HSPT Reading : Authorial Purpose in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for HSPT Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

There are two great mistakes in modern times regarding the possibility of knowing whether or not God exists. On the one hand, there are a number of people who believe that any natural knowledge of God is impossible. Among the ranks of such people are included not only scientists and atheists. There are likewise very religious people who believe that God is not at all known without religion. On the other hand there are those who believe that God’s existence is easily proven. Each of these positions is inadequate, though they do note truths that should not be overlooked.

Those who defend the possibility of knowing God’s existence without religion could be said to be members of a tradition of “natural theology.” This type of thought has taken many forms over the centuries; however, itscentral claim is that human knowledge can consider things like motion, change, beings, beauty, or other natural realities in order to know God as the source of motion, being, beauty, and so forth. This tradition has had many defenders, and it should not be quickly dismissed as a mere “left over” from another era.

Nevertheless, many of its proponents act as though its conclusions are very obvious and easily reached. This, however, is not actually the case, for such natural theology admittedly deals with profound, difficult questions. Inasmuch as the opponents of natural theology reject such simplistic arguments, they offer an honest critique; however, it is also very important to note that this other extreme position ultimately means that religion is completely irrational. While this might perhaps be acceptable for a dedicated atheist, it is unlikely that a religious person would want to say that he has “no rational reason” to believe in God.

These two positions ultimately are too extreme in their claims. The best approach to finding the truth of the matter is in considering the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. It is important to understand how religion is more than complete irrationality, for it has had an undeniably positive influence on much of culture and history. Indeed, it is also necessary to consider how there have been honest philosophers who believed in God without being religious in any explicit manner. On the other hand, it is necessary to admit that belief does not come naturally to many people as often seems to be implied by those who strongly defend the possibility of natural theology.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph of this selection?

Possible Answers:

To catalogue the methods of "natural theologians"

To give a general description of the notion of "natural theology" and those who support it

To provide a brief history of the notion of "natural theology"

To defend the relevance of natural theology in modern days

None of the others

Correct answer:

To give a general description of the notion of "natural theology" and those who support it

Explanation:

The author begins by defining the tradition of "natural theology" in a very basic way. The remainder of the paragraph does not claim to provide any sort of exhaustive details or definitons. It provides a general description and implies that the position has a long history.

Example Question #2 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

There are two great mistakes in modern times regarding the possibility of knowing whether or not God exists. On the one hand, there are a number of people who believe that any natural knowledge of God is impossible. Among the ranks of such people are included not only scientists and atheists. There are likewise very religious people who believe that God is not at all known without religion. On the other hand there are those who believe that God’s existence is easily proven. Each of these positions is inadequate, though they do note truths that should not be overlooked.

Those who defend the possibility of knowing God’s existence without religion could be said to be members of a tradition of “natural theology.” This type of thought has taken many forms over the centuries; however, itscentral claim is that human knowledge can consider things like motion, change, beings, beauty, or other natural realities in order to know God as the source of motion, being, beauty, and so forth. This tradition has had many defenders, and it should not be quickly dismissed as a mere “left over” from another era.

Nevertheless, many of its proponents act as though its conclusions are very obvious and easily reached. This, however, is not actually the case, for such natural theology admittedly deals with profound, difficult questions. Inasmuch as the opponents of natural theology reject such simplistic arguments, they offer an honest critique; however, it is also very important to note that this other extreme position ultimately means that religion is completely irrational. While this might perhaps be acceptable for a dedicated atheist, it is unlikely that a religious person would want to say that he has “no rational reason” to believe in God.

These two positions ultimately are too extreme in their claims. The best approach to finding the truth of the matter is in considering the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. It is important to understand how religion is more than complete irrationality, for it has had an undeniably positive influence on much of culture and history. Indeed, it is also necessary to consider how there have been honest philosophers who believed in God without being religious in any explicit manner. On the other hand, it is necessary to admit that belief does not come naturally to many people as often seems to be implied by those who strongly defend the possibility of natural theology.

What is the purpose of the third paragraph of this selection?

