Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A quick lesson on rhetoric

The term "begging the question" is now so often misapplied as to have almost lost its meaning. Despite what semi-literate journalists and politicians seem to believe, it does not mean the same thing as "raise the question".

It means, to assume what you are charged to prove.

As in a court case in which the prosecution must prove that a man beats his wife.

When the prosecutor questions the man, saying, "How long has it been since you stopped beating your wife", he is "begging the question. He has started not with the question at hand, whether the man actually does what he is accused of, but with the assumption of guilt.

Get it?

OK, now a real life example.

Today, Bishop Patrick O'Donohue and colleagues, were called to be questioned by a Parliamentary committee on Schools in response to his issuance last year of a document requiring Catholic schools in the diocese of Lancaster to actually be Catholic, in more than name.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, who claims to be some kind of Christian, is the chairman of the committee began the procedings with the following:

Prefacing his questions with a disclaimer “I suppose you could call me
a Christian”, Sheerman started by assuring that the questions that followed should
not be seen as “hostility” to religious belief but “just a desire to know”.

“Doesn’t that worry you...that your schools are very good at excluding poor and less
fortunate children."

A textbook case.

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