "die" is in there, without any knowledge of Caesar. Is there any idiom -- not a single word, but a full phrase -- whose meaning has changed over the years, simply by virtue of its being misunderstood by the linguistically inept or the historically ignorant?

 

But language is constantly evolving.

 

That's great to know! Descriptivist linguists, whom we do not fault for their stand, are quite free to watch as we bring about an evolution in the vernacular understanding of "begging the question."

 

What can I do to help?

 

1. Use BTQ properly. When someone says something that treats his argument as already pre-proven without actual proof, tell him that he is begging the question. When he asks what question he is begging, inform him of the actual meaning of the term. If he resists, a firm backhand slap should put him in his place.*

 

2. Print out our BTQ Cards to give to public speakers, bosses, writers, preachers, politicians, or random people on the subway and bus whom you hear getting it wrong.

 

3. Get BTQ Merchandise to show you care. BTQ shirts and mugs can go a long way in informing the public, and they make great gifts for the pedantic linguistic curmudgeon in your life.

 

4. When you actually do mean "raising" or "prompting" a question, be sure to emphasize your use of the alternate terms to show that you are not "begging" the question.

 

5. If you ever do catch yourself saying "begs," you can quickly save your grammatical reputation and spare your audience by saying "begs for the question," which would still be quite correct, if slightly awkward.

 

* BegTheQuestion.info does not condone firm backhand slaps, and only recommends such extreme measures in jest.

 

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:         Gerald E. Downs < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         January 18, 2010 12:54:04 AM EST

Subject: 21.0029  Begging the Question

Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0029  Begging the Question

 

To Tom Reedy's question, "Is it time to . . . accept that the term [beg the question] has migrated to a new meaning . . .?"; Anthony Burton replies, somewhat unclearly,". . .no. Despite the proliferation of idiocies such as this one, most of them. . .with any luck will drop out of currency. . .and abandon the phrase. . . to informed users."

 

If the latest 'begs the question' has independent beginnings it is hardly idiocy. Certainly its proliferation is blameless usage. I think few persons who 'understand' the term in the sense of the logical fallacy use it in its newer meaning and I suppose users in the later sense haven't heard, or don't remember the distinction.

 

To 'beg' in the sense of 'to take for granted without warrant' is perhaps to be found these days only in 'to beg the question' (where 'the thing to be proved is assumed in the premise'); it's only natural for the uninformed to adopt the 'wrong' meaning. So, for the most part, assuming the meaning to be a migration may be mistaken. I am beginning to think that the 'fallacy' usage is expendable; when the term serves a purpose its difficulties might be avoided by using other terms instead.

 

The "Fallacy file" web page offers this 'etymology': "The phrase 'begging the question', or 'petitio principii' . . . refers to the 'question' in a formal debate -- that is, the issue being debated. In such a debate, one side may ask the other side to concede certain points in order to speed up the proceedings. To 'beg' the question is to ask that the very point at issue be conceded, which is of course illegitimate."

 

So much for an 'etymology' of 'beg'; the idea of too many stipulations makes sense, though question-beggers won't usually ask. The site definition: "Any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premises, or a chain of arguments in which the final conclusion is a premise of one of the earlier arguments in the chain. More generally, an argument begs the question when it assumes any controversial point not conceded by the other side."

 

Wikipedia cites Kahane & Cavender (Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric, 2005): 'BTQ' may involve a premise that "is different from the conclusion . . . but is controversial or questionable for the same reasons that typically might lead someone to question the conclusion."

 

These expanded definitions begin to show the problem. BTQ is not really limited to what 'the other side' may think, or to what someone might be led to think. It isn't necessarily wrong to beg the question, but even when it is, the accusation is often resisted and misunderstood because our assumptions are too protected. We see the fallacy when others do it but get mad when accused ourselves.

 

'Jerry has been a bad boy because his mother spanked him.' (I cite this example from distant memory).

 

Often the conclusion is stated first: 'Jerry was bad.' One premise is not enough: 'his mom spanked him.' Premises are suppressed: 'mothers punish misbehaving sons.' Jerry's sisters won't (perhaps) have a problem with the conclusion or the premises, and they may be right. But a social worker may make it his business to question the suppressed premise.

 

Simple BTQ is mere tautology: 'Jerry was bad because he was not good.' But the meaningful examples are of types Thomas Fowler mentions (Deductive Logic, 1905): "When one of the premises is equally unknown with the conclusion . . . when it is more unknown . . .[these cases] are really instances of the assumption of a false premise, or at least a premise that is not known to be true."

 

More broadly, assumptions, presumptions, and beliefs may be doubted. But we get attached to those of our own and we are not motivated to inquire beyond them. We don't want to hear "begging the question" when 'our side' knows the answers. So, in my opinion, that phrase is best left unsaid; the suspected assumption or belief should be confronted directly or it will continue to get in the way of inquiry.

 

Admitting a questionable premise will cause a proposition to fall apart of its own accord. Non-agreement will let the disputants go their separate ways. Circular reasoning is a different story. "Begging the question does not require reversal of premise and conclusion," but circularity does and is easier to pin down, though again it needn't be wrong. I would personally like to see a fallacy recognized that Shakespeare argumentation is susceptible to. That is 'Argumento con Menudo'; in English, 'Add Hominy and Tripe'. Sounds good to me.

 

Gerald E. Downs

 

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