beg the question

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To assume what has still to be proved: “To say that we should help the region's democratic movement begs the question of whether it really is democratic.”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


What does begging the question mean?

The phrase begging the question is used in two different ways. The original sense of begging the question refers to a type of logical or rhetorical fallacy in which something is asserted as true without any evidence. In this sense, to beg the question is to take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. Statements labeled as examples of begging the question are typically those that attempt to prove a point by using another unproven claim.

For example, the statement My client is innocent of this crime because he is an honest man could be considered an instance of begging the question because it uses a presumption of honesty as evidence of innocence (without offering proof of honesty).

The newer sense of beg the question essentially means the same thing as raise the question—typically an important or difficult question that “begs” to be answered. This sense of the phrase is almost always followed by the question thought to have been raised, as in The announcement about layoffs begs the question of how many there will be.

This newer sense of beg the question is now much more commonly used. However, some language purists consider the use of this sense to be “incorrect,” often arguing that the phrase should only be used in its original context of logical fallacy.

Where does begging the question come from?

The earliest records of the phrase beg the question in English come from the 1500s. The origin of the phrase is often attributed to a 16th-century translation of a term used by the Greek philosopher Aristotle for a specific type of logical fallacy—one in which a person makes an argument under the assumption that their premise is true without ever proving it. Beg the question was the translation used for the Latin phrase petitio principii, which is itself a translation of the Greek tò en archêi aiteîsthai, meaning “the assumption at the beginning.”

The use of beg the question to mean “to raise the question” is thought to have gained usage in the 1990s. This newer sense has become increasingly common and is now the much more popular of the two senses.

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What are some synonyms for begging the question?

What are some words that share a root or word element with begging the question

What are some words that often get used in discussing begging the question?

How is begging the question used in real life?

The phrase beg the question is now commonly used to mean much the same thing as raise a question.

Some people familiar with the older sense of beg the question argue that use of the newer sense is “incorrect.”



Try using begging the question!

Which of the following statements could be considered an example of the logical fallacy known as begging the question?

A. The system is down because of a connection problem.
B. The reason it will work is because it can’t possibly fail.
C. If you like the book, you’ll probably like the movie, too.
D. You’ve been late three times, so if you’re late again you’ll get detention.

How to use beg the question in a sentence

Other Idioms and Phrases with beg the question

beg the question

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?”).

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.