Begging Which Question?

Once upon a time, folk would stand in a circle, before an audience, and debate things. No, not Jerry Springer. I’m talking about the Old Days before TV. To establish the grounds for the debate the two folk arguing would first state what they’re arguing for (or against) and then proceed with given statements.

The point they were arguing for (or against) was called The Question. Each of the givens would be the premises which the debater would use as a starting point for his argument.

I’ve employed the same tactic in the past asking things like “Can we agree with X?” and then listing reasons why X is not a debatable matter. Then “Can we agree with Y?” and then list reasons why Y is not a debatable matter. X and Y only become important in the conversation when I have to start stringing those premises to my main points which, if logically coherent, answer The Question in my favor.

Now these olden days guys would ask each other the same sort of things “Will you grant me X?” and the opponent would agree or deny.

Now some of them, particularly sly, figured out that the best way to win the argument would be if your opponent agreed with your argument up front. So what you would do is ask your opponent to agree with an established premise that actually is the very point you’re arguing for.

This was called “Begging the Question” and would immediately raise a flag because it’s a circular reasoning to prove your point. Your point is true because your point can’t be false–therefore it’s true.

Now somewhere along the line “begging” was imbued with new meaning in regards to “the question”. In modern usage it refers to “raising the following question” instead of the technical meaning.

For instance, most people use it like this: “If we know that fast food is unhealthy then it stands to reason that we shouldn’t eat it. This begs the question–why don’t we stop?”

What’s interesting is that this second usage is all over the place:

This means that El and Yahweh would have been merged in the high God position in the pantheon by the eighth century B.C.E., begging the question as to why, at least two centuries later, there was a rhetorical need to draw attention to Yahweh as high sovereign. Heiser (Scholar over at Logos).

Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans are pro-choice with regards to abortion. This is interesting considering that similar polls tell us that the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. This begs the question, Can a Christian support abortion? Patton (Theologian over at Parchment & Pen).

Here are three stories with a common thread: the difficulty of making judgments when it comes to tracking terror. Each begs the question of just how we can know a person’s true identity. CNN.

Of course, this all begs the question of why I bring any of this up now. MCF (Nexus of all things improbable..which makes this very probable occurrence problematic)

In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’ve used it although I doubt my pride will allow me to look it up. Heh.

Update, Webster’s definition online now includes this widespread usage.

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