Friday, March 21, 2014

Soon, but not yet
I enjoy watching Peter Mansbridge's The National in the evening, especially when the “At Issue” panel is on and his three clever informants analyze what we've been seeing and hearing . . . but might not be understanding. Last night's conversation was about the Quebec leaders' debate, Joe Oliver's appointment as finance minister and Alison Redford's resignation as premier of Alberta.

Hot topics of the day; some days, there's not enough new “news” to make it riveting.

      I watched it again on my computer this morning for two reasons: the first was to assess for myself how they expressed their opinions on the issues as opposed to what they said. It's my understanding that the exchanges among Peter Mansbridge, Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hebert and Bruce Anderson are only broadly scripted, that they are aware of the questions they will face beforehand but are speaking ad libitum. In other words, they're thinking and talking at the same time.

       It's when speaking extemporaneously that facility with language—or clumsiness, for that matter—sticks out like like either a well-turned or a sore thumb.

       My second reason for wanting to review the exchange was to hear again the use (or misuse) of the phrase, it begs the question. I thought I recalled Andrew Coyne using the expression in last night's At Issue and I guess I wanted to catch him “red-handed,” because all three of the panelists are—to my mind—eloquent . . . in general. I'd long been annoyed by the use of the phrase to mean it raises the question when it actually refers to an argument in which the whole point being made is supported by a premise that is unproven . . . as if it were proven. Put as simply as possible, the statement “Because boys are naturally cleverer at mathematics than girls, they are likely to do better in engineering disciplines,” is a case of begging the question. It's a logical fallacy described long, long ago by Aristotle: the argument requires that we accept the unproven premise that “boys are naturally cleverer at mathematics.” It's very much like the logical fallacy we call a non sequitur: the conclusion doesn't follow from the premise.
    Begging the question is also described as "a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true," as in "She's not pretty because she has unattractive features."

     I didn't find the phrase in question; maybe I missed it, imagined it or remembered it “out of place.”

      And besides, does it matter that we use begging the question in a different way than was once intended?

      One thing seems apparent to me: politicians utter begging the question statements all the time; it's a tragedy that we don't educate our children to recognize them when they hear them. Take this argument: “The Harper government is good for Canada because it has managed to maintain economic growth through a difficult recession.” The premises that the Harper government is responsible for the “maintenance of economic growth” or that the recession was “difficult” need to be shown with some proof before the argument, “good for Canada” even becomes a satisfying rhetorical conclusion.

      The question of whether or not “ecomonic growth” can be assumed to be good in any case begs yet another question. That premise is most certainly unproven, especially as it pertains to the generations yet to come.

      Meanwhile, I like watching and listening to At Issue.                
     Sometimes, I even pay attention to what's being said.

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