I beg to differ
West Coast Editor,
March 2004

Newswise, military matters have been all the rage ever since Dubya invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. For Canada, this militarism raises a host of problems, such as how to maintain respect for international law and follow an independent policy.

In June 2002, David Rudd, president and executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, addressed the consequences of Canada’s decision to increase military
co-operation with the European Union:

“This raises the possibility that the frequency of Canada’s military commitments will rise. To avoid the perception that the Canada-EU partnership is but a hollow political gesture, Ottawa may have to set aside additional resources for defence. This begs the question: Has Ottawa thought through the political and financial implications of its policy vis-à-vis the EU?”

Doubtless, Rudd is knowledge-able on military matters and his views are worth considering, but his use of the expression “begs the question” shows a less-than-perfect grasp of this much-abused idiom.

Begging the question [L: petitio principii] is a form of circular reasoning in which the truth of a proposition is improperly implied in its premise, such as: “Executions are moral because the death penalty discourages violent crime.” This “begs the question” of whether executions are moral, as well as whether the death penalty is a deterrent.

What Rudd should have said was: “This raises the question: Has Ottawa thought through the political and financial consequences of its policy…” Once the military policy goes
into effect, then political and financial matters kick in. “Begs the question” is backward-looking; “raises the question” is forward-looking.

One rarely comes across journalists or speakers who don’t misuse “begs the question.” What’s worse, they don’t know enough to beg the pardon of their audience.