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Enter the debunking article

Begging to raise the issue
My enjoyment of Joseph N. Liss’s otherwise fine article on campus myths was marred by the author’s misuse, in the final sentence, of the phrase “beg the question.” This sentence reads, in full, “[S]uch tales beg the question: what might students say about Max Palevsky Commons in 40 years?” Mr. Liss uses the offending phrase incorrectly to mean “raises the question.”

In fact, begging the question is a logical fallacy sometimes known as circular reasoning, where the point a speaker seeks to prove is used as part of his or her argument. An example of begging the question would be saying, “Blue is my favorite color because that’s the color I like the most.”

I am enclosing a copy of William Safire’s “On Language” column from the July 26, 1998, New York Times Magazine, which explains this far better than I can. When I read Safire’s column, I learned that this term was first used (in Greek) by Aristotle, the philosopher whose work is associated with the University of Chicago perhaps more than any other. Although misuse of “beg the question” is widespread, it seems to me that a publication affiliated with the University is obligated to prevent such a mistake from appearing in its pages.

Laura Ellin Handlin, AB’78
New York, New York

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. In order to provide a range of views, we encourage writers to limit themselves to 300 words or less. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. Or e-mail:



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