LSAT Reading : Inferences About Passage Content in Social Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature by William James (1902)

Most books on the philosophy of religion try to begin with a precise definition of what its essence consists of. Some of these would-be definitions may possibly come before us in later portions of this course, and I shall not be pedantic enough to enumerate any of them to you now. Meanwhile the very fact that they are so many and so different from one another is enough to prove that the word "religion" cannot stand for any single principle or essence, but is rather a collective name. The theorizing mind tends always to the oversimplification of its materials. This is the root of all that absolutism and one-sided dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been infested.

Let us not fall immediately into a one-sided view of our subject, but let us rather admit freely at the outset that we may very likely find no one essence, but many characters which may alternately be equally important to religion. If we should inquire for the essence of "government," for example, one man might tell us it was authority, another submission, another police, another an army, another an assembly, another a system of laws; yet all the while it would be true that no concrete government can exist without all these things, one of which is more important at one moment and others at another. The man who knows governments most completely is he who troubles himself least about a definition that shall give their essence. Enjoying an intimate acquaintance with all their particularities in turn, he would naturally regard an abstract conception in which these were unified as a thing more misleading than enlightening. And why may not religion be a conception equally complex?

The author's description of "religion" as "rather a collective name" indicates that __________.

Possible Answers:

the author believes that religion cannot be defined by one single term or sentence

religion is only a valid concept if it has a cooperative element

that each religion must be defined individually and not as a group

developing a clear definition is the first step in studying any subject

defining anything as varied as religion is a useless exercise that no serious person should undertake

Correct answer:

the author believes that religion cannot be defined by one single term or sentence

Explanation:

The use of the phrase "rather a collective name" is an indication by the author that he is not satisfied with any definition given for religion. In particular, he uses such an ambiguous phrase to show that any singular definition of "religion" is bound to not work appropriately, and that religion must be defined by more than a simple sentence or single word.

Example Question #2 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Adapted from “The Hypocrisy of Puritanism” in Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman (1910)

Puritanism celebrated its reign of terror in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, destroying and crushing every manifestation of art and culture. It was the spirit of Puritanism which robbed Shelley of his children, because he would not bow to the dicta of religion. It was the same narrow spirit which alienated Byron from his native land, because that great genius rebelled against the monotony, dullness, and pettiness of his country. It was Puritanism, too, that forced some of England's freest women into the conventional lie of marriage: Mary Wollstonecraft and, later, George Eliot. And recently Puritanism has demanded another toll—the life of Oscar Wilde. In fact, Puritanism has never ceased to be the most pernicious factor in the domain of John Bull, acting as censor of the artistic expression of his people, and stamping its approval only on the dullness of middle-class respectability.

It is therefore sheer British jingoism that points to America as the country of Puritanic provincialism. It is quite true that our life is stunted by Puritanism, and that the latter is killing what is natural and healthy in our impulses. But it is equally true that it is to England that we are indebted for transplanting this spirit on American soil. It was bequeathed to us by the Pilgrim fathers. Fleeing from persecution and oppression, the Pilgrims of Mayflower fame established in the New World a reign of Puritanic tyranny and crime. The history of New England, and especially of Massachusetts, is full of the horrors that have turned life into gloom, joy into despair, naturalness into disease, honesty and truth into hideous lies and hypocrisies. The ducking-stool and whipping post, as well as numerous other devices of torture, were the favorite English methods for American purification.

Boston, the city of culture, has gone down in the annals of Puritanism as the "Bloody Town." It rivaled Salem, even, in her cruel persecution of unauthorized religious opinions. On the now famous Common a half-naked woman, with a baby in her arms, was publicly whipped for the crime of free speech; and on the same spot Mary Dyer, another Quaker woman, was hanged in 1659. In fact, Boston has been the scene of more than one wanton crime committed by Puritanism. Salem, in the summer of 1692, killed eighteen people for witchcraft. Nor was Massachusetts alone in driving out the devil by fire and brimstone. As Canning justly said: "The Pilgrim fathers infested the New World to redress the balance of the Old." The horrors of that period have found their most supreme expression in the American classic, The Scarlet Letter.

It can be inferred from the passage that Shelley, Byron, and Oscar Wilde all __________.

Possible Answers:

asserted authority over religious organizations

carried on the Puritanical streak of their culture

were opposed by Puritanical culture

criticized the political leaders of their time

traveled extensively around the world

Correct answer:

were opposed by Puritanical culture

Explanation:

The author only mentions Byron, Shelley, and Oscar Wilde in a list of individuals who were in some way troubled by Puritanism. Very little else is said about the accomplishments of any of the three, whether for positive or negative. The only thing that can be inferred is that all of them somehow were opposed by Puritanical religious beliefs and culture.

