Monday, March 4, 2013

Begs the question

I’m beginning to think that at least 70% of writers who use “beg the question” in a story, get it wrong. Most of them use “beg” instead of “ask”. They seem to think the “beg” means begging for the question to be asked. This is not what the saying means at all.

Begs the question is a term in philosophy. Aristotle wrote an entire book, “Prior Analytics” explaining the term. Basically, begging the question is when something that requires proving, is just assumed to be true. Therefore a logical conclusion following the assumption is also assumed to be true, yet one or both may be totally wrong.

“Going to the gym is good for you because it’s fun.”
The premise is: Going to the gym is good for you.
This is not necessarily true. Going to the gym does nothing for you at all. It’s the exercise that you do once you arrive that’s good for you. I’ve seen people go to the gym and sit in the coffee shop.

The result: because it’s fun.
Well some people would find it fun. Especially those who go to meet their friends in the coffee shop. But others would argue if it’s fun it’s not doing you much good. “No pain, no gain”. Unless you’re sweating you aren’t building muscle tone.
The premise requires proving. It wasn’t proven, therefore there’s no guarantee the answer will be correct. Therefore it begs the question.

If you’re still confused, read:

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.


anny cook said...

Cool. I don't recall ever using this expression but I found the explanation very interesting!

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

The history behind the saying is a lot more fun than the saying itself sometimes.