Talk:Begging the question/Archive 1

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Great example actually used by someone if you want it

This was an argument I -actually found- on a page. The whole article is too long to put here but the intro goes like this: "Atheism is self-contradictory, since a pure atheist would have to prove he or she did not exist, prior to proving that God does not exist. An atheist is a combination of outward physical material matter, combined with internal spiritual matter that has always existed and is co-eternal with God. The only way an atheist could prove therefore that God did not exist, is to validate the fact that Mankind does not exist. Not!" Worst.Circular Reasoning.Ever. If you want to read the rest of this 'argument' its here —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 09:17, 30 April 2007 (UTC).

Please, fix this page

The intro appears to be a list with three items, numbered 1, 2, 2. What the hell?! Please, clarity. 19:57, 16 January 2007 (UTC)

Vicious circle?

At present the term "vicious circle" is given as a synonym, though so far as I know the meaning of the term is entirely different. Am I wrong?

I think "vicious circle" means something different, something more akin to "self-fulfilling prophesy". For example, if you lack confidence, fewer people will like you, so you will lose confidence. It's a vicious circle.

Actually, I must correct myself: agrees with you that "vicious circle" has a logical definition, too.

Here is an example

(1) Alice: God created the world.

    Bob: How do you know that?

(2) Alice: Because it says so in the Bible.

(C) Bob: How do you know that the Bible is correct?

(3) Alice: Because the Bible is the word of God in written form.

    Bob: How do you know that the Bible is the word of God.

(2) Alice: Because it says so in the Bible.

We have (2) implies (1)
        (3) implies (C)
        (2) implies (3)
        If C is true then (2) is true

Thus (2) implies (2) thus (1) is true.      

And here is a simpler example

Since I'm not lying, it follows that I'm telling the truth. -- Picapica 09:44, 23 Apr 2005 (UTC)

How about someone putting in an -actual example- of the classical useage instead of just logical arguments that DO NOT show how this term was used and why it was improper. All this discussion is nice, but you don't show the term 'begging the question' in classical useage ANYWHERE. Which makes this page rather un-informative to people without PHD's in rhetoric.

Another Illustration

(1) Bob: Using science, logic, and reason is the only valid way 
         to support the truth of a statement.

    Alice: How do yo know that?

If Bob uses science, logic or reason to support the truth of (1), 
he is begging the question.

Note that (1) can be any statement with the following form:

X is the only valid way to support the truth of a statement.

Distinction between Begging the Question and Circular Argument

Fowler, in Modern English Usage, distinguishes between Begging the Question and Circular Argument as follows:

Arguing in a Circle: The basing of two conclusion each upon the other. That the world is good follows from the known goodness of God; that God is good is known from the excellence of the world he has made.
Petitio Principii or Begging the Question: 'assumption of the basis'. The fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself. Arguing in a circle (see above) is a common form of p.p. That foxhunting is not cruel, since the fox enjoys the fun & that one must keep servants because all respectable people do so, are other examples of begging the question or p.p., in which the argument is not circular.

Gyrae 05:09, Feb 1, 2005 (UTC)

In other words, circular arguments are particular instances of petitio principii, but not all cases of begging the question involve circular arguments. -- Picapica 09:44, 23 Apr 2005 (UTC)

The OED says merely, "Taking for granted the thing to be proved." This is consistent with Merriam-Webster and the American Heritage Dictionaries: "Take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned" Fowler stands among only a handful (most citing Fowler) that suggest the meaning is actually "The fallacy of founding a conclusion on a basis that as much needs to be proved as the conclusion itself." The distinction is subtle but important. the OED/MW/AH position is that you judge a statement begging the question without knowledge of what the listener will believe. Fowler's suggests that the listener's willingness to believe determines whether the speaker is begging the question. This is much more commonly known as the Fallacy of many questions.

That point aside, I think you are mistaking the contrast in Fowler between begging the question and circular reasoning--mistaking in the sense of making one a subset of the other. Fowler distinguishes circular reasoning by a requirement of at least two arguments and two conclusions. Each conclusion uses the other in its premises. This is a pretty standard definition of circular reasoning but it is not a subset of begging the question. begging the question is distinguished by involving only one argument and conclusion. --Stefanbojark 02:18, 7 May 2005 (UTC)

Let me moderate that a bit. Further research brings up the question how one can count arguments. With one acception: a formal syllogism is well defined. Begging the question is appropriate against a single syllogism. Fowler suggestions that a charge of circular reasoning isn't. --Stefanbojark 03:02, 7 May 2005 (UTC)

I think this page should not be a redirect from "circular reasoning" - there is clearly a need for both the pages. It also seems to me that the phrase "beg the question" is a turn of phrase that has come to be associated with a class of argument but is subject to variations in usage. On the otherhand "circular reasoning" (while also a turn of phrase etc...) is more descriptive and a invites a more literal interpretation. A reader can guess that involves something to do with reasoning and cirularity whereas in order to understand the usage of the phrase "beg the question" one has to know that it has nothing to do with begging and dosn't necessarily involve asking questions... --Wigi 04:57, 16 November 2005 (UTC)

Petitio Principii

I would like to describe this term as used in criticism of mathematical proof. Does this fit into this article, or should I create another? Should PP be a redirect here? (I will get back to the section below some time, I expect. Truth is eternal, so I'm in no hurry at the moment. ;-) ) Mr. Jones 17:23, 21 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Looks to me like somthing that should be included here. Banno 22:21, 22 Feb 2004 (UTC)

Is there non Neutral Point of View Bias in the Article?

(for discussion previously listed here see history)

I changed the article back to include the assertions of correctness. Incorrect common usage does not equal change of definition especially considering how recently this became common. Changing the meaning of a phrase (especially without need) makes communication very difficult. Since many people come to wikipedia as a reference it is best and accurate to maintain that there is a "correct" definition. There are those who may argue about the existence of "correctness" but that should be saved for philosophical debate. We should go on trying to maintain standard to protect the utility of language and not fragment it with colloquialisms.

We can and do mention common usage. That is certainly enough. We need not say that the common usage is now correct.

--Catskul 19:23, 2005 Feb 4 (UTC)

p.s. how many people would now like to change the pronunciation of nuclear to Nuk-u-lar since so many people say it incorrectly (including the president)

Catskul, you need to concede that one person's "correct" usage is merely opinion. It's not a philosophical debate; it's an established position within linguistics, which is a scientific discipline and thus excludes value judgements. Those who wring hands about "declining standards" are shown up by the fact that language change is inevitable (*when* is the timeless, perfect English? Is it 19th Century? 11th Century?). Societal custom may impose certain views on certain usages (in this particular instance, the stigma would have to be pretty weak), but that can only be reported, not endorsed, as per NPOV. Lacrimosus 00:10, 5 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Quite obviously, this is not is not an argument of "one person's usage". Lingusitics is a soft science, which does, in fact, (and should) include value judgements, but that is beyond the point. The length of time and the spread of the usage are open to debate in adopting a new accepted definition. I dont think that inclusion of the vernacular as being (just as) correct is based on any linguistic study or linguists' concensus which makes your insistance much more about opinion than my stance.
An important point about this use of the phrase is that it seems to come not from intentional re-use (a la popular use of the word cool) nor by abstraction or analogy (for instance using "sharp" to describe someone's intelligence). Rather it seems to have come about by observation of the use and then misused in a failed attempt to immitate writing or speaking style. Its unlikely for someone to have come up with an obscure phrasing like "begs the question" for the vernacular meaning, without haveing taken it from the expression referring to the logical falacy. It can be further argued that misuse of the phrase which might otherwise be harmless degrades the ability to communicate the original meaning which is a valid point against its use.
If you want to argue about the utility of calling something correct or incorrect, then I maintain that this is a philosophical debate as one could always argue that there is no such thing as correct. One typically looks to the history of language to determine standards to base the lable of correctness. I will therefore hold the assertion of correctness based on the history and the utility of maintaining the longer held definition.
I will wait a bit for you to respond and discuss this with you further before I make an attempt to re-insert the assertions of correctness.
-Catskul 20:44, 2005 Feb 6 (UTC)
Sorry, but linguists do not make value judgements.
I dont think that inclusion of the vernacular as being (just as) correct is based on any linguistic study or linguists' concensus which makes your insistance much more about opinion than my stance.
Actually it is. The consensus among virtually all linguists (as opposed to amateur language pundits) is that there is no linguistic basis for the supposed superiority of some dialects/usages over others. It is of course possible that there may be some utility in attempting to standardise usage (although it is usually a futile effort), but there is no striaghtforward linguistic basis for choosing between usages. Therefore, (a linguist might say), while its perhaps reasonable to define Standard English, it's not reasonable to call non-standard English "incorrect" — it's just non-standard, in the same sense, for example, that certain sizes of screw are non-standard.
Rather it seems to have come about by observation of the use and then misused in a failed attempt to immitate writing or speaking style.
So have a great number of expressions in Standard English. In fact, I think that the common (mis)usage of "begging the question" stems from the fact that its actual literal meaning is something like "this inevitably raises the question". The standard usage is far more idiomatic, stemming from a rather far-fetched etymology, and therefore anyone who did not know the idiom would naturally go for the nonstandard interpretation.
If you want to argue about the utility of calling something correct or incorrect, then I maintain that this is a philosophical debate as one could always argue that there is no such thing as correct. One typically looks to the history of language to determine standards to base the lable of correctness. I will therefore hold the assertion of correctness based on the history and the utility of maintaining the longer held definition.
Right, but that's just your POV. Other people (e.g. academic linguists) have a different POV. NPOV requires, therefore, that we don't call any useage incorrect or correct, but rather explain the range of opinion regarding that useage (which of course includes the opinion that it is straightforwardly incorrect). Cadr 01:13, 7 Feb 2005 (UTC)
One more thing. There is, so far as I know, no Wikipedia policy which prevents "philosophical" issues being introduced on articles which are not explicitly about philosophy. Therefore, even if you are correct that the argument for not making value judgements about usage is in some sense "philosophical", this does not work very well as a justification for not mentioning that argument in the article. Cadr 01:24, 7 Feb 2005 (UTC)
By extension of your argument, then, I could say that there is also no such thing as "correct" or "incorrect" spelling, only standard and nonstandard. However,"correct" and "incorrect" are used as useful lables to guide standardization. Quite obviously the meaning of "true" or "false" cannot be used for this meaning of correct and incorrect in as much as I couldnt say "the sky" is false or "an elephant" is true. If you look at the definitions of "correct" you will see that "conforming to standard" is one of the listed meanings. Calling something incorrect in this context is only a stronger form of calling it non-standard.
Personally, I would like to stick to calling it incorrect. Resistance to calling it incorrect seems more POV to me than otherwise, in this case cosidering what I am trying to argue. It seems the resistance is simply about the connotation of the words "correct" and "incorrect". Whereas most people who want to know if something is correct or not are really looking to find what the standard is, those who understand the concepts behind "correctness" would be willing to use with "incorrect" usage if that was their intention. In that respect, this article serves all who would use it by use of the lables "correct" and incorrect"
If we cannot agree, I am willing to concede to something like calling it non-standard, and mentioning that it will be regarded as incorrect by those who are aware of the more formal meaning. I would consider this a bit silly, however, since incorrect and non-standard are simply varying degrees of the same thing in this context. Since this is a community encyclopedia we cannot assert authority, and Im sure the arguement in the future regardless of what the outcome is presently.
-Catskul 16:49, 2005 Feb 7 (UTC)
By extension of your argument, then, I could say that there is also no such thing as "correct" or "incorrect" spelling, only standard and nonstandard.
Spelling isn't really analagous. All adults without actual mental disabilities speak fluently and grammatically in their own dialect(s), as any linguist will tell you. However, it is not the case that every adult has mastered a particular orthographic system — people who spell words incorrectly are in fact spelling words incorrectly — they are not using some other, less privaledged, system of spelling. Virtually everybody is innately competant in spoken language, but written language is a different matter.
Of course, where there are in fact different orthographic systems in competition, it is the case that neither of them is more correct than the other. Thus, it is not the case that American spelling is correct and English spelling is incorrect, or vice versa. This is more analagous to the issue of correctness in spoken language.
It seems the resistance is simply about the connotation of the words "correct" and "incorrect".
Yes, it is. It amounts to expressing the POV that, say, BEV is somehow not as good as Standard American English, which is an opinion not a fact.
Whereas most people who want to know if something is correct or not are really looking to find what the standard is, those who understand the concepts behind "correctness" would be willing to use with "incorrect" usage if that was their intention. In that respect, this article serves all who would use it by use of the lables "correct" and incorrect"
Many people think it is factually inaccurate to label dialects/usages as incorrect, in contrast to some ideal, correct dialect/usage. So the article would not be serving people who held that opinion (which includes most linguists). Cadr 19:03, 7 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Except that in this context, "incorrect" refers to non-standard. I imagine that there are useages within BEV that are considered to be incorrect, or non-standard. You might see this in sub-urban culture where highschool students attempt to use BEV and mis-use it. BEV is its own dialect, and that said does not conform to American English standards, in some cases changing grammar as well. Many things within BEV can be said to be incorrect in the context of American English but correct in the context of BEV. However, a dialect system and a single divergent usage are not the same.
When you look at British vs American English spellings, it is accurate to say that the American spelling is "incorrect" (non-standard) against the British Standard and in context of a British English speaking population, and vice versa.
I would appreciate your comment on the meaning of "correct" and "incorrect" in this context. You have not yet addressed this. It certainly, logically, cannot mean true and false. I contend that they are simply stronger forms of standard and non-standard. In any case I have made a compromised change which I feel we can both accept.
The problem essentially lies with the equation of "standard" with "correct". Wherever a prescriptivist grammarian would say "incorrect", a linguist will say "non-standard". And of course, standards are not invariant either: manuals of style, prescriptive grammars, etc. will differ. Standard English was different 200, 100, or 50 years ago, and there are slight regional variations. Because BEV is not a prestige variety, with the backing of governments, authors, etc. no-one's really interested in standardising it. It is impossible to say what makes "correct" BEV - you could make an attempt as characterising something as characteristically BEV, but there's hardly going to be a black William Safire poking speakers if their version is inconsistent with his, since he can't appeal to authority to say that he's better or more correct. Lacrimosus 23:28, 7 Feb 2005 (UTC)
If you wish to use incorrect in that sense, then you must qualify it (e.g. "incorrect Standard English"). Personally, I think that "non-standard" is more parsimonious, and carries fewer misleading connotations. Why do you feel the need for a "stronger" term than non-standard? What is the extra meaning that you wish "incorrect" to convey? So far as I can see, it can only be some kind of predjudice against non-standard varieties of English.
I am glad to see, however, that we agree that BEV is correct as BEV. So there is not nearly as much difference of opinion between us as I had feared. Cadr 16:40, 8 Feb 2005 (UTC)
One more thing. I don't think that there is a principled distinction to be made between a "dialect system" and a "single divergent usage". Divergence in the usage of particular words is patterned regionally and socioeconomically, and could very well be considered a sort of microdialect. Cadr 16:43, 8 Feb 2005 (UTC)

