GMAT Verbal : Making Inferences in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Question #13 : Single Answer Questions

"Poetry and Philosophy" by Justin Bailey

As the logical positivism rose to ascendancy, poetic language was increasingly seen as merely emotive. Wittgenstein’s influential Tractatus argued that only language corresponding to observable states of affairs in the world was meaningful, thus ruling out the value of imaginative language in saying anything about the world. Poetry’s contribution was rather that it showed what could not be said, a layer of reality which Wittgenstein called the “mystical.” Despite Wittgenstein’s interest in the mystical value of poetry, his successors abandoned the mystical as a meaningful category, exiling poetry in a sort of no man’s land where its only power to move came through the empathy of shared feeling.

Yet some thinkers, like Martin Heidegger, reacted strongly to the pretensions of an instrumental theory of knowledge to make sense of the world. Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur all gave central value to poetry in their philosophical method; signifying a growing sense among continental thinkers that poetic knowing was an important key to recovering some vital way of talking about and experiencing the world that had been lost.

It can be inferred from the passage that __________.

Possible Answers:

Heidegger's complaint was that philosophers were taking poetic language too seriously in their philosophical method

most positivists followed Wittgenstein in arguing for poetic knowledge as a meaningful category in philosophy

some of Wittgenstein's successors used his work to exclude something that was important to Wittgenstein

poetry's power to move through empathetic feeling signifies that its claims about the world are true

philosophers agree that instrumental theories of knowledge are sufficient in understanding the world

Correct answer:

some of Wittgenstein's successors used his work to exclude something that was important to Wittgenstein

Explanation:

This answer is taken from the final sentence of the first paragraph. Wittgenstein wanted to make room for poetry in his category of the mystical, but his successors simply abandoned it, citing his work.

Example Question #1 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

It can be inferred from the passage that the author believes that __________.

Possible Answers:

the existence of the world is something that cannot, and need not, be absolutely proven

knowledge gained through experimentation is the only valid kind of knowledge

dreams are not based on real events

things that are hot are always painful to touch

radical skepticism was a popular position when the author was writing

Correct answer:

the existence of the world is something that cannot, and need not, be absolutely proven

Explanation:

While the author does not believe it useful to doubt the existence of the external world—indeed, he beleives such a belief to be harmful—he also beleives that the human mind and senses are not powerful enough to discover the natures of things in themselves, and thus rationally prove beyond any possible doubt that the world exists. The other inferences are not supported by the text.

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Although today high-heeled and platform shoes are often seen as footwear designed simply to make a woman seem more fashionable and appealing, they served a more utilitarian purpose during the Middle Ages. During this time, both men and women would wear detachable wooden platforms in order to protect their shoes from the weather and the grit of the streets. However, in contemporary times, heeled shoes are almost exclusively reserved for women’s footwear, primarily for aesthetic effect. Not only is the foot made to seem more petite and dainty, but the entire appearance of a woman’s body is altered.

In order to maintain her balance, a woman must tense her legs and buttocks, making them to appear more fit and firm. The back is forced in a sinuous arch, and the elongation of the legs makes a woman’s hips sway back and forth in a wider ellipsis. Whereas heels were once used for practical purposes, today they are employed purely for a pleasant aesthetic effect.

Taking this into consideration, we should evaluate why it is that women wear high heels. Is it to increase confidence in one’s sexual appeal? To attract attention from others? Or is it simply to conform to the dress expectations of society at large? The various possible motivations that might cause a woman to wear a high-heeled shoe create a great level of ambiguity as to why the shoe continues to persevere in fashion.

According to the author, modern high heels have the effect of

I. causing a woman to appear more aesthetically appealing

II. empowering a woman

III. changing the way a woman engages her muscles 

Possible Answers:

I only 

III only

I and II

I and III

I, II, and III

Correct answer:

I and III

Explanation:

Although the author states that high heels cause a woman to appear more aestethically pleasing, the author does not claim that wearing high heels empowers a woman. However, high heels do change the way a woman engages her muscles. 

The correct answer reflects that I and III are statements that the author would believe, omitting II. 

Example Question #2 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

When we eat food, our perceptions of the flavors are highly subjective, and are influenced by far more than simply our senses of taste and smell. Our visual, tactile, and even auditory senses all play a role in signaling to our brains how we enjoy food. The more brightly colored that produce is, the more that we associate it with the quality of being fresh. As a result, some chefs prepare food in order to maximize the color of the produce, manipulating other ingredients in order to obtain the desired flavors of the dish. With respect to how our auditory senses affect our experience of food, studies have shown that diners experiencing their food to the backdrop of soothing music enjoyed their food more than diners who did not.

Unlike everyday diners, food critics are trained to consider their experiences of food by evaluating them through the lens of each of their various senses, and consider how their various perceptions give rise to the aggregate dining experience. They are aware of the visual, tactile and even auditory elements, yet able to experience the smell and taste of food independently of those senses. While some people may make the mistake of underestimating the acumen involved in assessing the quality of food, it is truly an art form that few are capable of performing. However, with the rapid expansion of online news sources, it is becoming increasingly easy for any person to create a blog or column and offer his or her two cents on rising restaurants or new cuisine. While some might see this development as more egalitarian, others see it as tainting what was before a highly selective field of food critics and writers.

