Begging the Question occurs when there is a central issue or question under discussion - e.g., Should we impose sanctions or go to war? Should we regulate tobacco and alcohol like other drugs?
In a good argument for or against a claim - we need independent evidence and/or reasons, i.e., additional grounds which support the stand we take. For example, I might argue that we should impose sanctions because the world community supports the use of economic pressure over military force - or I might point out that tobacco has been shown to be as addictive as heroin, and thus should be treated as a dangerous drug.
In begging the question, however, instead of supplying additional grounds supporting my claim - I simply assume the validity of the claim I'm making.
Sometimes this is obvious. If someone questions the importance of the law requiring us to stop at a four-way intersection, and yield to the driver on the right, the law is in question or under debate. If someone replies, "The law is the law," - meaning, the law cannot be questioned or debated - they have begged the question. Instead of supplying additional grounds which would support the law in question - they has instead assumed the validity/soundness/truth of the law in their response.
But usually, it's not so obvious - and thus a little harder to spot - and thus much more likely to get past us. Consider the following:
1. A: 1) I'm all in favor of the war on drugs. 2) Hundreds of people die every year, and (3) the lives of thousands more are adversely affected because of illegal drugs.
B: O.k. -- while you're at it, what about stopping tobacco use, which kills over 400,000 people a year, and curtailing alcohol use, which is estimated to cost the economy over $12,000,000,000.00 per year in unnecessary "sick" days and unproductive workers? [HINT: QUESTIONS ARE NOT LOGICAL STATEMENTS}
A: 4) Alcohol and tobacco aren't drugs. 5) They're recreational consumer items, (6) and thus legitimate products to be offered in a free-market system.
2. Questioner: should we go to war now, or wait a while longer in order to give economic sanctions a chance to work?
Responder: Sanctions won't work. We've tried them before several times, and they always fail. Saddam Hussein is a madman; all he understands is force. Under these circumstances, war is the only possible choice.
3. Can a person quick smoking? Of course -- as long as they have sufficient willpower and really want to quit.
4. Oklahoman: sure, this was Indian Territory once. Sure, the white settlers didn't always treat the Indians very nicely, or always live up the treaties. But there can be no question but that we have every right to be here and to enjoy this rich land. After all, we brought civilization to the Indians, a clearly superior way of life. You'd think they'd be grateful.
5. A: (i) My friends, God loves you. God does not want you to suffer.
(ii) God will reward all those who truly believe in him and his son Jesus Christ with blessings beyond number.
(iii) Indeed, our wealth in this nation is a direct sign of our faith in God and his love for us.
B: (iv) What about those people and nations who are not wealthy and who suffer from natural catastrophes such as earthquakes?
A: (v) They must not be true believers.
As an additional example:
In his writing for the majority opinion in Cruzan, Justice Rehnquist pointed out a sort of question-begging in the argument of the plaintiffs:
If the question is: is Nancy Cruzan capable of making her own decision regarding the continuation or termination of life support
then to say that "Nancy Cruzan is incompetent" - without further argument, evidence, reasons, etc. - is to assume the question at hand.
"Incompetent" is, in this context, simply a synonym for "incapable of making an informed decision."
For Justice Rehnquist, the plaintiffs are thus saying: "Nancy Cruzan is incapable of making her own decisions because she's incompetent = she's incapable of making her own decisions." (See Arthur, 162)
Moral: watch out for words and phrases which look like additional reasons/argument/evidence for the conclusion/point at issue - but which are simply synonyms and restatements of the conclusion/point at issue one wants to support.
1. Matter is real - indeed, the most real thing. It can be seen and experienced all around us through the senses.
2. Matter is an illusion. There is no proof it exists outside my own mind. I know I am occasionally deceived by my senses. What assures me that the senses per se are not themselves an elaborate illusion?
3. A: Ministers, priests, psychologists, reporters, and others often have access to important information from people who are under criminal investigation and/or prosecution. Generally, we want to protect the confidentiality relationship between minister, priest, psychologist, and/or reporter, and their parishioner/client/ and/or source. At the same time, the minister, priest, and/or reporter may have access to information crucial to the investigation and/or prosecution.
There is no formal law protecting minister, priest, psychologist, and/or reporter from the investigators and/or courts. That is, if such a person refuses to divulge confidential or privileged information, s/he can be cited for contempt of court, jailed, etc.
The question is, in light of the social and political importance of these relationships of confidentiality and privileged information - should there be a "shield law" which explicitly protects reporters, ministers, psychologists and others whose social roles require them to have the ability to protect such confidential and/or privileged information?
B: Reporters, ministers, psychologists, and priests are all citizens of the U.S. - and as such, they stand under U.S. law the same as any other citizen. They need to follow the same laws as the rest of us. No such "shield law" can be justified.
is a closely-related logical problem. Consider the following:
[P] The arts define what is meant by "civilization."
[C] /.. The most vital stages in the history of any society are marked by a flowering of the arts.
While the premise appears to offer information, evidence, grounds, etc. that are different from what are stated in the conclusion - upon inspection, it appears that the conclusion merely restates what is assumed in the premise, but in different language.
For another example, consider the anti-abortion argument discussed under equivocation.