More of the same

It's worth pointing out that we are talking about a misuse of a phrase, not a spelling error or a whole dialect. The arguments above are irrelevant. Begging the question has a clear meaning and it is still used with that meaning. The more recent misuse should noted in the article, nothing more. Banno 20:20, Feb 8, 2005 (UTC)

Misuse according to whom? Wikipedia is not affiliated to any particular authority on English usage. The supposedly incorrect meaning of the phrase is perfectly coherent if you read it literally (parallel, for example to "he was practically begging to get expelled"). The existence of the two common usages should be noted, along with various opinions on which (if any) is preferable/correct. Ironically enough, your argument begs the question in the traditional sense. You wish to convince us that one usage of "begging the question" is a misuse, and you begin by stating without argument that it is a misuse. Cadr 22:06, 8 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Well, this is not one of life's big issues for me, so I won't interferer too much; indeed, I have no wish to convince you, as you claim, of a misuse of the language - if you can't see that it is a misuse, then tough luck to you, perhaps you should have chosen better teachers.
Nor is the analogy with English usage in ethnic subgroups relevant, unless you wish to claim there is an ethnic minority consisting of semi-literate reporters and columnists. That the phrase appears coherent is also irrelevant.
The authority you question is several hundred years worth of English usage. To beg the question is to commit a particular logical fallacy, and the phrase is needed in order to refer to that fallacy. This is and ought to remain the primary use for the phrase. You ignore the pedagogic function of an encyclopedia. There are standards for spelling and usage in English; they are taught from infancy through primary school and upward, and used throughout the Wiki. It is important to explain the fallacy, and the meaning of the phrase.
Now, read carefully what I am advocating: the new usage should be noted in the article and nothing more - it certainly does not deserve equal status to what I call the correct usage. I did not say that it should be described as a misuse, although I did say that I think it is indeed a misuse. As Marcus Aurelius put it, "People should not be sharply corrected for bad grammar, pronunciation or provincialism; it is better to introduce the proper expression tactfully oneself, in one's reply" Hopefully you will now see that I do not wish much that is different from your own desire. Banno 09:12, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)

if you can't see that it is a misuse, then tough luck to you, perhaps you should have chosen better teachers.
Did your teachers ever explain that "if you don't agree with me then you're stupid and uneducated" is not a valid argument? I suppose they spent too much time drilling useless rules into your head.
Nor is the analogy with English usage in ethnic subgroups relevant, unless you wish to claim there is an ethnic minority consisting of semi-literate reporters and columnists.
You misunderstand the purpose of the analogy. The point is that different people (either in ethnic/social/economic groups or as individuals — it doesn't matter) use words and phrases in different ways. There is no principled way of deciding which people are using a phrase in the correct way. There are, to be sure, a small number of people with mental disabilities who are unable to learn to speak any language fluently. Everyone else is able to speak a perfectly systematic and grammatical language, and while it may be useful to standardise certain patterns of usage, it is pointless to be dogmatic and inflexible about what is "correct" and "incorrect". Standardisation can at most be a very limited and pragmatic affair (limited, because it would be impossible to write anything remotely approaching a comprehensive grammar and lexicon of English).
Try to understand the point - I am agreeing with you; except to say that removing a meaningfully phrase from the language is not a good thing, because it reduces the power of the language. Banno 20:54, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)
"The authority you question is several hundred years worth of English usage."
Many words in current Standard English had completely different meanings 300 years ago. Your argument here amounts to saying that words/phrases should never change their meanings, which is clearly absurd.
Again, I agree.
To beg the question is to commit a particular logical fallacy, and the phrase is needed in order to refer to that fallacy. This is and ought to remain the primary use for the phrase.
My guess is that if the phrase no longer referred to this logical fallacy, we would just refer to the logical fallacy using some other phrase (e.g. "circular argument") and get on with our lives without the slightest difficulty.
Ah. I hadn't thought you might posit something so silly. Do this little exercise - find the new usage in a (print) dictionary. Banno 20:54, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)
That your friends and acquaintances don't use a phrase does not mean that it is not used anymore, nor that the phrase "no longer referred to this logical fallacy". It is used, quite regularly, in the correct way.Banno 20:54, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)
There are standards for spelling and usage in English; they are taught from infancy through primary school and upward, and used throughout the Wiki.
There are some conventions which most Standard English speakers are conditioned to follow by certain institutions; nothing remotely approaching a real standard. I completely agree that the opinion of the self-apointed arbiturs of Standard English should appear in the article (e.g. "most writers on prescriptive English usage recommed that the phrase be used only to refer to the logical fallacy"). The article itself should not take sides, however.
Now, read carefully what I am advocating: the new usage should be noted in the article and nothing more - it certainly does not deserve equal status to what I call the correct usage.
I don't get you here.

I don't think the "status" of one usage over the other was ever debated. The point is that the article itself should not explicitly favour one usage over the other.

