begs the question

Nathan Bierma nbierm65 at CALVIN.EDU
Tue Sep 12 13:42:55 UTC 2006

Previous treatments of this on ASD-L have yielded little more than prescriptivist disapproval. My question is whether there is a connection between the historical meaning (the logical fallacy of misusing a premise as a conclusion) and the more recent, expanded meaning ("raises an important question"). 

The entry in the AHD Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style suggests that both meanings regard unstated assumptions, and it questions prescriptivist prohibitions on the latter usage (and seems to dispute the assumption that the two are not connected in meaning): 

"Since the point of claiming that something begs the question is to make explicit what has been assumed to be true, the expression is also used to mean simply 'to raise the question.'" (p. 56)
All other usage guides I've consulted, however, assume that the expanded meaning of "raises the question" involves misinterpretation or ignorance of the original usage--including the AHD of Idioms (Ammer, 1997, p.51) (search "beg the question" here: )

Here's an example I want to use in response to a reader who asked about this phrase: Last month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that the Cardinals’ sixth straight loss “helped beg the question whether the Cardinals are merely slumping or being exposed [as a bad team].”  
Is this still about an unstated assumption (or a necessary background question for proceeding further), or is this unrelated to the traditional logical-fallacy sense?

Nathan Bierma
"On Language" columnist
Chicago Tribune

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