Sunday, August 16, 2009

Begging isn't pretty

I like your curves
Originally uploaded by Nicole.Kelly
Begging the question (petitio principia)
My first statement is simple here. Raising a question is not begging the question. As per Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged:

begged the question: a logical fallacy in which a premise is assumed to be true without warrant or in which what is to be proved is implicitly taken for granted


Raised the question: to bring up for consideration: introduce into discussion : offer as an objection, a problem, or a significant point
Consider the following exchange:

Writer: “My ask is that my editor stop being so tightly wound.”

Which raises the question (rightly)

Editor: “Has the editor’s writer gone to using common verbs as nouns?”

The writer’s statement raised a (good) question, but it did *not* beg the question.

Okay, onto the fallacy at hand.

Begging the question is also called assuming the initial point and is related to circular logic. It is as it then sounds, when the speaker or writer wanders around in a logical circle only to discover that their thesis is true because their thesis is true. I have to admit that I love finding out that I am perfect because I am perfect, but my friends would like to have this proven before they start a cult for me (*curses*).

When does this commonly occur?

It happens when the author doesn’t know how to prove their thesis, so they resort to a logical sleight of hand. They need the thesis to be accepted as correct, so they can continue the rest of the argument. If, perchance, the reader doesn’t accept the axiom, none of the rest of the argument will matter. So, we get desperate. Then, when we think know one is looking, we pull the adult equivalent of the truefalse letter and hope to trick people into thinking we have all the answers.
What does it look like?

It’s ugly. Real ugly. Ugly like your sister’s bride’s maids dresses. It looks a lot like this:

"If stealing wasn’t illegal, then it wouldn’t be prohibited the law."

Are you okay? I feel little queasy like the time I watched “Dead Alive.”
Sloppy logic annoys the reader, because the reader is then annoyed. I mean, if the statement wasn’t annoying, then it wouldn’t make the reader annoyed. Really, this very smart guy told me that circular reasoning is really bad … oh sorry, that’s a different logic issue.

Are you feeling dizzy? I am.

1 comment:

Suddenly Fourty said...

Very interesting. I almost on a daily basis (1) avoiding this pitfall and (2) pointing out when I've identified such in peoples' arguments (both 1 and 2 are equally tough).

I like the way you described it here. Very clear and succinct.