"favour"? The article should devote more space to the usage with the greater historical, philosophical and linguistic significance.
I did not say that it should be described as a misuse, although I did say that I think it is indeed a misuse.
You said "the more recent misuse should be noted in the article", which implied that you thought the article should label it as a misuse. Cadr 17:24, 9 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Two more things - if you are going to repeat everything I say, the discussion will take up much more space than it need. And if you are not going to edit the article, what is the point of the discussion? Banno 20:54, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)
Try to understand the point - I am agreeing with you; except to say that removing a meaningfully phrase from the language is not a good thing, because it reduces the power of the language.
When a phrase changes its meaning, you are removing one meaningful phrase and adding another. So there is no net loss to the "power of the language". So as far as I can see, your only objection to the change must be an objection to change in general.
Ah. I hadn't thought you might posit something so silly. Do this little exercise - find the new usage in a (print) dictionary.
That your friends and acquaintances don't use a phrase does not mean that it is not used anymore, nor that the phrase "no longer referred to this logical fallacy". It is used, quite regularly, in the correct way.Banno 20:54, Feb 9, 2005 (UTC)
Oh dear. Read what I wrote. I was speaking hypothetically, about what the world would be like if the phrase no longer referred to the logical fallacy. As it happens, I myself, and some of my friends and aquaintances, do use the phrase in the standard sense. The point is that we don't do this because we're frightened of the alternatives.
The article should devote more space to the usage with the greater historical, philosophical and linguistic significance.
Right, but I don't recall the amount of space given to the two usages ever being a point of contention. Let's not make it one.
Two more things - if you are going to repeat everything I say, the discussion will take up much more space than it need.
It's either that or use roughly the same amount of space paraphrasing you.
And if you are not going to edit the article, what is the point of the discussion?
I was going to wait for a consensus. Cadr 22:34, 9 Feb 2005 (UTC)
In that case I'll leave this rather silly conversation where it sits. Banno 09:05, Feb 10, 2005 (UTC)

Getting the (colloquial?) definition right

I'm not sure where this fits in to the discussion of the fallacy, but the entry really ought to clarify what begging the question means. To beg the question is to make a statement that leaves something important out. It is not another way of saying "raising the question", it means "not raising the obvious question", or "not answering the actual question". Tannin 07:25, 22 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Actually, Tannin, I thought the article dealt with the more recent version of the meaning of the phrase rather well. My inclination would be simply to say that it was a bastardisation, and shouldn’t be in the encyclopaedia. Instead the article points out how it relates to the circularity, and goes some way to showing how this misuse of the term came to be popular. I can accept that. But I would hate to see the disappearance of the old meaning – what I would call the correct meaning. Banno 11:37, 22 Jan 2004 (UTC)
Are you suggesting that the description of the colloquial (contemporary? commonly used?) definition in the article is inverted, Tannin? Or have I misunderstood? If I haven't, I agree with you and wonder what was wrong with the title I suggested. Mr. Jones 11:43, 22 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Well the entry does say: In popular usage, however, the phrase is often taken to be synonymous with "raising the question", which is clearly incorrect. We really need to do something about that. This isn't a case of alternative meanings where a phrase can mean a couple of different things, it's a case of just plain wrong. Wikipedia is better than that. Well ... it ought to be. ;) Tannin

(PS: who is being confrontational, for the love of Mike? It sure ain't me. Tannin)

Well, no-one then, clearly :-) I was just whingeing a bit about how you'd phrased the title. Be happy. Mr. Jones 17:20, 21 Feb 2004 (UTC)

PPS: There is no "more recent definition". So far as the phrase goes (as opposed to the debating trick or logical fallacy) to the best of my knowledge, there is only the corrrect meaning; the other usage (meaning "asking the question") is just something ill-educated people sometimes say when they are trying to sound better-educated than they really are. Tannin

There's some truth in that. However, it's still widely used, even if only ironically or jokingly. Mr. Jones 17:25, 21 Feb 2004 (UTC)

So wait, am I the only one who thinks that this ceases to become a simply a logic thing, and that the concept (and therefore the article) has entered partially into the realm of linguistics? Shouldn't it be a little kinder to those who use it in a different way? Let's check out the line "Such usage is seen to be incorrect." Who sees this as incorrect? Logic peeps? Cause I'm pretty sure linguistics peeps wouldn't say that. It be on its to being just another expression (even if ill-educated people use it. They speak too, and you can't just ignore that and call it wrong). Can language not be allowed to evolve? You get what I'm sayin' here? Just seems like you are dissin' anyone who has ever used it 'wrong.' I'd also like to say I'm scared shizzless to be arguing with folks who are fond of _logic_. It's like a model rocket enthusiast trying to win a contract with NASA or something. Jeshii 05:20, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Another useage of the term (possibly)

There is another usage of "begging the question" I have come across-in Isaac Newton's discussion of a proposed explanation of elasticity-the proposal posited "springs" that connected molecules. Newton pointed out this "Begs the Question" by explaining springiness of macroscopic objects in terms of springiness of microscopic objects. Apparently Newton felt that this was just postponing a real explanation for elasticity. This kind of "begging the question doesn't seem circular to me.--Richard Peterson 21:15, 4 Apr 2004 (UTC)

That sounds to me like the (disputed) meaning given right at the bottom of the article, where "the phrase has nothing to do with arguments in logic at all and merely refers to raising an issue." R Lowry 22:30, 4 Apr 2004 (UTC)

There is a sense of “begging the question” that means roughly failing to address the issue. Newton meant that in explaining the springiness of big things by saying the stuff they are made of is springy, one has not actually explained what it is to be springy. Indeed, this sense does not appear in the article. Banno 02:47, Apr 5, 2004 (UTC)

Of course, since Newton was not "badly educated", the prescriptive linguists will probably not decree his usage to be "incorrect" ;) Cadr 11:22, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
yes Newton's prestige probably helps, whether or not it was correct usage in the late 1600s/early 1700s.-Richard Peterson75.45.110.140 (talk) 17:36, 27 April 2009 (UTC)

Mathematical example

The article states:

For instance, to prove that the sum of the first 244 integers is 29890, it is easier to first prove a more general assertion, such as
The sum of the first n integers equals 1/2 times n times (n+1).

Whether this statement is true really depends on how you prove each assertion. They both can be proved in about 10 seconds using a short yet convincing argument with ellipses (...). For example:

(half of the sum plus itself)
(244 terms in the sum)
= (1/2)(244)(245) = 29890.

If you want more mathematical rigor, they can still both be proved equally easily using summation notation. Only if you won't accept either of those methods (and why not?) would the latter assertion have to be proved using mathematical induction and, I suppose, the former would have to be written out and added up the long way.

There's gotta be a better example. Maybe:


where ln represents the natural logarithm function. Not as simple, I admit, but it does have the advantage that there's no easier way (as far as I know) to prove the first assertion than to just recognize it as a special case of the second (when x = 1). The second assertion is "easy" to prove with Taylor series. - dcljr 06:10, 9 Nov 2004 (UTC)

A challenge: Begging and raising

Can anyone locate a source that is independent of the Wiki and that asserts explicitly that begging the question does indeed mean raising the issue? I just did a quick Goggle, and found none... Banno 08:25, Feb 16, 2005 (UTC)

And if not, then what justification could the Wiki have for doing so? Banno 08:25, Feb 16, 2005 (UTC)

Search on google for "begging the question" and click the define link and you'll get . Interestingly, that page also has the Wikipedia page for "begging the question" on it. Anyhow, they give the The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms definition of BtQ:
"Take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. For example, Shopping now for a dress to wear to the ceremony is really begging the question—she hasn't been invited yet. This phrase, whose roots are in Aristotle's writings on logic, came into English in the late 1500s. In the 1990s, however, people sometimes used the phrase as a synonym of 'ask the question' (as in The article begs the question: 'What are we afraid of?')."
This is the way our page should be. It lists the definition of BtQ in logic, then mentions how this differs from the popular usage, without saying outright that the common usage is wrong. People almost certainly shouldn't use the phrase to mean, "raising the question," since we already have a perfectly good way to say that, namely, "raising the question." However, it is Wikipedia's policy not to take sides on anything. Not only does Wikipedia not say that 9-11 was terrorism, they don't even say that the Holocaust was wrong. That's just the way Wikipedia is. Every claim about the correct way to do things must be prefaced by, "this group claims this is right, but that group disagrees." It kind of stinks that Wikipedia has to say, "Most people consider the Holocaust to be evil," instead of "the Holocaust was evil," but that's just the way it has to be. Letting people put in their own opinions (no matter how obviously correct) would only create conflict. --Carl 09:10, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)
To the purpose: Wiki does not take sides; The main tool for doing this is to cite sources, phrasing the reference in the third person. You can find one reference to the misuse of Begging the question, compared with the many thousands to the correct use. This should be reflected in the article. Banno 20:48, Feb 16, 2005 (UTC)
Please, pretty much the only reason anyone writes about the phrase is to try to convince people to use it in a particular way. That was probably the original purpose of this article. It's clearly not the case that only one source can be found discussing the non-standard usage. Cadr 09:02, 17 Feb 2005 (UTC)
The misuse is a very minor number of cases in the literature - thankfully most writers know the correct meaning. Anything more than a passing reference to the incorrect usage would mark the article are ignorant. By all means use a neutral wording, though. Banno 20:05, Feb 17, 2005 (UTC)
We're not talking about "the literature" (whatever you mean by that), but the general popular usage of the phrase. Most speakers, I would guess, do not know the "correct meaning". It is nonsense to suggest that discussing an objective fact (i.e. the popular usage of the phrase) marks the article as ignorant. Quite the contrary: to anyone with an interest in linguistics, taking a snobbish attitude to usage questions and belittling any discussion of non-standard usage is ignorant. Cadr 22:40, 17 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Nevertheless, the article, and the introduction, should give priority to the origional meaning, as do all other sources. Hence my edits. Banno 23:19, Feb 18, 2005 (UTC)
Yes, but I think everyone agrees that the original usage deserves more space than the popular usage, if only because there is more to say about it. However, your recent edits did remove some information from the article as well as reordering it, which I think is what some people objected to — not the change of order in itself. Cadr 00:55, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Regarding your original challenge, we are discussing the range of usage, not the range of prescriptivist usage recommendations. We should not just be concerned with all the prescriptivist POVs about what the phrase ought to mean, but with POVs outside of prescriptivism too. Cadr 22:47, 17 Feb 2005 (UTC)
The very fact that the usage is deemed incorrect means it will appear infrequently in reputable print works. Its prevalence in casual contexts is less easily estimated, but can safely be assumed to be widespread. Basing estimates of usage on how frequently it appears in a dictionary is a methodological error. Lacrimosus 23:55, 16 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Which of course raises the issue of why, if it is uncommon in the literature, this article should attempt to make it more common...Banno 06:39, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)


Given that my previous edit was labelled as POV, it seems worthwhile at this point to reference some of those who object to the new usage. My purpose is to give emphasis to the primary meaning of the phrase, while maintaining a reference to the aberrant meanings in the introduction, and more discussion further on in the article. To do less would be to subject the Wiki to needless criticism, as the work of the ignorant. If you think what I have written is POV, don't just revert - tell us why it is POV in Talk. And don't just blow hot air about there being non-standard. If you think it should be the first usage listed in the article, explain why. Banno 06:36, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)

Found a usage in the wild by chance today: . Incidentally, everyone else found it "+5 Insightful." --Carl 15:43, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Banno, you actually removed all references to the "aberrant" meaning in the introduction. And no-one has tried to place the nonstandard usage first, or make it more prominent in the article than the standard usage, for some time (my last edit, which you reverted without explanation, did not do this). Please try to stay on topic, and don't preach about going to talk before reverting when you yourself have reverted before going to talk! Cadr 20:05, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
Oops. Oh, well. I thought it the better for the removal. Banno

Those who oppose prescriptive in language argue that nothing is lost if a word or phrase changes its meaning, and that such changes are a constant feature of language, often serving to increase its expressive power and utility - clearly POV, since no reference is given - who are "they". Replaced it with a quote that shows exactly what is lost. If you want to, match that with a quote from someone who thinks that this use is a good thing...Good luck. Banno 21:00, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)