Example Question #1 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Adapted from The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Émile Durkheim (trans. Joseph Ward Swain) (1915)

For a long time it has been known that the first systems of representations with which men have pictured to themselves the world and themselves were of religious origin. There is no religion that is not a cosmology at the same time that it is a speculation — upon divine things. If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy. But it has been less frequently- noticed that religion has not confined itself to enriching the human intellect, formed beforehand, with a certain number of ideas; it has contributed to forming the intellect itself. Men owe to it not only a good part of the substance of their knowledge, but also the form in which this knowledge has been elaborated.

At the roots of all our judgments there are a certain number of essential ideas which dominate all our intellectual life; they are what philosophers since Aristotle have called the categories of the understanding: ideas of time, space, class, number, cause, substance, personality, etc. They correspond to the most universal properties of things. They are like the solid frame which encloses all thought; this does not seem to be able to liberate itself from them without destroying itself, for it seems that we cannot think of objects that are not in time and space, which have no number, etc. Other ideas are contingent and unsteady; we can conceive of their being unknown to a man, a society or an epoch ; but these others appear to be nearly inseparable from the normal working of the intellect. They are like the frame-work of the intelligence. Now when primitive religious belief s are systematically analysed, the principal categories are naturally found. They are born in religion and of religion; they are a product of religious thought.

It can be inferred from the passage that Aristotle __________.

Possible Answers:

was a highly influential philosopher

dismissed primitive religious thinking in favor of scientific thought

had opinions seen as belonging to a primitive religion

had many interesting ideas regarding religion

did not care for religion as a matter to study

Correct answer:

was a highly influential philosopher

Explanation:

The author mentions Aristotle once, but does note that philosophers who worked in periods after Aristotle's lifetime have used Aristotle's own categories. As this is the only mention of Aristotle in the passage, the only thing that can be inferred from the passage is that Aristotle was highly influential among other philosophers.

Example Question #4 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Passage adapted from Leon Gambetta's Educating the Peasantry (1869)

(1) We have received a classical or scientific education— even the imperfect one of our day. (3) We have learned to read our history, to speak our language, while (a cruel thing to say) so many of our countrymen can only babble! Ah! (4) That peasant, bound as he is to the tillage of the soil, who bravely carries the burden of his day, with no other consolation than that of leaving to his children the paternal fields, perhaps increased an acre in extent; all his passions, joys, and fears concentrated in the fate of his patrimony. (5) Of the external world, of the society in which he lives, he apprehends only legends and rumors. (6) He is the prey of the cunning and fraudulent. (7) He strikes, without knowing it, the bosom of the revolution, his benefactress… (8) It is to the peasantry, then, that we must address ourselves. (9) We must raise and instruct them… Enlightened and free peasants who are able to represent themselves… should be a tribute rendered to the progress of the civilization of the masses.

(10) …Progress will be denied us as long as the French democracy fail to demonstrate that if we would remake our country, if we would bring back her grandeur, her power, and her genius it is of vital interest to her superior classes to elevate and emancipate this people of workers, who hold in reserve a force still virgin but able to develop inexhaustible treasures of activity and aptitude. (11) We must learn and then teach the peasant what he owes to Society and what he has the right to ask of her.

(12) On the day when it shall be well understood that we have no grander or more pressing work; that we should put aside and postpone all other reforms: that we have but one task— the Instruction of the people, the diffusion of education, the encouragement of science— on that day a great step will have been taken in your regeneration. (13) But our action needs to be a double one, that it may bear upon the body as well as the wind. (14) To be exact, each man should be intelligent, trained not only to think, read, and reason, but made able to act and fight. (15) Everywhere beside the teacher we should place the gymnast and the soldier, to the end that our children, our soldiers, our fellow citizens, may be able to hold a sword, to carry a gun on a long march, to sleep under the canopy of the stars, to support valiantly all the hardships demanded of a patriot. (16) We must push to the front education. (17) Otherwise we only make a success of letters, but do not create a bulwark of patriots...

What can you infer the author believes about the relationship between peasants and his own social class? 

Possible Answers:

He is of the same class as the peasants and wants to offer his family a better future than farming

He believes it is the responsibility of his class to educate the peasants in order to further the revolution

He believes his class should educate peasants to make them fulfill their social responsibilities

His class wants to educate the peasants to make their lives more tolerable

Correct answer:

He believes it is the responsibility of his class to educate the peasants in order to further the revolution

Explanation:

The author believes that it is his social class' responsibility to educate the peasants in order to foster a successful revolution. He reiterates that "each man should be intelligent, trained not only to think, read, and reason, but made able to act and fight" and that the uneducated peasantry "is the prey of the cunning and fraudulent [and] strikes, without knowing it, the bosom of the revolution, his benefactress…" 

Although the author does make a brief reference to social responsibility in Sentence 11, that is not his cited reason for educating the peasantry. While he does talk about the poor living conditions of the peasantry, that is also not the reason he cites for fostering education. The author makes it clear that he is not a member of the peasantry when he notes, "The peasantry is intellectually several centuries behind the enlightened and educated classes in this country. The distance between them and us is immense." 

