Don’t Misuse “Begs the Question”


Lately, people have been misusing the phrase begs the question.  Begging the question is a logical fallacy in which one assumes the truth of the very point to be proven.  For example, it is begging the question to say, "It's a bad idea to put money into the stock market because the stock market is a bad investment."  This is a type of circular reasoning, and it's illogical because the writer hasn't demonstrated the truth of the underlying point -- that the market is a bad investment.


But some people use the phrase begs the question to mean raises the question, as in this example:  "The lawyer lost her case.  That begs the question of her competence."  The second sentence is incorrect because it does not refer to a logical fallacy.  Rather, the writer simply means that the loss raises the question of the lawyer's competence. 


Opportunities for the correct use of begs the question are rare.  If you are thinking of using the phrase, consider whether raises the question will fit in its place.  If it will, then use that wording instead.

                                  --The Word Aficionado