(Last two anon edits were by me).
I've already explained this to you. When a phrase changes its meaning, you loose the ability to express its original meaning using that phrase, and gain the ability to express another meaning, so there is no net loss. It is entirely possible to express the concept of begging the question without using that particular phrase. To be sure, some subtleties of connotation may be lost, but the same goes for "raising the questions" vs. "begging the question" (nonstandard use).
and the link you removed explained why this argumant is wrong. Give us another phrase that means "begging the question" in the traditional sense!
I didn't say that there was a replacement phrase, but the concept is expressible. "circular argument", or "petitioning the premise" (not sure if I remembered that right...) cover most cases. And you get a useful, stronger form or "raising the question" (the nonstandard meaning of "begging the question" is not an exact synonim for this). In any case, the new usage of "begging the question" is now so widespread that in practice you just can't use the phrase to refer to the logical fallacy without confusing the majority of your audience. Cadr 01:10, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
It is unreasonable to ask for a descriptivist source on this specific issue. Descriptivists argue against prescription in general, and do not bother to discuss every single rule of usage ever proposed. I've added a reference to a good statement of the general descriptivist POV. Presumably you don't mind having all POVs on this issue included in the article, given that we already have three paragraphs explaining the prescriptivist POV.Cadr 22:18, 19 Feb 2005 (UTC)
That reference should be in an article on the general descriptivist POV, not in this article. I;d be happy for you to Link to such an article, provided the argument that I presented, that some (all?) say that the misuse of the phrase is to be avoided, is included inthe article. Banno 23:29, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)
I disagree. If we're going to include what prescriptivists think about this, we should include what descriptivists think about it. Clearly, descriptivists would not condem the new usage, they would just call it nonstandard. Cadr 01:10, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)
As a side issue, the editing is getting a bit fierce, but I think that we will soon get to a stage of mutual agreement - what do you think? Banno 23:29, Feb 19, 2005 (UTC)
Maybe. Cadr 01:10, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)


Please do not just revert - change what I've put, so that we are making progress. The ref to Pinker has no place on this page. It is not about BtQ. If you want a revert war, I'm happy to oblige - but generally that just results in the page being locked out until you agree with me;-) Banno 02:31, Feb 20, 2005 (UTC)

As I said, you're in no position to preach about reverting, and your comments on edit wars are childish. Anyway, I'm not sure why you think something specifically about BtQ has to be found, given that descriptivists are against deeming pretty much any nonstadard usage incorrect or detrimental to a language. As a compromise, I've removed the extensive statements of prescriptivist POV.
If any descriptivists have written anything on BtQ (I expect someone has somewhere), you can bet that what they'd say is that, in general, when a word/phrase changes its meaning it's an entirely natural occurance and not a big problem, and so in this specific case it isn't either.
The bottom line is that if you want to state the prescriptivist POV in detail on every page about a usage question, you'll have to state the descriptivist POV too. I'd be happy with stating neither, except on the page about the general issue of prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.Cadr 02:48, 20 Feb 2005 (UTC)

Nonsensical sentence

  • Every intentional act of killing a human being is morally wrong.
  • The death penalty is an intentional act of killing a human being.
  • Therefore the death penalty is wrong.

If the first premise is accepted as an axiom within some moral system or code, this reasoning is a cogent argument against the death penalty. If not, it is in fact a weaker argument than a mere assertion that the death penalty is wrong, since the first premise is stronger than the conclusion.

The second sentence in the paragraph article doesn't mean anything to me. Does anyone think they can better phrase it? --komencanto 10:08, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I think basically the bolded statement above is being described as 'less wrong' than the first statement, assuming they could both be incorrect. This is because the first statement is making a much larger assumption than the death penalty statement, so has a much larger chance of being wrong (hence 'weaker argument'. There are a huge number of different intentional acts of killing a human being, so to condemn every one as being wrong makes for a weaker argument than just saying one is wrong. Richard001 21:58, 3 September 2006 (UTC)

Is any usage ever wrong, then?

I read the discussion above with some sense of horror. It appears that we cannot say that an incorrect usage of the term "begging the question" is incorrect, because no use of language can ever be incorrect. But this seems absurd. The reason people use "begging the question" incorrectly is because, in general, they are ignorant of the actual meaning of the phrase. This is rather different from, say, calling the Police "the pigs." It would be absurd to say "it is incorrect to refer to the police as 'pigs,' because all police officers are, in fact, human beings." This would be absurd because the person using the phrase knows what a pig actually is, and is not using the word in this sense. But this isn't the case with this usage of "begging the question." For it to be an alternate usage, those using it have to be, at least in some sense, aware of the primary meaning, and how this came about. This is patently not the case with misuse of "begging the question," which is a technical term with a specific meaning that people who use it to mean "raise the question" are simply unaware of. Surely some kinds of lines have to be drawn, or else we are just encouraging stupidity and ignorance. john k 02:28, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

In a word, no! Somebody's standard of usage is just that - somebody's standard, and not necessarily somebody else's. Linguistics isn't interested in elevating some form of language over some other form, any more than a phycisist would be interested in "proving" that clockwise planetary revolution is inherently superior to counter-clockwise revolution. From NPOV, all we can say is: "this is the way certain people use this phrase, and this is the way certain other people use this phrase". We can note that it's assumed to be correct from the point of view of prescriptive grammar, but we can't simply state, in the absence of a scientific proof, that a given usage expresses ignorance. A linguist makes a note of usage conventions in the same way a sociologist describes clothing conventions: they analyse their effect in society, and the perceptions of the people who encounter them. We don't "encourage" "incorrect" usage any more than a sociologist advocates nudism: we simply categorise and seek to explain.
The question is: how is it provable that people using "begging the question" to mean "raising the question" are wrong? They are using it differently from the traditional sense, but language always and in all places is subject to change which is often assumed to be the result of "ignorance". For example, a person might use the word "dilapidated" to describe a wooden shack, while being "ignorant" of the "original meaning" of dilapidated, which originated in "having thrown stones". A modern-day speaker of French is most likely "ignorant" of the fact that the ne. . .pas construction originally meant "not a step". Language use changes; that's a simple feature of human communication. Labelling a given change as ignorant may affect its societal approbation, but doesn't stop it from happening. Slac speak up! 03:24, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
When it comes to language, "50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong." "Begging the question" has two meanings in English today. In technical fields, it means circular logic, but to the public at large, it means "raising an obvious question." If you try to pretend that the second usage isn't firmly entrenched you're just putting your head in the sand. It's impossible to be widely read and not see people using btq in the second sense. You may disapprove of it, but your disapproval is based on your own feelings about the merits of retaining the old usage, not the comprehensibility of the phrase. As far as Wikipedia is concerned, there's no such thing as correct or or incorrect, right or wrong. Wikipedia is just an observer, not a judge. We may all wish the second usage would die out, but we can't let our feelings override Wikipedia's neutrality. Back to your example, if people said "the cops are pags," then we could say "pag" is wrong, because no native English speaker uses the word "pag." However if they say " Cops aren't pigs. They're bad," with "bad" in the '80s sense of meaning "good" then all we can do is note that the usage is confusing, but not condemn it. --Carl 04:34, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

But the idea that there is no correct usage of language is itself a POV. At any rate, I agree that language usage does change, and that there is a fine line between an incorrect usage and a new meaning. But that doesn't mean that there are some things which can be described as an "incorrect usage" and which cannot appropriately be described as a "new meaning." Your pags example, for instance, is clearly well on that side of the line. While, say, my pigs example is clearly on the other side of the line. Use of the term "begging the question" is more vexed. Yes, it is used in the sense of "raises the question" to an unfortunate degree. On the other hand, while it might be pedantic, it isn't obviously absurd to say to someone who uses it in that sense, "that is an incorrect usage of the term 'begging the question.'" If that is the case, then it is obvious that it is at least arguable that there is such a thing as an incorrect usage, and that this, in particular, is an example of it. Which means that to just say "languages change, and there's no such thing as correct usage, so it's not wrong to say that 'begging the question' can mean 'raising the question'" is just as POV as to say, "it is incorrect usage to use the term 'begging the question' to mean 'raising the question.'" Both ways of going about it are clearly POV, and wikipedia can't simply subscribe to descriptivism because it seems on the surface to resemble NPOV policy. john k 04:46, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

BTW, isn't the descriptivist argument itself, well, begging the question? john k 04:50, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

All this "we must be descriptivist" stuff is a POV, and also wrong. This article is meaningless if it is a discussion of the colloquial phrase "begging the question". We don't have an article for every colloquial phrase. It only makes sense as a discussion of the logical fallacy petitio principii. It is worth noting that some people are ignorant of the logical fallacy, but the article shouldn't pretend that the two uses are equal, or give too much time to the colloquial and mistaken use.  :) — Helpful Dave 09:51, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
NPOV stands for Neutral Point of View not No Point of View. Obviously, No-POV is basically impossible, so, as the next best thing (well, besides actually knowing the truth), the Wikipedia just states what it is that everyone says about an issue and doesn't make judgments between them. Clearly, it's not worth having a whole Wikipedia article (as distinct from Wiktionary definition) about b.t.q. meaning "raises the question." So, it's fine for the article to focus almost exclusively on the meaning of the term within logic. But it's wrong for the article to declare that anyone who uses the term differently from how it's used in logic is incorrect. That's the kind of judgment that doesn't fall under the rubric of neutral. It's fine for Koala bear to point out that saying "bear" is technically incorrect since koalas aren't bears, but it would be wrong for "Koala bear" to say that "Koala bear" is incorrect and leave it at that, since koala bear is perfectly valid English. It's just bad biology, that's all. In normal usage, "begging the question" is usually used in a way that's synonymous with "raising the question." You did it yourself John, as a joke I suspect. All the article needs to specify is that this usage is different from the usage used within logic and frowned upon by people who think it's a waste of a perfectly good phrase. Other people feel differently. End of story. No need to try to asset what's correct or incorrect. People aren't dumb, if you tell them it's frowned upon, they'll figure out whether to consider it incorrect in their own minds by themselves. They don't need our coaching for that. --Carl 10:09, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Language changes all the time. It's useless to complain that "gay" really means "happy". More recently, it's become useless to complain that "hooking up" with a friend really means getting together or meeting with that person, rather than having sex with them. The modern usage of "to beg the question" has in fact now become the dominant meaning, and ipso facto in a certain very definite sense it cannot be considered incorrect. Language is not morality after all... murder would still be wrong even if a majority voted in favor of it, but language usage involves no such sacrosanct principles. Language changes follow their own rhythm and logic or lack of same, much like changes in fashion.
When is a language change wrong? It's always wrong... until it succeeds. It's like a coup d'état — it's treasonous and criminal, unless the plotters actually manage to take over and become the newly recognized and legitimate government.
Funny you mention pigs... did you know that a piggy bank is really a pygg-y bank? The modern term is a centuries-old case of ignorance and incorrect usage... only now, it's correct. -- Curps 10:22, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