Example Question #5 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Passage adapted from Leon Gambetta's Educating the Peasantry (1869)

(1) We have received a classical or scientific education— even the imperfect one of our day. (3) We have learned to read our history, to speak our language, while (a cruel thing to say) so many of our countrymen can only babble! Ah! (4) That peasant, bound as he is to the tillage of the soil, who bravely carries the burden of his day, with no other consolation than that of leaving to his children the paternal fields, perhaps increased an acre in extent; all his passions, joys, and fears concentrated in the fate of his patrimony. (5) Of the external world, of the society in which he lives, he apprehends only legends and rumors. (6) He is the prey of the cunning and fraudulent. (7) He strikes, without knowing it, the bosom of the revolution, his benefactress… (8) It is to the peasantry, then, that we must address ourselves. (9) We must raise and instruct them… Enlightened and free peasants who are able to represent themselves… should be a tribute rendered to the progress of the civilization of the masses.

(10) …Progress will be denied us as long as the French democracy fail to demonstrate that if we would remake our country, if we would bring back her grandeur, her power, and her genius it is of vital interest to her superior classes to elevate and emancipate this people of workers, who hold in reserve a force still virgin but able to develop inexhaustible treasures of activity and aptitude. (11) We must learn and then teach the peasant what he owes to Society and what he has the right to ask of her.

(12) On the day when it shall be well understood that we have no grander or more pressing work; that we should put aside and postpone all other reforms: that we have but one task— the Instruction of the people, the diffusion of education, the encouragement of science— on that day a great step will have been taken in your regeneration. (13) But our action needs to be a double one, that it may bear upon the body as well as the wind. (14) To be exact, each man should be intelligent, trained not only to think, read, and reason, but made able to act and fight. (15) Everywhere beside the teacher we should place the gymnast and the soldier, to the end that our children, our soldiers, our fellow citizens, may be able to hold a sword, to carry a gun on a long march, to sleep under the canopy of the stars, to support valiantly all the hardships demanded of a patriot. (16) We must push to the front education. (17) Otherwise we only make a success of letters, but do not create a bulwark of patriots...

What does the author argue is a sign of a civilization's progress?

Possible Answers:

The ability to leave property to children

Enlightened and free peasants 

Revolution

A scientific education for the superior classes 

Correct answer:

Enlightened and free peasants 

Explanation:

The author specifically notes in Sentence 9 that "enlightened and free peasants who are able to represent themselves… should be a tribute rendered to the progress of the civilization of the masses." The author, while in favor of the revolution, does not refer to revolution as a sign of civilization's progress. He refers to the ability to leave property to children as one of the few consolations afforded to the peasantry in their present state, and the author does not view the education of only the "superior classes" as sufficient.

Example Question #6 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Passage adapted from “Why We Are Militant” by Emmeline Pankhurst (1913)

I know that in your minds there are questions like these; you are saying, "Woman Suffrage is sure to come; the emancipation of humanity is an evolutionary process, and how is it that some women, instead of trusting to that evolution, instead of educating the masses of people of their country, instead of educating their own sex to prepare them for citizenship, how is it that these militant women are using violence and upsetting the business arrangements of the country in their undue impatience to attain their end?"

…Well, I say that the time is long past when it became necessary for women to revolt in order to maintain their self respect in Great Britain. The women who are waging this war are women who would fight, if it were only for the idea of liberty— if it were only that they might be free citizens of a free country— I myself would fight for that idea alone. But we have, in addition to this love of freedom, intolerable grievances to redress.

We do not feel the weight of those grievances in our own persons. I think it is very true that people who are crushed by personal wrongs are not the right people to fight for reform. The people who can fight best who have happy lives themselves, the fortunate ones. At any rate, in our revolution it is the happy women, the fortunate women, the women who have drawn prizes in the lucky bag of life, in the shape of good fathers, good husbands and good brothers, they are the women who are fighting this battle. They are fighting it for the sake of others more helpless than themselves, and it is of the grievances of those helpless ones that I want to say a few words to-night to make you understand the meaning of our campaign…

Those grievances are so pressing that, so far from it being a duty to be patient and to wait for evolution, in thinking of those grievances the idea of patience is intolerable. We feel that patience is something akin to crime when our patience involves continued suffering on the part of the oppressed.

