Question Begging Questions-Fallacious Questions

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    Sooner28posted 5 years ago

    Most people inaccurately use the term "begging the question."  They mean it as "raising the question," such as if a politician asserts we need to reduce the deficit, a journalist may respond, "Well this begs the question of how we are supposed to do so." 

    Begging the question has a specific meaning: it is a logical fallacy that assumes in the premises of an argument the conclusion the arguer wants to establish.  The most famous example is the way some (not all) christians argue about the validity of the Bible.  "It's true because it's God's word."  How do you know it's God's word?  "Because it says so in the book!".  It would be similar to an atheist claiming evolution is true by quoting the God Delusion and, when asked by a believer what justification there is for believing so, asserting that evolution is true solely because Richard Dawkins said so.

    There are also question begging questions.  For instance, the question "Have you stopped beating your wife?" assumes, at least, that at one time you did beat your wife!  There are other assumptions embedded also.  Sometimes, a question is not innocuous, and the underlying assumptions have to be brought out in order to fully understand it.  Now, if you had been beating your wife, then the question would not be fallacious.

    A more controversial example, and the one I am really aiming at discussion for, is questions about the origin of the universe.  Asking, "Who created the universe?" assumes that the universe was created, and there is a single "who" responsible for it.  The question cannot be asked incorrectly; otherwise, it will lead down confused paths.  A question must be formulated in such a way that it assumes the least amount possible, not the entire belief system of a religion (the way it would if a christian, or muslim, or jew were to ask).

    Let's try a more precise formulation.  Why does the universe exist?  The problem with this version is that the why is ambiguous.  Is it a purposeful why, or a mechanical why?  If purposeful, it begs the question in favor of God.  If not, it begs the question in favor of materialism.  The question must be phrased more precisely.  It also assumes our universe exists outside of us.  But how is this possible?  Can the "intent" of the question even be asked at all without begging the question in favor of a particular point of view?

    "Why does anything materially exist outside of my mind?"  The why is still ambiguous, but it's a little closer to non-question begging.  Unfortunately, it still assumes that the material world exists apart from my mind, which completely neglects engaging with the skeptical hypothesis that we are a brain in a vat.  It also assumes I exist, independently of a computer program or the manipulations of another brain in a vat!   

    Should I embrace skepticism?