Begging the Question: Grumpy Old Men

I'm one of those grumpy old men who cringes whenever I hear "beg the question" used as synonymous with "raise the question." I haven't really wondered, though, how the phrase came to have the peculiar meaning of "assumes that which is to be proven" that it has in classical logic. For those who would like to know, it's all here, in post and comments: language log (Mark Lieberman).

The take away:

OK, those of you who are still with me, what should we do? Should we join the herd and use "beg the question" to mean "raise the question"? Or should we join the few, proud hold-outs who still use it in the old "assume the conclusion" sense, while complaining about the ignorant rabble who etc.?

In my opinion, those are both bad choices. If you use the phrase to mean "raise the question", some pedants will silently dismiss you as a dunce, while others will complain loudly, thus distracting everyone else from whatever you wanted to say. If you complain about others' "misuse", you come across as an annoying pedant. And if you use the phrase to mean "assume the conclusion", almost no one will understand you.

My recommendation: Never use the phrase yourself — use "assume the conclusion" or "raise the question", depending on what you mean — and cultivate an attitude of serene detachment in the face of its use by others.

I so resolve.


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