Possible Answers:

To critique the over-confidence of some supporters of "natural theology"

To show the simple-mindedness of the proponents of "natural theology"

To show the irrationality of atheists' positions

To critique the main tenets of "natural theology"

To show the strength of atheists' arguments against "natural theology"

Correct answer:

To critique the over-confidence of some supporters of "natural theology"

Explanation:

Although the reasoning of this paragraph is a little weak (because of its shift after the words "they offer an honest critique"), the first two sentences show that hte author wishes to acknowledge the profound questions raised by "natural theology." The paragraph opens by stating the confidence of the supporters / proponents of "natural theology." The second sentence shows that the author wishes to argue that their position is not as obvious as it might seem.

Example Question #1 : Authorial Purpose

"The Meaning of 'Liberal Arts Education'" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

Many people use the expression “liberal arts education” but do not know much at all about the original meaning of such an education. It is often thought that a “true liberal education” is one that gives the student knowledge that is not pursued for “utilitarian values”—that is, knowledge that is not merely “for the sake of getting a job.” Sometimes, the expression “liberal education” is used to describe an education that is not a mere repetition of old beliefs, but is open-minded and “liberal” in this way.

To understand the original meaning of the expression “liberal arts” it is necessary to consider each part of the expression as it was used in its ancient and medieval senses. The word “liberal” was used to describe these “arts” insofar as they were not the “servile arts,” that is, “arts” in the sense of “artisan work.” In this regard, “liberal arts” were not a matter of “getting a job.” The word “art” still had a meaning that was related to “artisanship.” However, these “arts” were “liberal” because they were the “arts of reasoning,” that is, “the arts of the mind.” They were meant to be tools that prepared someone for more in-depth studies. Thus, they were not envisioned as “knowledge for the sake of knowledge.” Instead, they were the initial tools that enabled the young student to reason properly.  This more ancient sense of the “liberal arts” is often missed or, at least, partially overlooked in contemporary discussions about them.

What is the purpose of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To condemn the modern use of the expression "liberal arts education"

To defend the existence of liberal arts colleges in the modern world

To discuss the history of medieval universities

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

To provide examples of servile arts

Correct answer:

To explain the meaning of "liberal arts" in its original sense 

Explanation:

The purpose of the second paragraph is relatively clearly expressed in the first sentence of the paragraph. The author begins by stating that it is necessary to consider both parts of the expression in its older use. The remainder of the paragraph provides some basic information about these uses of the words "arts" and "liberal" in order to explain the original meaning of the expression "liberal arts."

Example Question #3 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

"Commentaries" by Matthew Minerd (2013)

The idea of a commentary is not anywhere as simple as most people think. To the popular imagination, the commentator makes a few observations based on a text, not going far beyond its contents. This standard opinion completely misses the various types of commentaries that can be written. Indeed, even the notion of “literal commentary” is itself so variegated that it is incorrect to imagine that such “literal” work is merely a slavish repetition of an original text.

Some literal commentaries truly are “literal,” that is, based on the letters and words of the text. Such philological studies investigate the language structures and meanings of a text. The interpretation of the text proceeds based on these linguistic investigations. Often, this process will note the types of rhetoric being used, the dialects utilized, and any odd language structures that might imply something with regard to the text’s meaning. All of these methods remain very concerned with the “letter of the text” in a very direct manner.

Indeed, even the Medieval commentaries on Aristotle’s works could be considered “literal,” though they do differ from such linguistic approaches. Men like Thomas Aquinas would very carefully read Aristotle’s text, giving what was called a divisio textus for every section of the text in question. This “division of the text” sought to provide a succinct but correct outline of the text in question so that its literal meaning might be more easily noticed. Certainly, the commentary that followed this divisio textus did express some aspects of Aquinas’ own thought. However, he (like other literal commentators of this type) would attempt to remain as close to the literal meaning of the text as possible, always using the divisio textus as a guide for understanding the structure of the original author’s thought.

What is the overall purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To show all of the different types of commentaries that one might write

To contrast two different types of commenting on a text

To argue forcefully on behalf of a thesis

To call into question a modern hypothesis regarding commentaries

To present a general idea and provide several examples in confirmation 

Correct answer:

To present a general idea and provide several examples in confirmation 

Explanation:

The general purpose of this passage is expressed in the first paragraph. Clearly, the text intends to remark that commentaries are more complex of a reality than many realize. Then, it cites two examples taken from the class of commentaries known as "literal commentaries." It does not claim to provide a complete set of examples. Thus, it introduces the general idea regarding the complexity of the notion "commentary" and then follows this with several examples.