The author’s use of the word “egalitarian” in the last sentence of the passage most closely means __________ in this particular context.

Possible Answers:

fraudulent

conducive to equality

polarizing

justifiable

governmental

Correct answer:

conducive to equality

Explanation:

The word "egalitarian" is used here to suggest that online avenues of expression have increased the ability that everyone has to express his or her views. Therefore, "egalitarian" most closely means "conducive to equality" in this particular context, as it is describing the emergence of an oppportunity for people to express their opinions that is more equal than those that have been available to people in the past.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Reflections on the Revolution in France, by Edmund Burke (1790) (Project Gutenberg Edition)

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she just began to move in—glittering like the morning-star, full of life and splendor and joy. Oh! what a revolution! and what an heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom! little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom! The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness!

From this passage, we can infer what about the Queen of France?

Possible Answers:

That she suffered some violence

That she was an economist

That she was French

That she died of natural causes

That she was of royal blood

Correct answer:

That she suffered some violence

Explanation:

Burke speaks of "disasters falling upon her" and of men ready to fight over "even a look that threatened her with insult." From those two sentences we can reasonably infer that the queen suffered something malicious due to the deliberate actions of another party. 

It is presented as fact that the queen is both royal and French—facts are different from inferences. 

Example Question #3 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Based on the passage, which of the following can be inferred about Schelling’s thought?

Possible Answers:

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

It was based directly on the thought of Goethe and Hegel.

None of the other answers

Its idealistic vigor was an excellent example of reaction against modernity.

Its similarities to scientific evolutionary theories are striking.

Correct answer:

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

Explanation:

Without getting into the details of Schelling, we do know that "Schelling . . . held the same idea" as Goethe in the latter's Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der ThiereThis does not mean that it is directly indebted to it. It merely catalogues his thought as yet another example of a Romantic philosopher whose thought is not the same in character as that of Darwin.

Example Question #6 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What would you expect Emerson to write after the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

A set of reflections on the many figures of humanistic and intellectual history.

Amusing remarks about the history of science.

A great exhortation to be scientific in mindset and outlook.

A scathing critique of modern militarism.

A cold discussion of the history of military exploits and the woes arising from them.

Correct answer:

A set of reflections on the many figures of humanistic and intellectual history.

Explanation:

This paragraph opens up with the clear structure of presenting a set of contrasts. "Against the heroism of soldiers" the author sets ("presents") "the heroism of scholars." He then lists such a set of contrasts. In the actual essay, he then goes on to discuss some figures at length, using them as images of the kind of intellectual culture he wishes to praise in this passage.

Example Question #4 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What is implied about the interests of the culture in general during Emerson’s day?

Possible Answers:

It is looking to close down all academies and universities.

It risks focusing on militarism and other such things at the expense of intellectual life and endeavors.

It has completely fallen into the barbarism of war.

It has been overcome by demagogues who would lead all peoples into horrible conflicts.

It is full of ignorance and idiocy, having no intellectual culture whatsoever.

Correct answer:

It risks focusing on militarism and other such things at the expense of intellectual life and endeavors.

Explanation:

The key sentence for this question is, "The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity." The idea expressed here is that the use of the canon—an image for military exploits in general—has a positive resonance with many (a "poetic echo"). Indeed, Emerson implicitly acknowledges that these instruments are being used for purposes that he gives positive connotations to in mentioning: the purposes of expanding freedom and the "primal sentiments of humanity." However, throughout this essay, he wishes to emphasize the secondary status of such things. The implication is that the culture is likely to be overcome by the "poetic echo" of the canon, giving it more than its due importance.

Example Question #141 : Humanities

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

Given the information presented in the passage, which of the following statements cannot be true?

Possible Answers:

In the era of the hobo lifestyle, hoboes and train crews got along quite well on long trips.

Train crews would often find hoboes traveling surreptitiously on trains.

Hoboes lived the kind of lifestyle that made them frequently break the law.

Train crews often had problems with hoboes that were rarely solved in an amicable manner.

Hoboes would frequently ride on trains without the permission of the train crews.

Correct answer:

In the era of the hobo lifestyle, hoboes and train crews got along quite well on long trips.

Explanation:

The author describes, in rather precise detail, how a train crew would get rid of hoboes that were illegally and secretly riding underneath a train. What this indicates is that there was a great deal of tension between train crews and hoboes surreptitiously finding ways to evade the crew. This means that the only answer choice which cannot be true is that train crews and hoboes got along well.

Example Question #5 : Making Inferences In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

What can be inferred about the position of the average newspaper reporter regarding hobos?

Possible Answers:

They see hoboes as a quintessential part of American society.

They generally look down on the hobo lifestyle.

They believe hoboes should be protected by new governmental regulations.

They view the hobo lifestyle as a romantic endeavor.

They believe train crews should be prosecuted when they harm hoboes.

Correct answer:

They generally look down on the hobo lifestyle.

Explanation:

Newspapers only get one mention in the passage, at the very end, when the author describes how the reporters simply say that the hobo killed by the train crew was a drunk tramp who fell asleep on the tracks. This indicates that the newspapers look down on the hobo lifestyle and do not feel that the train crew was doing anything particularly wrong.

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