Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More on Logical Fallacies: Begging the Question

A few weeks ago I witnessed a wonderful demonstration of this logical fallacy at our weekly Boy Scout troop meeting. Our Senior Patrol Leader wanted to remind the older scouts about the importance of wearing our uniforms. It was also a good opportunity to inform the newer scouts how we do things. So at the end of the meeting he asked the entire group of boys and the adults as well, “When do we wear our class-A scout uniform?” I was very proud of him for taking the time to do a little educating and reinforming. But I share his frustration over what came next.
One after the other the boys and even a few adults started giving the vaguest answers possible.
“We are to wear our class-A uniform whenever you tell it is appropriate.”
“Wear it unless our leadership tells us it is inappropriate.”
“ The uniform is to be worn according to local troop policy.”
All of these answers are technically correct but can you see the frustration our Senior Patrol Leader must have faced? It’s as if each person was so worried about getting the answer wrong that they didn’t provide any information at all. They just restated the question in fancier language. None of the responses actually provided an answer. The question started with the word “when” and none of the responses gave a specific time or event. This is the logical fallacy know as begging the question. If the question itself is the only source you have for your response you are likely just begging the question.
Another quick example:
“How do we know if psychics can talk to dead people?”
“Because they are psychic.”

Finally the patrol leader restated the question in such a way that didn’t allow for any non-answer responses, “Give several specific examples of times when, according to troop policy and what our leaders have told us, we should be wearing our full class-A uniform”. At last he got some responses that actually educated the newer boys and reminded the older boys. “At all Troop meetings and Courts of Honor.” “While travelling to and from any campout.” “At evening assemblies during summer camp.” etc.

On a side note: Most people misuse the phrase begging the question. Rather than use it in the context I’ve just described they use it as if it is synonymous with “brings up the question” . If my daughter says “Noah won’t let me play with the snake.” That brings up a bunch of questions but it doesn’t beg any.

1 comment:

  1. I remember you telling me about this. I'm sure I have done it, but when I'm the one trying to get information the meaning behind the term becomes crystal clear.