This whole "language is a beautiful unfolding flower" BS gets me so angry that I can't even explain it. Just don't give prominence to misconceptions in an encyclopaedia.  :) — Helpful Dave 11:30, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

With respect, Dave, please attempt to explain anything no matter how angry it makes you. That's the basis of assuming good faith. Slac speak up! 13:50, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Curps, et al - of course, there is no easy way to draw the line. But that doesn't mean that one can't say that some usages are clearly wrong. To assert that a usage is right only because it is the main one used is, in fact, a POV - a descriptivist POV. I think the annoyance over this particular usage is because a) it confuses the meaning of an actually useful term, to no apparent gain; and b) its use seems to arise largely out of a sort of pretentious ignorance - that is to say, people use it because it sounds more sophisticated than "raises the question," but the only reason it sounds more sophisticated than raises the question is because of a vague awareness, without actual understanding, of the philosophical meaning. At any rate, I will once again assert that linguistic pedantry is a POV with a longer pedigree than descriptivism, and I will demand, again, that while NPOV is wikipedia policy, descriptivism is not, despite some superficial similarities between the two. john k 15:21, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

To assert that a usage is right only because it is the main one used is, in fact, a POV - a descriptivist POV.
Right, and that POV should be mentioned in the article. No-one is suggesting that the entire article should be written from that POV, as you seem to be implying. If we label one usage incorrect, we would be writing the article from the prescriptivist POV. We need to have both POVs in the article, which means that we can't just label the modern usage incorrect without qualificiation.
(Somewhat offtopic). A good part of the reason why people "pretentiously" use impressive-sounding phrases without being aware of their standard meaning is because they want to impress prescriptivist language snobs. If people would only focus more on what people said than how they said it, perhaps people would be encouraged to speak more directly. It's quite often the case that certain words or phrases have a dual status as techincal vocabulary and ordinary usage (e.g. "momentum", "chaos", "postmodern", "fish"). It goes both ways: sometimes ordinary usage gets turned into technical vocabulary, and sometimes technical vocabulary gets adopted as part of ordinary usage. In both cases, there is usually a change in meaning — possibly out of ignorance, or possibly because technical writing and everyday conversation don't find the same meanings useful. Cadr 15:50, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

There is nothing wrong with not knowing obscure vocabulary. But misusing obscure vocabulary is something else again, especially in writing. (Much can be forgiven in speech. But articles titled things like "Dog's Illness begs the Question: How can you save money on car insurance?" are unforgiveable) At any rate, I am also not saying that the colloquial definition should not be mentioned. Obviously it should at least be mentioned. And I don't think the article is bad. But it is tilted a bit towards the descriptivist POV. (I'll also note that some of the discussion was just wrong, as the claim in the history section that the "literal meaning" of begging the question means raising the question, which is ridiculous). At any rate, would it be POV to describe the "raising the question" usage as a "colloquial usage"? This seems an admirable compromise to me. Since prescriptivism and descriptivism generally differ in how they view colloquial expressions, this acknowledges the point of contention without taking either side. john k 15:52, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Let me add that in all the usages you mention - momentum, chaos, postmodern, fish - the technical and the ordinary usage are fairly closely related to one another, although there are obviously differences. In this case, the "ordinary" usage has nothing to do with the technical usage. Let me add that our page on momentum is about the physics term, with only a very brief notice about the "figurative usage." And that most of the other cases you mention (except postmodern) seem to be instances of normal usage becoming technical, rather than vice versa (and this may be true of momentum as well). john k 15:57, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

At any rate, I am also not saying that the colloquial definition should not be mentioned. Obviously it should at least be mentioned. And I don't think the article is bad. But it is tilted a bit towards the descriptivist POV.
Well, this seems to be something of a retreat from the more general criticisms you were making earlier. Can you reference some specific sections of the article and mention specific violations of NPOV? (I'm sure there are plenty. I'm not suggesting the article is NPOV in it's current version, but earlier you seemed to be attacking the general approach of saying "prescriptivists think this usage is incorrect" instead of "this usage is incorrect".)
the claim in the history section that the "literal meaning" of begging the question means raising the question, which is ridiculous
It is? As I think I said somewhere above, it's parallel to cases such as "John was begging to get punched". If not from the literal meaning, where does the popular usage come from? It's certainly closer to the literal meaning of the phrase than the standard meaning is.
At any rate, would it be POV to describe the "raising the question" usage as a "colloquial usage"? This seems an admirable compromise to me.
I'm not sure. Colloquial has some inappropriate connotations (for example, that the usage is restricted to uneducated people, or informal conversation). I think "popular" and "non-standard" are better.
I agree on your points re technical and popular usage, but I don't see how they are relavent. Usually the techincal usage and popular usage are somewhat analagous, but there is no reason why that should be taken as a condition on legitimate usage. The technical usage of "normal" in physics, for example, is completely unrelated to the popular usage, but neither is considered incorrect. Cadr 16:22, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

The modern usage is not colloquial. In most of the cases where people use the modern meaning, including newspaper articles or headlines, they are not intending to be colloquial (as they would if they used the word "ain't" for humorous effect, for instance). I think most of them believe that it is the standard meaning, or sometimes the only meaning they are aware of. (And yes I ended that sentence with a preposition)

With all due respect, when you use the phrases "gets me so angry" and "unforgivable" to describe your motivations for editing the article, you are letting your emotions get the better of you. You are looking high and low to find a pretext to somehow include a condemnation of the modern usage in the article.

Encyclopedia articles by their very nature aim to describe things (as opposed to signed opinion pieces, or essays, or other advocacy). Opinionated writing certainly has its place, even in articles that mainly try to be informative (for instance, The Economist or earlier editions of the Encyclopedia Brittanica). The problem is, Wikipedia cannot adopt any such opinionated "house style", because of its very nature as a resource that anyone can edit. The only way to achieve any kind of consensus is to require a neutral point of view. What you are trying to portray as a descriptivist POV is in fact pretty much official Wikipedia policy.

-- Curps 16:54, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Curps - I certainly do not demand a condemnation of modern usage. But I do not wish to see the article explicitly condone modern usage, either, when there is a large group of people who feel that this usage is incorrect. Cadr - yes, my most recent comment did seem to be backing down a little. There's a few reasons for this - first, my initial comment was more in reaction to the earlier arguments here on the talk page than to the article itself, which does a better job of it, I think. Second, I was, I think, being a bit purposefully argumentative. I more wanted to get the ball rolling on debate than to actually express my view, which is certainly not (pace Curps) that Wikipedia should condemn modern usage. My degree of personal anger or irritation at this, while real, is not terribly high - I am not a philosopher or logician, and I rarely use the term, over all (although I try to avoid using it incorrectly). As to technical vs. everyday use of words - certainly, there are instances where the technical meaning bears very little relation to the everday meaning. In almost all such cases, though, the technical meaning was the derivative term. It is not as though the physics meaning of "normal" came first, and then people, knowing that "normal" was a fancy physics term, made up a meaning for it that was unrelated. As to "colloquial," I agree that this doesn't seem quite right. That said, I shall fish around for another issue so as to satisfy my deep-seated need (not consciously realized until last night) to obtain a condemnation of the "new" meaning. Which shall be: Wikipedia is not a dictionary. Nor, says that page, is it a usage guide. As such, the only encyclopedic thing about the term "begging the question" would seem to be the term from logic. While some mention of the other term is perhaps in order, I think I'd prefer to see it like that in momentum - a brief note towards the end of the article. It could be just something along the lines of what we already have. As it stands now, I think my biggest issue is that the article seems to give the usage dispute as much space as the term from logic. I don't really feel that there needs to be a moral condemnation of the everyday usage, and I will explicitly disavow any intention to do anything like that. But I do think it is problematic to act as though the two meanings are equivalently encyclopedic. The non-scientific usage of momentum is much more legitimate than this usage of begging the question, but it is barely mentioned in the article. Whatever we may think of the legitimacy (or illegitimacy) of using them, we do not have articles on irregardless and I could care less. The reason there is an article on begging the question is because of the logic term, not because of the non-standard usage, so there's no reason to more than briefly note the additional usage. Does this make sense? Have I used too many different arguments over the course of this discussion to be credible? john k 20:25, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Yes, you were taking issue with my POV which I stated here, namely that in language usage a majority is always ipso facto correct. But I didn't inject that POV into the article, which merely states (factually I believe) that the modern usage has now become more widespread than the original usage and that it is criticized by proponents of the traditional usage.
Yes, Wikipedia is not a dictionary, and if the modern meaning truly was the only meaning then it would not warrant its own encyclopedia page (if it did, we could set up a proper disambiguation page in the standard way). But unlike "momentum", where technical and popular usage co-exist peacefully, there is a somewhat notorious usage dispute for "begging the question", and that does warrant prominent mention. Arguably, the modern usage, and the dispute over it, is the most prominent topic associated with the phrase "begging the question"... I can't even recall the last time I might have had occasion to use the expression in its traditional meaning (and you also mentioned you rarely use it). A short paragraph of a few sentences is not overdoing it, and because of the prominence or notoriousness of this particular usage dispute, it really ought to be mentioned in the introduction. -- Curps 00:28, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Hey Curps, I chose "irregardless" and "I could care less" as examples of articles we do not have because those are also the subjects of notorious usage disputes. In addition to not being a dictionary, wikipedia is not a usage guide (says so on the same page as wikipedia is not a dictionary - got a problem with that, take it up there). I'd prefer, at least, that the usage dispute not be mentioned in the intro. That said, I found the old phrasing with "The traditional meaning of begging the question is..." to be the most exceptionable part of the article. If you're willing to stick with my revised opening, and if everybody else would prefer that the newer meaning be mentioned in the introduction, I would be willing to abide by that. john k 00:36, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I think that the other meaning should appear in the introduction because it appears in the article. One sentence is all that's required; but a good introduction should attempt to provide a cover of all of the article. Slac speak up! 00:40, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)
It is not as though the physics meaning of "normal" came first, and then people, knowing that "normal" was a fancy physics term, made up a meaning for it that was unrelated.
But it is the case that the popular meaning of "normal" came first, and then physicists, knowing that "normal" was an oridnary, widely used term, made up a meaning for it that was unrelated. Moreover (and you really have to admire the raw nerve of the physicists here!) they did this in full knowledge of perfectly servicable terms such as right-angle and perpendicular. So how come this is OK and the reverse isn't? Physicists presumably don't have any more right to coin new and largely unnecessary usages than ordinary people.
Yes, the physicists' meaning is pretty stupid, too. john k 23:10, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I think there's some disagreement here on the basic facts of the article. It seems to me that the vast majority of the article text discusses the philosophical meaning of the term, but I wouldn't object at all to some discussion of the popular usage being trimmed down, so long as no condemnations are added (and you say that you have no wish to add any such condemnations...)
Certainly. The vast majority of the article is about the technical meaning. However, about half of the introduction is about the other meaning. This doesn't seem appropriate to me. I also don't like the fact that we begin with "the traditional use of the phrase begging the question..." It should, I think, be more like the momentum article, which simply begins, "In Physics, momentum is..." john k 23:10, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Re Wikipedia is not a usage guide/dictionary, we presumably all agree that the popular usage of the phrase has to be mentioned simply in order to avoid any confusion on the part of the reader? I take your point that any further mention of the popular usage is arguably unencyclopedic (though I'm not completely sure I agree with the argument).
So in conclusion maybe we've more or less come to a compromise? Cadr 22:59, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Perhaps. I would agree that the alternate meaning should be mentioned in the article. I don't know that it needs to be mentioned in the introduction. john k 23:10, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I'm going to make some test edits, to see if they're acceptable. john k 23:11, 11 Apr 2005 (UTC)

