How to (and how not to) Beg the Question

From "On Language: Semantitheft," by William Safire

The New York Times, May 13, 2001

If the issue I raise today cries out for an answer, if the point of this article invites close cross-examination, am I begging the question? 

No. Though my trickle-down convictions may beggar my neighbor, I will not beg the question, because I am not in the fallacy dodge. Of the many fulminations from specialists about the distortions of their vocabularies by the lay public, this mendicant phrase leads all the rest.

Here's how it is mistakenly used: Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, noted that a downturn in the economy would reduce tax revenues and said: "So it begs the question, how large the tax cut? And it begs the question, how long the tax cut?" 

"As a retired teacher of logic," writes Daniel Merrill, who taught philosophy at Oberlin College, "I implore you: give the technical use of beg the question back to the logicians!" 

A Rutgers University philosophy professor, Tim Mauldin, agrees: "Let's stomp out this abuse!" He explains: "If the defender of the thesis asks (begs') that his interlocutor accept as a premise of the argument the very issue in dispute (the question'), then he or she has begged the question. This error is sometimes called 'circular reasoning."' 

Example of circular question-begging: "Parallel lines never meet because they are parallel." That takes you right around the barn and back where you started. 

Example of linear question-begging: "Anything Safire says about anything is suspect because you can't believe what you read in the newspapers." All the people who fervently believe that to be true make no legitimate argument because they take for granted a premise that is unproven. Their solution to that would be to offer proof: "Safire is suspect because he misspelled the name of James Madison's wife (Hello, Dolley!)." That causes me to beg pardon, not question.