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Tilting at Windmills

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January 6, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

BEGGING THE QUESTION....I think that this is the last word in the great "begging the question" debate.

Kevin Drum 12:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (43)

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Not self-referential enough.

'This must be the last word in the great "begging the question" debate.'

Better.

Posted by: jerry on January 6, 2006 at 12:40 AM | PERMALINK

Are you sure it's not "begs the question?"

Posted by: merlallen on January 6, 2006 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

I once took a chemistry class taught by a velociraptor, but that's a story for another day.

Posted by: Petey on January 6, 2006 at 12:50 AM | PERMALINK

If nothing else, this debate has me being careful with my words to my classes. I frequently want to say that this "begs the question", and as I am about to say it a picture of this damn screen pops up, and I am afraid of using it improperly. So I choose different words.
Just know, this is my little bit of psychosis, and it has no bearing on anyone, or anything else.
Thanks Kevin. You are getting in my head at the most inopportune times.

Posted by: newtons_third on January 6, 2006 at 12:51 AM | PERMALINK

wow, toothpaste for dinner-y.

Posted by: mk on January 6, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

When you use dinosaurs to make your case, all real debate is over.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 6, 2006 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

The comic, while amazingly unfunny, captures my sentiment.

The real problem I have with "begging the question" in the logical fallacy sense is that so damn few people understand it, and even fewer still will actually say "what do you mean by that?" So using it ends up being like using "shoot the moon" (or any other random phrase) to mean a fallacy of presumption. It looks like English that people know, but it's being used in an unfamiliar way and jargonistic way.

For that reason, I've moved it to the dust bin of language. I suppose that probably makes the baby Prescriptus cry, but fuck 'im.

Of course, I can't say "begs the question" to mean "raises the question," because then the few that do know it in the logical fallacy sense come out of the woodwork to tell me I'm a fuckin' idiot.

That whole phrase is dead.

Posted by: teece on January 6, 2006 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

When you use dinosaurs to make your case, all real debate is over.

Nah, you're just a saurus loser.

Posted by: floopmeister on January 6, 2006 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

And now for the next question -
give an example of an exception that proves the rule

Posted by: hopeless pedant on January 6, 2006 at 1:08 AM | PERMALINK

The example given in the last three panels is better than the explanation in the first three panels, IMO.

The first three panels make it sound as if "begging the question" is whenever you make an argument and don't provide support for a premise.

But you say someone has "begged the question" more when you mean that something about someone's conslusion, or their reasoning to reach their conclusion, especially points to a need to provide a better accounting of their premises. It seems to me that the cartoon was probably made by a very young person. But then, maybe I'm the one with less understanding of the phrase. Anybody else want to back me up?

Posted by: Swan on January 6, 2006 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

"That whole phrase is dead."

Dead or not, I still teach my freshmen English classes all the fallacies

Posted by: G on January 6, 2006 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

A writer who begs the question sets out to prove a statement already taken for granted, often simply repeating that statement in different words. For instance, the argument that rapists are menaces because they are dangerous doesnt prove a thing: menaces are dangerous people. Sometimes this fallacy takes the form of circular reasoning: He is a liar because he simply isnt telling the truth. Other times it takes the form of defining a word in terms of itself: Happiness is the state of being happy.

It aint over till its over.

You can observe a lot just by watching.

Posted by: G on January 6, 2006 at 1:15 AM | PERMALINK

Mostly, I agree with teece.

"Begging the question", like the use of the word "whom" in certain contexts, is nothing but a linguistic Scylla and Charybdis.

Either you look like you have a long rod stuck up a short ass if you insist on being "right", or you resemble an incontinent caveman Republican if you get it "wrong".

The only correct solution is to avoid the phrase or word altogether.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 6, 2006 at 1:22 AM | PERMALINK

To WHOM it may concern,how long until these kids destroy English. They find things too difficult so their solution is to get rid of them. We might as well switch to "newspeak" now and circumvent the entire dumbing down process.

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on January 6, 2006 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

Wikipedia's last words on BTQ

Posted by: Libby Sosume on January 6, 2006 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

Nah, you're just a saurus loser.

Ouch. He shoots, he scores!!!

Posted by: LW Phil on January 6, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Well, teaching it to students may be worthwhile, but if it isn't being used sensably in common discourse it's essentially dead and will soon be discarded in the dustbin of linguistic history.
It would be helpful if newspaper and magazine editors took their grammatical and rhetorical editing duties more seriously.

Posted by: joe on January 6, 2006 at 1:48 AM | PERMALINK

Every logical argument has prositions which are presumed by earlier propositions, so eventually every logical argument is either infinitely regressive or circular and therefore invalid.

Posted by: Mornington Crescent on January 6, 2006 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

The previous post is incoherent.

All (deductive, say) arguments have premises and a conclusion. If the premises entail or imply the conclusion, then the argument is valid. If not, the argument is invalid.