I made some small modification to your edits, and likewise hope they're acceptable. The focus is now on the existence of the controversy, and the dictionary definition of the modern usage serves as the setup for mentioning the controversy. I do strongly feel that the controversy needs a one-sentence paragraph in the intro... this is different from "momentum", where the two usages co-exist without controversy. -- Curps 00:55, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I agree with Curps. If we're going to have an article about BtQ, it also needs a short note in the intro that the phrase is also a notorious sore point for language sticklers, to make sure no one is confused about what meanings it can have. --Carl 04:27, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)

The current version looks great to me. john k 04:29, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Me too. Cadr 14:55, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)
OK. It's been a pleasure discussing with you guys. -- Curps 16:36, 12 Apr 2005 (UTC)

This paragraph in this talk page is an example of an area of wikipedia that would be so great if it could somehow be made workable. This linear presentation of positions on a small smear of topics makes it hard for me to add, in a constructive way, to one issue that I would like to add to: whether NPOV means that there are no absolutes and that anything may be right. Before I can do that in a constructive way, I need to read and understand all the above text. That is asking too much, so I don't plan to do it. But that makes this paragraph just one example of something that is worth doing if it just were not so hard and also futile, since the next person would have a higher hill to climb than I had, and it is already too high for me.

That's a good point you raise there - I've just read through it all and it is a lot - as an example of a long dispute and the application of NPOV it has some value, but I wouldn't read talk pages of this length on every article. Perhaps a summary of the discussion would be a useful feature for long debates on talk pages? Richard001 22:48, 3 September 2006 (UTC)

Confusing explanation under "Variation"

"In an obviously related sense the phrase is occasionally used to mean "avoiding the question". Those who use this variation have apparently missed the circularity of the argument, and understood the phrase to be pointing to a missed premise."

Do you mean that there are people who use "begging the question" to talk about not understanding the premise on which an argument could be phrased?

I've reworded it this way: "In a related sense, the phrase is occasionally used to mean "avoiding the question". Those who use this variation are explaining that the argument lacks have a premise, and they have missed the circularity of the argument because of it." --lux 03:23, 28 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Death penalty example

And as for this:
All intentional acts of killing human beings are morally wrong.
The death penalty is an intentional act of killing a human being.
Therefore the death penalty is wrong.
The first statement takes power from the fact that most every time the state goes to convict a person of murder, its case is based on the implicit truth of the first statement. Most world religions, even secular ones of rational philosophy will support the first claim. As such, these three statements taken together are an indictment of the state. Since the state is always right, they are used here as an example of a logical fallacy.

Is all logic circular logic?

It would seem you cannot describe or justify the use of logical reasoning without using a logic-based description or argument.

If I were to say "Logic is no (good) way to reason anything" how could you defend the use of logic without using a logical defense?

Is it possible to truly think outside the confines of logic (including faulty logic)? If you could somehow use another form of reasoning, one assumes that form of reasoning could only be reasoned by either self-reasoning again or yet another form of outside reasoning which is either self-reasoning or reasoned by yet another form of reasoning... etc. But of course, these are only logic-based assumptions which one may not be able to justify using...

Is this entire premise logical? If so, then "logic" would seem illogical (or at least faulty/circular) and thus the premise would not be very logical.

If not, where is the fallacy? --eddyouard

This is why begging the question is distinguished from merely circular reasoning. -- 20:12, 14 August 2005 (UTC)
That doesn't answer my question though. If I search for "circular reasoning" here it brings me to "begging the question". Is there another discussion page better suited for my inquiry? --eddyouard

You're confused about terms. You're question isn't "is logic circular?" Your question is "how can the use of logic be justified?" Since the act of justification normally requires the use of logic, clearly there is no way to "justify" the use of logic by conventional means. Now, based on whether or not one considers appeals to "one's natural sense of the universe" to be appeals to logic, it may be possible to "justify" logic in the sense that one can say, "logic seems to be self-evidently true." However, if the person searching for a justification were to press for a "deeper" reason that logic "must" be true, it seems that such an approach would be self-defeating, since the act of providing a deeper justification of logic is contingent on one's pre-existing belief in logic. In other words, the question can be further rephrased as "can you prove that logic must logically be true, without using logic?" The answer is "no," but this is hardly defeating, since the question is clearly a trap. Why do we need a justification for logic in the first place? Does the inquirer really in doubt about the veracity of logic, or is the inquirer merely attempting to stir controversy? If an inquirer is determined to doubt everything, is there really anything that can be said to make the doubter stop doubting? Someone determined to doubt is by definition determined to doubt. There's nothing that we can say to change that determination, if it really is fixed. Instead, it's a more intellectually fulfilling goal to ask, "exactly how little logic can I assume is self-evident, and still produce the usual results?" --Carl 15:51, 25 August 2005 (UTC)

A misleading title to my post perhaps, though I apparently do clarify myself somewhat in the first two paragraphs.
I'll defer to your rephrasing and conclusion:
'"can you prove that logic must logically be true, without using logic?" The answer is "no"'
Of course the obvious initial rebuttal to that would be "But didn't you arrive at this conclusion by using logic? So what value is there in it (and yes, using logic to refute your use of logic is an irony not lost on me)? Is this not circular 'something', beyond just semantics?". But such a rebuttal is probably neither constructive nor particularly relevant.
I suppose the real question is simply the old chestnut of whether or not there can be things such as "truth", "justification", "self-evidence" etc., considering the apparent pitfalls in arriving at any of these concepts (and I may now have indeed veered off into something best suited for another discussion page). That is of course taking a very "human-mind-centric" view of things, but I'm afraid I don't have much of a choice as that is currently the only point of view I have at my disposal and thusly I probably shouldn't expect any satisfactory answers.
"Why do we need a justification for logic in the first place?"
Well, should one not hesitate to begin thinking about anything before one has first fully (or at least satisfactorily) wrapped their head around "thought" in the first place?
You can certainly apply logic with success if you believe in the notion of self-evident truths, ie "logic tells me 1 + 1 = 2, and so enough, it does!" and therefore justify its use by saying "it simply works" (but of coarse - is it not merely more logic to equate working with justification? - anyway...). If you believe in intuition why question your intuition when you can know of, and trust your intuition intuitively? If you believe the Bible why question the Bible if the Bible says the Bible is true?
But do these positions still not hinge on a form of logic? By what means do we discover the initial beliefs of "self-evidence" or "intuition" if not by reasoning them into existence (by means of our notoriously fallible perceptions no less)? Even if by saying "certain things seem to stand apart from logic, true in-and-of themselves, therefore they exist and are true." How can you ever escape the "therefore"(aka logic)-aspect of any type of thought/belief, and what (if any) trust can you put in it? (I'm sure I'm not wording these problems well enough to avoid semantic demolition, but I find them hard to articulate otherwise).
As an inquirer, I am not as you put it "determined to doubt" (though it may seem), I simply can't help it. If a situation is doubtable, should I not then have doubts? And what situation is not doubtable? I may employ some aporetic or semantic method to dismiss, or "deal with" an issue at face value, but if I can't get any "deeper" as you say, should I not find this a little troubling? If there isn't anything "deeper" is this not an equally troubling predicament?
Considering the seemingly infinite (or perhaps transfinite/metafinite[?]) scope of doubt the question "exactly how little logic can I assume is self-evident, and still produce the usual results?" is potentially more intellectually frustrating than fulfilling (in my case at least).
Please note, I'm trying to set any traps or pose any riddles or convince anyone of anything or convert anyone to any particular position with my post. I have no position. All I have is questions which I don't honestly expect to find satisfactory answers to - just looking for some different approaches I guess. --eddyouard
This is a fairly common question in philosophy forums and introductory logic courses, so it might be worth discussing in logic. The question "can you prove that logic must logically be true, without using logic?" is circular, in that by asking for an proof, you are presupposing the use of logic (think: can you have an illogical proof?). The problem is not so much with logic as it is with the question. Banno 20:57, August 25, 2005 (UTC)
Indeed, as acknowledged in my initial "rebuttal". But how else can I ask the question? Is this not more a problem with the limitations of language (or at least my particular use of it) and not the "fundamental" question at hand? My problem still is with logic I'm afraid (or any other type of reasoning for that matter I suppose): Why do you use it? What else can you use? Can you really trust it, or do you just accept it? If you can trust it, how? If you just accept it how can you really be satisfied (and if not, have you really actually accepted it?).
My apologies if this is all rather obvious and/or redundant to everyone. I don't pretend to have any formal philosophical background in this or any other field. Bare with me or just ignore me. --eddyouard
Well, try not using logic in your next post. How do you do that? Are you satisfied with the result? You choose. Banno 22:01, August 25, 2005 (UTC)
I do not suspect this is something I could rightly do at my present state of evolution. Firstly, just the alternative of "not using logic" seems only a logical reaction for one wanting to react against logic (not necessarily something I wish to do anyway..only understand it better). But if I did go ahead then I surmise there would still be a form logic underlying my choice of illogical statements (or non-statements) in my illogical post, whatever form that may take, leaving nothing new to choose from or be satisfied with. If someone else can demonstrate how this is to be done without logic I would be eager to see it.
If there is no readily apparent alternative to logic however, this still does not necessarily justify it anymore than being born without legs justifies the notion that walking is impossible - unless of course everybody is born without legs, but how do you prove this? It may appear that you can use nothing but logic, but then try to prove this beyond appearance. It seems beyond my abilities, structured by a robotic function of my limitations, rather than some pretense of "understanding" my limitations (ie: Socrates' "I only know that I know nothing" etc.) from which I could venture out under the assumption that my thoughts and actions may still have some sort of meaning (if there can be such a thing as "meaning").
Unlike a robot of course, I can simply choose to stop engaging the question(s) rather than regress into an endless loop. However the question(s) is still there whether I engage it or not. For me the logic/thought problem raises a more "absolute" uncertainty, if you will...but perhaps I should stop here before I get even more convoluted. --eddyouard
And a surprisingly good job you've done. The problem is that logic simply is the underlying structure of thought and language, as I think you have found; you can no more leave it behind than you can breath under water. But, this is not a forum, so I think we should drop this thread now. Banno 21:05, August 26, 2005 (UTC)
Agreed, but allow me to depart on the epilogue that the level of uncertainty I am (at least personally) still able to experience (by seemingly inexorable option, mind you, and not by "determination") still cannot, by definition, preclude the possibility of "leaving logic behind" (or breathing underwater for that matter - as insurmountable as such concepts may presently seem), and thus prevents me from arriving at such a conclusive finitude for the moment - though I shall certainly bring my posting on this issue to a conclusion now. --eddyouard
Yes, it can, since the very ideas of possibility and necessity only occur within the bounds of logical discourse. But let this be an end to this discussion. Thanks, Banno 22:18, August 27, 2005 (UTC)
I apologize, but you raise further questions in my mind rather than pacify it. You must stop tempting me to clarify my thoughts (to both you and myself) if you wish to conclude the discussion.
Your sentence "the very ideas of possibility and necessity only occur within the bounds of logical discourse" suggests (to me at least) potential other options of thought/discourse - which I'm sure was not your intent as we both acknowledge the difficulties of "leaving logic behind". To clarify then, might we simply state that "possibility occurs - period", in which case we may then question "so what is possible?"
I’m sure you wouldn’t say the possibility of "not using logic" is actually a logical possibility, but that the notion is really a logical impossibility (in that a logically wrong possibility, according to logic, is in fact simply an impossibility). But here I still perceive a hint of circularity (wrong term perhaps?) – not in the sense of being “wrong” (since according to logic it seems actually quite right), but just somehow incomplete (I’d point to Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems if I understood them better, though considering their own use of logic they probably only point back towards it, and are probably irrelevant in this context anyway). Suffice it to say, when you can only fight fire with fire, there is little hope of ever putting it out. And while you might say: "Yes, I am on fire - in fact, I am fire - there's nothing to fight, lest I put myself out", I am still compelled to ask "By all appearances I am on fire - I may in fact be fire - but as only fire, who would I be to determine what I am?" Logic may tell me logic is all I have, but logic does not seem to tell me whether all I have is all there is to be had, nor if what I have is essentially worth having.
Please do not construe this as some stubbornness born of an argument on my part, I do not see the discussion as such. I would truly like to "believe" such conclusions (or really any conclusion), and by the nature of my doubt it would seem I am unable to really disagree with any position (only doubt it) anyway. You have in fact helped further convince me of the futility of challenging logic/thought by any logical approach. But likewise, articulating my persistent "meta-uncertainty" (justified or not) by logical means should be equally futile (a likely excuse, I know, but unavoidable by your own admission).
Indeed, certain people much smarter than I (string-theorists, etc.) will tell you that the possibility of 10 (or even more) dimensions is a potential logical necessity to rectify their logical view of the universe, despite being unable to logically articulate such a concept to themselves (let alone anyone else) while limited to their 4 dimensional perceptions. An admittedly flawed analogy, but I still see this more as a function of the limitation, and not an understanding/acceptance of the limitation. Though we may both declare we are limited by logic (though you may chose a word/p.o.v. other than "limited"), what better purpose does logic serve (perhaps impulsively) than to challenge such apparent limitations? Even if it’s to no useful end (fore if my use of logic [as fallacious as it may seem] leads me down such useless paths why should I not then question my logic further?) I still hold out hope of transcending the function, even without expectation…
I must allow you the last word with such a hope that you will yet provide my enlightenment (as you are clearly well versed in the topic), but that will of course run you the risk of yet another lengthy, meandering response which I’m sure no one wants to see. May I instead suggest an agreeance to disagree (for lack of a better phrase since I really don’t disagree), or perhaps better yet if you to simply pity my inability to comprehend you.--eddyouard

