Begging the question

Michelle Pfeiffer 2007 In my last post I described the syllogism “Photogenic people look good in photographs; Michelle Pfeiffer is photogenic; therefore, Michelle Pfeiffer looks good in photographs” as “begging the question”. A few people commented on that, so I thought I’d address this point of English usage.

In modern usage, “begging the question” has come to mean nothing more than “the situation suggests that an obvious question to raise at this time is blah blah blah.” For example, “The global financial meltdown begs the question: was there insufficient federal oversight of the American mortgage industry?” Though this usage is certainly common in civic discourse and the media, it is entirely a modern departure from the historic usage of the phrase. I try to eschew this modern usage when I say “begs the question”.

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