The premises themselves, of course, may be either true or false, more or less well-supported by evidence or other sorts of argumentation. If the premises of an argument are false, the argument is unsound. Even if the conclusion follows from the premises, you need not accept it.

An argument need not be "infinitely regressive" if the premises are agreed upon. If not, then they may become the focus of another argument. Arguments show what depends (logically) upon what or what, given agreement, that agreement implies.

I have a great fondness for the old use of "begs the question" and hate to see a fine old meaning eroded by ignorant usage. Once the use changes, if it does, then we just have find another phrase for what was called above "the fallacy of presumption"--if it is a fallacy and not just a characteristic of all deductively valid arguments.

Let's get back to muckraking.

Posted by: Steve S. on January 6, 2006 at 2:21 AM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, did anyone notice this graffito in the list:

VIII.2 (in the basilica); 1842: Gaius Pumidius Dipilus was here on October 3rd 78 BC.

?

I'm guessing that is a free translation.

Posted by: Henry on January 6, 2006 at 3:33 AM | PERMALINK

This argument isn't explicit enough. I still don't understand why common usage of this phrase is wrong.

Posted by: Michele on January 6, 2006 at 6:42 AM | PERMALINK

Why does someone feel that human discourse is improved by calling The Fallacy of Presumption "begging the question?" Why not just call it the fallacy of presumption. How is it better because I say, "I'm sorry but your argument is begging the question," rather than "I'm sorry but your argument is using a fallacy of presumption?" Isn't the second more precise?

I fucking hate word Nazis. Go read some Old English if you don't like the way people speak today.

Do people really get upset over trivial shit like this? Such a happy life they must live if the "improper" use of a phrase is a major worry in their lives. I envy you, your youth. Go out, get drunk, get laid, anything. I mean we're all fucked, more or less.

I.. I dunno, that's about the dumbest thing I ever heard.....

Posted by: wank on January 6, 2006 at 7:01 AM | PERMALINK
And now for the next question - give an example of an exception that proves the rule

That's easy. "Proves" in this saying means tests or challenges, so it's really saying "the exception challenges the rule," which is of course absolutely true.

Similarly, "the proof is in the pudding" is a horrible mangling of the original phrase, "the proof [test] of the pudding is in the eating," which makes much more sense.

Also, "proofing yeast" means to let it grow in a bowl for a while to make sure it works (testing it).

Next?

Posted by: zadig on January 6, 2006 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with the Raptor on this one. Althought, T-rex IS an awesome dude.

Posted by: Lurker42 on January 6, 2006 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

One of my philosophy instructors had a story about begging the question. He said that long ago, after opiums effects had been discovered, people would ask philosophers, Why does opium make you sleepy? The response was Because of its dormitive nature and people would go away satisfied with that. However, dormative simply means to make a person sleepy, so of course that isnt really answering the question.

Posted by: Psyberian on January 6, 2006 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0's comment about "using 'whom' in certain contexts" puzzles me. What would frankly0 think about the mystery of "using 'him' in certain contexts"? It's no mystery at all: 'him' is used when it's the object, 'he' when it's the subject. Same goes for 'who' and 'whom' -- if you know when to use 'him,' you know when to use 'whom.' What's the big deal? (and, of course, if you know when to use 'his' you know when to use 'whose,' and the same for 'he's' and 'who's'.

Posted by: LeisureGuy on January 6, 2006 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I beg to differ........

Posted by: Paul Dirks on January 6, 2006 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Man, the Internet gets smaller every day---the guy who writes that comic is a friend of mine. I never expected to see a link to it on Political Animal!

Posted by: Ben Bartlett on January 6, 2006 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sorry, Kevin, but your post just begs the question as to whether this really is the last word in the great "begging the question" debate.

Posted by: josef on January 6, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0's comment about "using 'whom' in certain contexts" puzzles me.

In a colloquial context, you might say, "Who's he going out with?"

Of course, it should be, "With whom is he going out?" But if you say that, you deserve to die lonely and 50 pounds overweight.

Whence the dilemma I alluded to.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 6, 2006 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

I think this debate is getting a little long in the tooth...

Posted by: Andrew on January 6, 2006 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

"Begging the question" as Kevin wants to use it is actually "Begging that the question be asked." The problem is that you are leaving out half of the phrase and thus half the meeting.

For instance, this: "Voting for the President" doesn't mean "Voting for the President's impeacment."

Posted by: Nathan Rudy on January 6, 2006 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

I have read that the saying "the exception proves the rule" would be better put as "the exception tests the rule" but there are cases where the exception does in fact prove the rule. Example: a sign says "no parking 4:00-6:00 PM." From this, I can conclude that parking is allowed at all other times.

Posted by: CEB on January 6, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I agree that maintaining the meaning of "begging the question" is probably a losing battle, but I wonder when people started misusing this phrase? "Raises the question" is perfectly good English, so why the preference for the more pretentious alternative?

And how ironic that people trying to look smarter misused a phrase in a way that makes them look dumber in the eyes of many.

