'Brian Williams Is Stupid Because He Is Dumb' Begs The Question

I expressed my surprise at this last night on Twitter, while Jay Nordlinger noted it at NRO:

Brian Williams doesn’t know what “begging the question” means….

Williams used the phrase as he turned to Ron Paul to ask him about a possible third party run at approximately 2 minutes into this video, emphasis mine:

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“There is no denying you have an enthusiatic base of support, we could hear them outside tonight. Yet, there was that recent interview you were asked if while campaigning, you envisioned yourself in the Oval Office. And you said, “Not really, but I think it’s a possibility.” So, that begs the question about your path and when you will give an honest answer about, perhaps, your third party plans going forward.”

While perhaps true that many people misunderstand the actual meaning of the phrase, time was one would have thought better of a national news anchor. A clear discussion of its meaning and usage is available here:

To beg the question does not mean “to raise the question.” (e.g. “It begs the question, why is he so dumb?”) This is a common error of usage made by those who mistake the word “question” in the phrase to refer to a literal question.

The concise explanation is below. As another example, were I to say Brian Williams misused English on national television, it would not beg the question, “Is he dumb?” However, were I to say: “Brian Williams is stupid because he is dumb,” I would have begged the question.

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.

A simple example would be “I think he is unattractive because he is ugly.” The adjective “ugly” does not explain why the subject is “unattractive” — they virtually amount to the same subjective meaning, and the proof is merely a restatement of the premise. The sentence has begged the question.


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