Thursday, November 6, 2008

sigh

"Begging the question" does not mean inviting a particular question. It means asserting the statement that is to be proven, beginning with an assumption of your particular side of the issue to be decided.

Asides from that, he's perfectly right. The question "is the country conservative or liberal" is profoundly un-useful without a specific sense of what those terms mean. The center shifts, and very often, it shifts to the left. Which is why I don't particularly care how many people still self-identify as conservative or moderate. What was once liberal, in many cases, is now squarely centrist.

2 comments:

individualfrog said...

I think you are making the mistake of many a specialist here: that the more specific meaning of a word or phrase as used by your discipline is the only one. Like, "work" means something specific to a physicist, but he'd be making a big mistake to tell a layman that he is using it wrong if he says "I have a lot of work to do!" (I think sometimes it works the other way, and the specialist-jargon use of a term is more general than the vernacular use, but I can't think of an example right now.)

Obviously this is an exaggerated example, but "this begs the question" has been used the way that guy uses it is perfectly legitimate outside of academic writing (logic? philosophy? or something?)

jens said...

It's a version of what they call the "etymological fallacy" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etymological_fallacy ). Kind of like the way some people (and here I must blush guiltilty) argue "decimate" represents only a loss of 10%.

Yes, "begging the question" has a specific meaning - but the "wrong" meaning is used SO much more commonly than the "right" meaning - it has kind of taken over.