On ‘Begs the Question’: A Poll

On ‘Begs the Question’: A Poll


With alarming frequency I am hearing friends declare that we’ve lost “begs the question.” What used to be a distinctive phrase for the fallacy of assuming the truth of the very claim you are setting out to prove (aka petitio principii), “begs the question” is now widely used to mean “raises the question.” A Language Log post from over 4 years ago presented some data to show just how pervasive this mistake (yes, I am calling it a mistake) is, and counseled people to never use the phrase at all. That seems extreme, but in the wrong direction! We should recall that old saying, owed to Barry Goldwater, that extremism in defense of snobbery is no vice. 

There are some traditionalists with an outpost here. They recommend you print and hand out these cards as necessary:

beg question card

I recommend you carry a baseball bat. No, not to beat sense into people who use the phrase incorrectly, but to defend yourself after you hand someone this card. (Also, note that if you hand this card to another philosopher you may get a card in return that tells you it’s a mistake to refer to “arguments” as “true.”)

But perhaps it is too late. Should we stand our ground? Or should we go gentle into that good night? There is only one scientifically sound and legally binding way to settle this: with an internet poll:

Remarkably, this is not covered in either of these volumes:
What Do You Say or Do Dear

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