rm of added paragraph

I removed the recently added paragraph [1] on grounds of brevity and relevance and POV, perhaps even original research.

Essentially, it seems to be saying that the new meaning is bad because it doesn't mean the same thing as the old meaning. It does not have the same emotional weight and does not make the same kind of criticism. But that's no surprise... it's an entirely different meaning! It would be a surprising coincidence if, for instance, "occupation" (job) and "occupation" (military occupation) carried the same emotional weight and connotations.

It also makes the unjustified claim that emotional vestiges of the old meaning carry on to the new meaning. I don't think so: the overwhelming majority of those who use the new meaning are entirely unaware of the traditional meaning... in fact, that's probably why they use the new meaning.

Incidentally, the word I used as an example ("occupation") once had a sexual connotation a few centuries ago and was banned from use in polite society. It would be hard to argue that there are any lingering "emotional vestiges" from this old meaning, precisely because nobody is even aware of the old meaning.

In any case, it's a stretch to say that the traditional meaning of "begging the question" has some kind of serious negative emotional impact. Essentially, it just describes muddleheaded thinking or confusion, not making an accusation of lying or deception.

-- Curps 05:31, 19 August 2005 (UTC)

Recent attempts at changing the introduction

To quote one of links:

"In the fallacy of circular reasoning, which is often called begging the question, you assume to be true what you are supposed to be proving. But that's also true for all valid deductions, where the conclusion (what you are trying to prove) is derived from the premises or assumptions. This difference is that, in circular reasoning, the conclusion is contained in a single premise or assumption, while in a deductive argument the conclusion is derived from both premises." --Stefanbojark 20:19, 22 August 2005 (UTC)

In fact I was thinking more of Fowler's definition, which is given further down the page; perhaps it is because I am British. I have therefore rewritten my main example to account for the prevailing mood. Furthermore, I have tried to make the example as uncontroversial as possible, staying away from abortion or the death penalty, or indeed foxhunting. As for removing links, it's generally bad form to include a half-dozen citations at the end of a line, and of the six the latter required registration and the former was an offshoot of a website that wasn't about grammar, logic or style. -Ashley Pomeroy 10:22, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

Yes, well the Fowler brothers were never very traditional either. In many ways, Fowler reflects how common usage of the term had evolved around the turn of the century.
You should understand that this page has been in various rather horrid states---to the extent of being cited in the mainstream media as an example of how confused the definition of this term has become (and in a manner much to wikipedia's discredit). Pearl and I worked at it for a long time and did quite a bit of research to make it as complete as possible--especially as regards to thoroughly reviewing the original context of the term and its evolution. Those links were there as a convenience to hold on to some modicum of sanity. I personally think that the Oxford English Dictionary link is important and valuable. Many libraries have a subscription, and the OED is an authority in a way that some of the other sources are not.
The treatment of this in the Prior Analytics is rather lengthy, but I think Fowler can be put in the following context:
If then begging the question is proving what is not self-evident by means of itself, in other words failing to prove when the failure is due to the thesis to be proved and the premiss through which it is proved being equally uncertain (sounds like Fowler, but then we get)
either because predicates which are identical belong to the same subject, or because the same predicate belongs to subjects which are identical [2]
So it might be that Fowler isn't being innovative per se but rather just brief. i.e., Fowler states the first point but not the either/or clarification. We then have distorted precisely what was meant. --Stefanbojark 03:16, 24 August 2005 (UTC)

Should this article be renamed to "Circular reasoning"?

Since "begging the question" is an expression that means "should ask the question", wouldn't a name like "circular reasoning" be more appropriate for this article? In fact, I found it by typing in "circular reasoning".

Furthermore, "circular reasoning" is a well-known logical fallacy, whereas "beg the question" is lesser known in this context. Therefore, I propose this article have its name changed.

Ther'es a segment in the article about how it's different from circular reasoning; therefore, it's different according to our own standards and thus shouldn't be renamed. Kuroune 02:29, 10 February 2006 (UTC)

Straw man arguments

It was my understanding that most cases in which a question is begged are do to straw man arguments, which instead of answering the question attack a similar but weaker stance, leaving the question begging. I was kind of surprised to see a lack of mention of straw man arguments in this article. Am I wrong, or does this simply need to be added? Shaggorama 07:15, 7 February 2006 (UTC)

A "straw man" is, as that article states, a way to attack an opponent's position in an argument. It is not a proof via circular logic. AKismet 16:32, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Beyond correctness and incorrectness

I submit that it should be possible to express what is meant by 'incorrectness' with an operational statement which does not characterize anyone's usage as being incorrect, and does not set up a standard of correctness. In this case, we could say something like the following: When people with a basic education in logic or philosophy hear the phrase "begs the question" used in the sense of "raises the question", most of them will think that it is inconsistent with their understanding of what it is to "beg the question". Most others will probably think nothing of it.

This is clear, non-judgmental, and states the consequences of the usage plainly. The reader can then fairly evaluate whether he is willing to accept those consequences.

I suspect that most arguments about correctness and incorrectness in English usage are pointless, and time spent on them is wasted. Tex 21:43, 22 February 2006 (UTC)

As it stands, the article does not express a judgment over whether the common usage is correct or not, but merely notes that there are those who view it as incorrect. This is true and noncontroversial, and your version is awkward and goes out of its way to avoid the word "incorrect." john k 17:27, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

Yes, the article is OK by me as it stands. My note was directed at the wrangling over correctness here on the Talk page. And my version is certainly awkward. No doubt someone who is a more skilled writer than I could do better. Tex 22:23, 26 February 2006 (UTC)

I was thinking of pretty much the same thing:

  • The term has two meanings. The earlier meaning is "x". The more recent meaning is "y". The x-People think the y-People misuse the term. The y-People are not aware that there are x-People.

(MartinGugino 11:58, 30 March 2006 (UTC))

Or possibly another formulation that would be more acceptable:

  • The x-People are smarter than the y-People.

The goal is to find a characterization of the two groups, so that one understand a possible social implication of adopting the usage x vs usage y. (MartinGugino 12:07, 30 March 2006 (UTC))

The way the article handles old and new meanings is pretty good now I think, except that the "Variations" paragraph seems to belong in the "Modern Usage" paragraph, or could be deleted. The second paragraph under Variations (Fowlers...) should remain.