Example Question #4 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Writing of Essays" in Certain Personal Matters by H.G. Wells (1901)

The art of the essayist is so simple, so entirely free from canons of criticism, and withal so delightful, that one must needs wonder why all men are not essayists. Perhaps people do not know how easy it is. Or perhaps beginners are misled. Rightly taught it may be learnt in a brief ten minutes or so, what art there is in it. And all the rest is as easy as wandering among woodlands on a bright morning in the spring.

Then sit you down if you would join us, taking paper, pens, and ink; and mark this, your pen is a matter of vital moment. For every pen writes its own sort of essay, and pencils also after their kind. The ink perhaps may have its influence too, and the paper; but paramount is the pen. This, indeed, is the fundamental secret of essay-writing. Wed any man to his proper pen, and the delights of composition and the birth of an essay are assured. Only many of us wander through the earth and never meet with her—futile and lonely men.

And, of all pens, your quill for essays that are literature. There is a subtle informality, a delightful easiness, perhaps even a faint immorality essentially literary, about the quill. The quill is rich in suggestion and quotation. There are quills that would quote you Montaigne and Horace in the hands of a trades-union delegate. And those quirky, idle noises this pen makes are delightful, and would break your easy fluency with wit. All the classical essayists wrote with a quill, and Addison used the most expensive kind the Government purchased. And the beginning of the inferior essay was the dawn of the cheap steel pen.

Wells brings up Addison most likely because __________.

Possible Answers:

Addison knew how to choose the best pens

Addison's lesser essays are not written with an expensive pen

Addison is an essayist that Wells admires

Addison is someone the reader is not expected to be familiar with

Correct answer:

Addison is an essayist that Wells admires

Explanation:

While Wells' readers would likely know who Addison is, modern readers of Wells' essay may not. Given the context surrounding Wells' reference, it is likely that Addison is an essayist that Wells would consider a good example of the sort of writer that the reader can become with the right pen.

Example Question #91 : Language In Humanities Passages

Adapted from "The Eulogy of the Dog" by George Graham Vest (1870)

The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death.

The description of the duplicity of man in the first paragraph is meant to highlight __________.

Possible Answers:

the impudence of some dog owners

the brevity of a man’s reputation

the immorality of humans as opposed to animals

the difficulty of owning pets

the loyalty of dogs

Correct answer:

the loyalty of dogs

Explanation:

The author highlights the common foibles, vices, and selfish actions of man to create a contrast with the loyalty and inherent goodness of dogs. You can infer this most obviously from the author’s conclusion to the first paragraph, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” The immorality of humans as opposed to animals seems partly right, but the author is expressly talking about just dogs, so there is a better answer choice.

Example Question #53 : Ssat Upper Level Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "On the Death of Marie Antoinette" by Edmund Burke (1793)

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 had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.

Oh, what a revolution! And what a 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 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 sophistry, 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 unsought grace of life, the cheap defense 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.

The statement “I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult” most nearly reflects the author’s __________.

Possible Answers:

arrogance and apathy

confusion and praise

misery and disdain  

shock and disappointment

awe and surety

Correct answer:

shock and disappointment

Explanation:

The author’s statement highlights his shock and disappointment that his perceptions of the French ruling class was so far off the mark. The author states that he believed the French aristocracy and people would spring to defend Marie Antoinette when the opportunity arose, and it is clear from his language that the failure of the French people to do so caused him to feel shocked and saddened. The phrase “Little did I dream” highlights the author’s feelings of shock.

Example Question #5 : Authorial Purpose In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

Why does the author start the passage by listing disappearing species of the plains?

Possible Answers:

To describe the sparse economic resources that cowboys had available to them

To draw attention to the problem of endangered species

To highlight the bravery of the cowboys

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

To give the reader important context about the ecosystem of the American West

Correct answer:

To compare the cowboy to other disappearing figures of the American West

Explanation:

The author starts the paragraph by describing how the entire western landscape, including the variety of animals that live there, is changing. He then shifts to talking about cowboys with this transition: “The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era.” In this way, the author puts the cowboy into context by comparing him to other classic—and disappearing—figures of the American West.

