beg the question

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English[edit]

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Etymology[edit]

Latin petitio principii, from Ancient Greek τὸ ἐν ἀρχῇ αἰτεῖσθαι (tò en arkhēî aiteîsthai, to assume from the beginning).

Verb[edit]

beg the question (third-person singular simple present begs the question, present participle begging the question, simple past and past participle begged the question)

  1. (philosophy, logic, law) To engage in the logical fallacy of begging the question (petitio principii).
    • 1994, D. N. Walton, “Begging the question as a pragmatic fallacy.” Synthese, vol 100, no 1:
      The objection is that the argument begs the question, meaning that the premise, that God has all the virtues, assumes the conclusion, that God is benevolent.
  2. To sidestep or fail to address a question.
    • 1860, Henry Adams, letter, 6 May
      However I hope we shall do better as we go on and as long as there's no dodging or begging the question on our side, I'm not afraid.
  3. To raise or prompt a question.
    Three people were hurt in the fire at the warehouse last night, which begs the question: what were they doing there in the first place?

Usage notes[edit]

  • The first sense, based as it is on a no-longer-common sense of beg, being a poor translation of the original terms, as well as not ever having been an adequate description of the fallacy, is not well understood except in specialized contexts, such as academic and legal argument.
  • The sense "sidestep or evade a question" is a simple development of the original sense that uses the expression to include any evasion rather than only one based on the logical fallacy.
  • The sense “raise a question, prompt a question” is more recent and has been proscribed by some commentators, but is now included without comment in some dictionaries. In the “raise the question” usage, it is used broadly, both for antecedents (given a conclusion or consequence, how did it arise?) and general questions (e.g., “Where do we go from here?”). Others suggest that the phrase is hard to understand in any event, and be avoided, using instead phrases such as “assume the conclusion” (for philosophical sense), "evade the question" for failure to address the question, and “raise the question”, “prompt the question” (for last sense).

Related terms[edit]

References[edit]

  • "Beg the question" in Michael Quinion, Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds, 2004.