Reverting the example

A recent change to the example shown as a syllogism changed it to an ordinary implication, and not a fallacy at all. It became p implies q, suppose p, thus q. This is just the definition of implication. I am not sure I understand the previous version completely, but the change was definitely wrong. Therefore I am reverting it. Tex 17:46, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

Here's the thing. If you say "p implies q, suppose p, therefore q", it's correct logic. But you are supposed to be giving an example of a fallacy. A fallacy is incorrect logic, which is why the symbols are confusing, they're wrong! Tex 15:50, 27 February 2006 (UTC)

I have changed the example to be consistent with one kindly given by a philosophy course at Lander University. The web site is very instructive. I have put it in the external links under Petitio Principii. Tex 16:10, 27 February 2006 (UTC)

The Meaning of "Begging" in the original "Begging the Question"

The article as it stands now asserts that "begging the question" means that the question is not truly answered and thus "begs" to be. I don't see this as agreeing with the proper Latin translation or any other source I can find. As I understand it, the person committing the logical fallacy is also the one doing the begging. They are, in effect, begging (or petitioning, which would be a better word) the question or principle to do something that it isn't capable of doing, i.e. prove itself correct. I'm changing the etymology section of the intro to be consistent with Latin dictionaries and the rest of the article. (unsigned)

I think that some of the etymology I have seen here of this phrase is more of a mnemonic quality than reality-based. I am thinking especially of the "begets" phrasing that may or may not be still in the current version. (MartinGugino 11:57, 30 March 2006 (UTC)) By the way, I like the article... :-) nice. (MartinGugino 12:14, 30 March 2006 (UTC))

Deleted text "begets"


  • It has been suggested that today's usage of the phrase "begs the question" stems from "begs" being an abbreviated form of the word "begets." This would give the same meaning as the phrases "gives rise to the question," or "brings forth the question," where "question" is an actual question, not the argument or the proposition being discussed.


Does anyone honestly claim that the phrase "begets the question" was ever in use? Or does anyone have any citation for this etymology? (MartinGugino 07:48, 20 April 2006 (UTC))

If the English words "begging the question" were taken from the Latin words "petitio principii" then "beg the question" does not come from "beget the question." The Latin word "petitio" means to ask or to request. So, "petitio" means "beg (ask)." This is evident in our word "petition" which means "request." As a result, "begging the question" is derived from the ancient Latin language and its "petitio," not from the more recent English language and its "begetting."Lestrade 23:52, 14 September 2006 (UTC)Lestrade205.188.116.67 23:51, 14 September 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

So "beg" has two meanings, then?

The fact that "beg" means "evade" should be made clear in the very beginning of the article. The whole rest of it makes no sense to someone who assumes, correctly, that "beg" means "plead". Actually, I don't see the dual definition clearly explained anywhere in the article.

And if the word really has both meanings, then how exactly is the modern usage incorrect? The prescriptive folks might have an argument if "beg" didn't already have the "ask/plead/implore" meaning, but it does, and that meaning is the most commonly used by far.

The supposed etymology of the standard (i.e. "correct") use of the phrase is that it derives from "beggaring the question". I don't think anyone suggests that "beg" by itself can mean "evade", but rather that the standard meaning of the phrase is idiomatic. Cadr 05:54, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

The explanation I heard when I took logic (in the philosophy department at LSU) was that the fallacy let the question go begging, i.e., begging for an answer. Tex 20:27, 25 May 2006 (UTC)

Use of "nitwit"

"This usage is often sharply criticized by proponents of the traditional meaning, but it has nonetheless come into common use among the sort of nitwits who habitually mix up "it's" and "its"."

While I agree with the sentiment, and being fully aware of "What Wikipedia is not", I'm not sure an encyclopaedia should call a group of -perhaps misinformed- people "nitwits". Surely there's a better phrasing? I'm not sure that calling people who use improper punctuation stupid is the function of a reference page. Hypermush 08:01, 16 June 2006 (UTC)


The use of "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" instead of its proper meaning of "presuppose what is to be proved" is the result of ignorance. The speaker who misuses the phrase is simply unaware of the correct meaning of the words. This can only be corrected by education, self or formal. Therefore, due to the powerful imitative influence of television, it will probably not be corrected and its misuse will become generally accepted. Most people do not have the head for trying to understand phrases that relate to logic. The general public will use it incorrectly because it sounds unusual and striking. This is similar to the current use of "vetted out" to mean "examined."Lestrade 19:10, 26 June 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Yes, and those who used "dilapidate" to mean "wear down" rather than "throw stones" are ignorant, and anybody who uses "symposium" to mean something other than "drinking party" is ignorant . . . words change and usages change. Live with it. Slac speak up! 02:53, 27 June 2006 (UTC)
Words change and usages change. Then everything is allowed and a word can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. In order to communicate their thoughts, people have agreed by convention that certain words will designate certain concepts. If we want to subscribe to a "change is good" attitude with regard to words, then we will be left with extreme ambiguity and, ultimately, a private language for each individual. It will be as though every statement is a code that must be broken and translated. As an example, I will end with the statement: "Sediment so gryphon won't easel in climate net." Thus, words change and usages change. Lestrade 11:54, 27 June 2006 (UTC)Lestrade
Actually, that's not how usage changes, and you know it. Talking about things being "allowed" rather misses the point: how do we stop language change? The attitude displayed by some people, that all language change is a result of insufficient education, hardly stands up to analysis - how much more educated are we on average than the average speaker of Elizabethan English? And why is it that conservative linguistic forms are more frequently found in rural and out-of-the-way areas than in cosmopolitan centres? It's not about subscribing to a "change is good" attitude: it's simply a matter of describing, analysing and living with the changes that do occur. What you say about every statement being a "code that must be broken and translated" is fundamentally true - and what you say about convention is also true. Language usage changes because the conventions of language users change. At any rate, this discussion has already largely taken place on this page. Slac speak up! 22:05, 27 June 2006 (UTC)
Then, a person who uses the phrase "begs the question" as though it means "raises the question" is manifestly ignorant.Lestrade 22:26, 27 June 2006 (UTC)Lestrade
Even if that's in all cases true, it's neither here nor there. People who say "a pea" are nearly in all cases ignorant of the fact that pease was originally a singular. I don't know what change to the article can be proposed out of this. Slac speak up! 23:15, 27 June 2006 (UTC)


Coming to the end of this long discussion page, I feel the 'new usage of the word' debates have largely come to a conclusion and are no longer of much use here. They also use up the majority of the page, despite the article mainly being about logic. Since the page has now reached over 100kb, perhaps they could be grouped together and made into an archive? As I'm still a relative newbie to this process, perhaps someone more familiar with archiving could help? Richard001 23:49, 3 September 2006 (UTC)

Initial Example

I think the first example,

  • Only an untrustworthy person would run for office. The fact that politicians are untrustworthy is proof of this.

is really crummy. It can be translated to the following:

  • Proposition. Only untrustworthy people would run for office.
  • Proof. Politicians run for office. Politicians are untrustworthy people. Therefore, only untrustworthy people would run for office.


  • The fact that politicians are untrustworthy people proves that only untrustworthy people would run for office.

It seems to me, if we are to mince words, that the problem is moreso that one can argue that the fact that politicians are untrustworthy (the example puts this forward as a fact) only proves that untrustworthy people win elections, and that it says nothing about who actually runs for office. And if we were to mince words some more, we can argue that trustworthy people would run for office, but simply have not. Empirically, the first sentence in the example is a hypothesis, and the fact that politicians are untrustworthy is evidence. In other words, it is not clear to me what the author was thinking when he wrote that example (and it quite frankly makes "Begging the question" seems like a while lot of nothing). Something better might be:

  • Only untrustworthy people run for office. Since only untrustworthy people run for office, then all politicians are untrustworthy.

or something along those lines.

--Veg-- 17:47, 10 October 2006 (UTC)

How about this one: "I know that Bill Clinton (or Pinocchio) never tells a lie. I know this because he told me so himself." Lestrade 17:50, 10 October 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

soundness and validity

I was disturbed to see a confusion between the validity and soundness of an argument in the opening sentence! : "In logic, begging the question, also known in Latin as petitio principii is an informal fallacy occurring in deductive reasoning whereby the logical structure of the argument is sound, but an unstated co-premise is false." But if the co-premise is false, then strictly speaking, the logical structure of the argument is valid, not sound. As a consequence, I've decided to change 'sound' to 'valid'. EmileNoldeSinclair 20:03, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Great that you picked up on that, pretty damn embarrasing. Grumpyyoungman01 23:17, 11 November 2006 (UTC)

Poorly written and assumes too much background

The articles on Wikipedia have been a Godsend for quick references and sensible, easy-to-understand explanations. The definition and description of "Begging the Question" is the exception. It is just too complex for beginners like me. I don't know what those symbols mean, or how they apply. Talk to me in words. I can do words quite well.

TWS (Teacher with accredited Master's degree, but not in symbolic logic) Lee's Summit, MO

I agree. Most of Wikipedia's logic articles are fairly poorly explained. The example arguments are poor, as well. Serious editing is definately needed. JHP 02:59, 17 November 2006 (UTC)
I do think the intro has gone downhill a little in terms of clarity (and using terms - like "co-premise" - that are nonstandard even in logic doesn't help). Maybe I'll retool it sometime this weekend. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind more specifics on where it's too complex and I don't know what symbols TWS is referring to, as I don't see a single logical symbol in the entire article. PurplePlatypus 19:20, 17 November 2006 (UTC)

This article appears to contrdict itself tag

In the introduction of the article, it says that "Begging the question" is a Logical fallacy. But in the second paragraph of Examples it says that it is an informal fallacy. In recent minor edits to the page, I provided a link to informal fallacy, it was previously written as "non-formal fallacy" without the link, is there a difference between a "non-formal fallacy" and an informal fallacy? Grumpyyoungman01 05:04, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

Is there even such a thing as "formal" and "informal" fallacies? I got that impression from the logical fallacy page hence my edits to its introduction and the creation of a new stub on informal fallacy. Grumpyyoungman01 05:10, 19 November 2006 (UTC)

I just made a number of changes including addressing this concern. If Wikipedia is using "logical fallacy" to mean "formal fallacy", then it was indeed incorrect to call BtQ a logical fallacy. (The difference is that a formal fallacy fails simply by virtue of the logical form of the argument, as "If P then Q; not-P; therefore not-Q"; an informal fallacy may be, and in the case of BtQ always is, logically valid, yet fails anyway due to some feature of the content of the argument.)
Along the way I ditched the stuff about the fallacy of many questions since it was not clear to me from what was written a) what the connection between that and begging the question was supposed to be, and b) how the example given had anything whatsoever to do with Many Questions fallacies. I can kinda-sorta see how a) could be answered but I'm not at this moment prepared to articulate it properly; so I just zapped it, at least for now, as it's not central to the article. I think it's better off with no mention of the connection than with a poorly-written and misleading section on it, though better still would be a well-written and accurate one. PurplePlatypus 00:20, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Oh the irony

"this article appears to contradict itself"

Not that ironic, since begging the question is not a case of inconsistency. PurplePlatypus 00:23, 24 November 2006 (UTC)