Example Question #1 : Inferences And Predictions In Narrative Humanities Passages

Adapted from Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads by John A. Lomax (1910)

The big ranches of the West are now being cut up into small farms. The nester has come, and come to stay. Gone is the buffalo and the free grass of the open plain—even the stinging lizard, the horned frog, the centipede, the prairie dog, the rattlesnake, are fast disappearing. Save in some of the secluded valleys of southern New Mexico, the old-time round-up is no more; the trails to Kansas and to Montana have become grass-grown or lost in fields of waving grain; the maverick steer, the regal longhorn, has been supplanted by his unpoetic but more beefy and profitable Polled Angus, Durham, and Hereford cousins from across the seas. The changing and romantic West of the early days lives mainly in story and in song. The last figure to vanish is the cowboy, the animating spirit of the vanishing era. He sits his horse easily as he rides through a wide valley, enclosed by mountains, clad in the hazy purple of coming night,—with his face turned steadily down the long, long road, "the road that the sun goes down." Dauntless, reckless, without the unearthly purity of Sir Galahad though as gentle to a woman as King Arthur, he is truly a knight of the twentieth century. A vagrant puff of wind shakes a corner of the crimson handkerchief knotted loosely at his throat; the thud of his pony's feet mingling with the jingle of his spurs is borne back; and as the careless, gracious, lovable figure disappears over the divide, the breeze brings to the ears, faint and far yet cheery still, the refrain of a cowboy song.

As can be inferred from the passage, the author most values __________.

Possible Answers:

the ranching culture of the American West

a scholarly approach to legends

the profitability of farms and ranches

supporting local farms and ranches

preserving the natural ecosystem

Correct answer:

the ranching culture of the American West

Explanation:

By describing the cowboy as a homegrown hero, the author presents him as a cultural figure instead of a historical or political one. He says that the legends are carried through stories and songs, both cultural art forms. It is therefore reasonable to say that he most values the ranching culture of the American West, as opposed to, say, the economic value of ranching or the ecosystem of the prairies.

Example Question #1 : Determining Authorial Tone In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters, then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash, 'till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said "Bother!" and "O blow!" and also "Hang spring cleaning!" and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat. Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the gaveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, "Up we go! Up we go!" 'till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

"This is fine!" he said to himself. "This is better than whitewashing!" The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long, the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow 'till he reached the hedge on the further side.

"Hold up!" said an elderly rabbit at the gap. "Sixpence for the privilege of passing by the private road!" He was bowled over in an instant by the impatient and contemptuous Mole, who trotted along the side of the hedge chaffing the other rabbits as they peeped hurriedly from their holes to see what the row was about. "Onion-sauce! Onion-sauce!" he remarked jeeringly, and was gone before they could think of a thoroughly satisfactory reply. Then they all started grumbling at each other. "How STUPID you are! Why didn't you tell him—" "Well, why didn't YOU say—" "You might have reminded him—" and so on, in the usual way; but, of course, it was then much too late, as is always the case.

Why does the mole say "Bother," "O blow," and "Hang spring cleaning" in the passage's first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

He keeps dropping things while trying to clean his house.

He is sick of spring cleaning and going to stop soon.

He is discussing spring cleaning with the elderly rabbit and is shocked that the elderly rabbit does not enjoy spring cleaning as much as he does.

His is enthusiastic about spring cleaning.

These are the lyrics of a song he is singing to himself about spring cleaning.

Correct answer:

He is sick of spring cleaning and going to stop soon.

Explanation:

Let's look at the rest of the passage to put the mole's remarks in context. In the first paragraph, we are told that he's doing a lot of spring cleaning: "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms." After he says the statements in question, he burrows out of his home, and arrives in "a great meadow." At this point (at the beginning of the passage's second paragraph), he says "'This is fine!" and "This is better than whitewashing!" So, looking at the statements "Bother," "Oh blow," and "Hang spring cleaning," we can infer that the mole says these things because he is sick of spring cleaning and is going to stop soon, as this is just what happens in the rest of the passage.

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