Posted by: Frolic on January 6, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

CEB: logically you can make no such conclusion; there might be another rule that forbids parking at other times. What lets you draw the conclusion is that you're applying other, unstated rules: parking is permitted unless explicitly forbidden, and there is no other condition (red curb, fire hydrant, etc) that forbids parking.

Sorry, I've been damaged by 20 years of computer programming.

Posted by: Joe Buck on January 6, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK
In a colloquial context, you might say, "Who's he going out with?"

Of course, it should be, "With whom is he going out?" But if you say that, you deserve to die lonely and 50 pounds overweight.

One can, of course, simply avoid the problem with "Who is going out with him?", which asks the same thing in a different way, and is both grammatically correct and non-"stuffy". Of course, there are times when this kind of subject/object reversal is not available.

Posted by: cmdicely on January 6, 2006 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

begging the question" is probably a losing battle, but I wonder when people started misusing this phrase? "Raises the question" is perfectly good English, so why the preference for the more pretentious alternative?

Spot on. Appropriators of this phrase, like Kevin, want to have their cake (language belongs to the users) and eat it too (in benefitting from the appearance of linguistic sophistication).

Say what you mean! " . . . raises the question" is correct.

Posted by: PaxR55 on January 6, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, now admittedly I have a head cold and am feeling fuzzy, but I don't see any big difference here. If one has made an unsupported presumption, then the question that is begged is: Is this presumption valid? Which raises a question concerning that presumption.

Or is this just the cold medicine talking?

Posted by: cmac on January 6, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

You can always attack an argument by attacking its presumptions, if you can find a way to call them into question.

I thought that what "begging the question" always referred to was when a certain statement, or argument, by its own terms especially lends itself to questioning one if its premises in a certain way. The terms of the argument will alert a reasonable person hearing it to say, "Well, waitasec, now of course we have to prove X."

It's like a situation where we don't obviously have agreement on the premises, like we usually do have when we are faced with an example of an argument we all can agree is valid (as Steve S. describes in his 2:21 comment).

The problem with the phrase is that it can be turned into a rhetorical phrase, and that's how it's become inprecise. A person can say that an argument begs a certain question, when the person is just announcing that they're about to question the argument's premises (whether that argument really "begs" to have its premises questioned, or not). This use is diluting the proper use of "begs the question;" bombastic people say it just to make an opposing argument sound especially weak. When people use it in this sense- to serve their immediate rhetorical purpose- then the phrase becomes over-used, and people stop knowing what it means, and begin to think it means all kinds of crazy shit.

Posted by: Swan on January 6, 2006 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Okay then, what's the difference between the correct usage of "begging the question" and a tautology?

Seems to me that they're stone-identical examples of circular reasoning.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on January 6, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

frolic and pax have it exactly right. what is wrong with 'raises the question' and what is wrong with saying what you mean?

trying to dress up your prose with expressions you don't understand really won't impress your audience, and that part of it that does know the difference will think you a fool. it's self-defeating.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on January 7, 2006 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

Coming to the discussion a day late, but...
What frightens me is the blank look on people's faces when i mention that a debate on this issue exists and that such things as logical fallacies exist. Even college graduates and in one case a school teacher had absolutely no clue what i was talking about when i broached the subject. The general population couldn't follow this discussion thread with the average high school education available in this country. Is anyone else frightened by this?

Posted by: pzykr on January 7, 2006 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Vocality
Definition of Vocality in the Online Dictionary. Meaning of Vocality. What does Vocality mean?
Vocality synonyms, Vocality antonyms. Information about Vocality in the free online English dictionary and encyclopedia.

Artists and art the-artists.org, the major modern and contemporary visual artists and art, with portrait biography and links to resources with artworks articles books posters and modern art prints.

Pop Art
The term first appeared in Britain during the 1950s and referred to the interest of a number of artists in the images of mass media, advertising, comics and consumer products. The 1950s were a period of optimism in Britain following the end of war-time rationing, and a consumer boom took place. Influenced by the art seen in Eduardo Paolozzi's 1953 exhibition Parallel between Art and Life at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, and by American artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, British artists such as Richard Hamilton and the Independent Group aimed at broadening taste into more popular, less academic art. Hamilton helped organize the 'Man, Machine, and Motion' exhibition in 1955, and 'This is Tomorrow' with its landmark image Just What is it that makes today's home so different, so appealing? (1956). Pop Art therefore coincided with the youth and pop music phenomenon of the 1950s and '60s, and became very much a part of the image of fashionable, 'swinging' London. Peter Blake, for example, designed album covers for Elvis Presley and the Beatles and placed film stars such as Brigitte Bardot in his pictures in the same way that Warhol was immortalizing Marilyn Monroe in the USA. Pop art came in a number of waves, but all its adherents - Joe Trilson, Richard Smith, Peter Phillips, David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj - shared some interest in the urban, consumer, modern experience.

act of vocality

Artists and art

诗歌声乐艺术

Posted by: art on January 7, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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