“You’ve got it all wrong Poirot. The count couldn’t have done it, he was in Spain.” Said Hastings.

“Hercule Poirot is never wrong! That is why he is the world’s greatest detective!” Barked the Belgian.

“Are you sure you’re never wrong?”

“Of course! Am I not the world’s greatest detective?”

Hercule Poirot is never wrong!

Begging the question is a term that gets thrown around incorrectly quite a lot, mostly by politicians or political commentators. You’ll quite often here someone respond to a point made by an opponent: “but that just begs the question: where is all that money supposed to come from?” They take ‘begging the question’ to mean something like ‘making a statement in answer to a question that prompts a further question, which if left unanswered makes the initial response a poor one.’ This is not begging the question.

Question begging involves arguing for a given conclusion by assuming the truth of that conclusion either implicitly or explicitly as a premise. Take what Poirot says in the above case: He claims he is the worlds greatest detective, and his support for this is that he is never wrong. But his reason for thinking that he is never wrong is that he is the worlds greatest detective; so ‘I am never wrong’ as a premise involves the assumption that he is the world’s greatest detective. Silly old Poirot! Anyway, now you know; so it can annoy you whenever someone uses the phrase incorrectly on TV too.

2 responses »

  1. Michael says:

    One of the main purposes of philosophy is to make you unable to watch politicians on TV without shouting and gnashing your teeth.

    But actually it seems – at least according to the Collins English Dictionary: http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/beg-the-question – that either usage is acceptable.

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