…All my life I have tried to understand why it is that men who value their citizenship as their dearest possession seem to think citizenship ridiculous when it is to be applied to the women of their race. And I find an explanation, and it is the only one I can think of. It came to me when I was in a prison cell, remembering how I had seen men laugh at the idea of women going to prison… to men women are not human beings like themselves. Some men think we are superhuman; they put us on pedestals; they revere us; they think we are too fine and too delicate to come down into the hurly-burly of life. Other men think us sub-human; they think we are a strange species unfortunately having to exist for the perpetuation of the race. They think that we are fit for drudgery, but that in some strange way our minds are not like theirs, our love for great things is not like theirs, and so we are a sort of sub-human species. 

Given the author's statments about protest, which social group is she mos likely to have belonged to?

Possible Answers:

There is not enough evidence to make this inference.

Trade Union Member

Upper, or at least Upper-Middle Class

Lower or Lower-Middle Class

Correct answer:

Upper, or at least Upper-Middle Class

Explanation:

The author states, quite conclusively, that she belives that those with "happy lives" (a.k.a material privilege and "good fathers, good husbands, and good brothers") are the people who can affect the most change through protest. She also states that she is militant in her protest, and that she has spent time in jail. It logically follows that the author is of a high socio-economic status. She does not mention trade unions at any point, and there is not evidence to suggest that she is a member of one.

Example Question #7 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Passage adapted from Giuseppe Mazzini's The Duties of Man (1860)

Education, we have said; and this is the great word which sums up our whole doctrine. The vital question agitating our century is a question of education. What we have to do is not to establish a new order of things by violence. An order of things so established is also tyrannical even when it I better than the old. We have to overthrow by force the brute force which opposes itself to-day to every attempt at improvement, and then propose for the approval of the nation, free to express it will what we believe to be the best order of things and by every possible means educate men to develop it and act in conformity with it.  With the theory of happiness, of well-being, as the primary aim of existence we shall only form egoistic men, worshippers of the material, who will carry the old passions into the new order of things and corrupt it in a few months. We have therefore to find a principle of education superior to any such theory, which shall guide men to better things, teach them constancy in self-sacrifice and link them with their fellow men without making them dependent on the ideas of a single man or on the strength of all. And this principle is Duty. We must convince men that they, sons of one only God, must obey one only law, here on earth; that each one of them must live not for himself, but for others; that the object of their life is not to be more or less happy, but to make themselves and others better; that to fight against injustice and error for the benefit of their brothers is not only a right, but a duty; a duty not to be neglected without sin, — the duty of their whole life.

Italian Working-men, my Brothers! Understand me fully. When I say that the knowledge of their rights is not enough to enable men to effect any appreciable or lasting improvement, I do not ask you to renounce these rights; I only say that they cannot exist except as a consequence of duties fulfilled, and that one must begin with the latter in order to arrive at the former. And when I say that by proposing happiness, well-being, or material interest as the aim of existence, we run the risk of producing egoists, I do not mean that you should never strive after these things. I say that material interests pursued alone, and not as a means, but as an end, lead always to this most disastrous result. When under the Emperors, the old Romans asked for nothing but bread and amusements, they became the most abject race conceivable, and after submitting to the stupid and ferocious tyranny of the Emperors they basely fell into slavery to the invading Barbarians…

Material improvement is essential, and we shall strive to win it for ourselves; but not because the one thing necessary for men is to be well fed and housed, but rather because you cannot have a sense of your own dignity or any moral development while you are engaged, as in the present day, in a continual duel with want. You work ten or twelve hours a day: how can you find time to educate yourselves?

Under which of the following conditions does the author accept the pursuit of material comforts?

Possible Answers:

As the aim of existence

As a means to a greater end 

As a temporary reprieve from tyranny 

As a consequence of duties fulfilled 

Correct answer:

As a means to a greater end 

Explanation:

The author notes that seeking material improvement is only acceptable as a means to a greater end, specifically "because you cannot have a sense of your own dignity or any moral development while you are engaged, as in the present day, in a continual duel with want." The author notes that pursing material interests as the aim of existence "[runs] the risk of producing egoists." The author's reference to duties fulfilled occurred in the second paragraph and did not address material improvement ("When I say that the knowledge of their rights is not enough to enable men to effect any appreciable or lasting improvement, I do not ask you to renounce these rights; I only say that they cannot exist except as a consequence of duties fulfilled"). The final incorrect option, as a temporary reprieve from tyranny, is not addressed in the passage.

Example Question #8 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” given in Savannah, Georgia, March  21, 1861.

Passage adapted from Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War (1886)

… we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood.

This new constitution. or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. In reference to it, I make this first general remark: it amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.

In the second paragraph, Stephens refers to "all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties." To which group of people is Stephens referring when he says "our?"

Possible Answers:

All men, regardless of color

White men that owned slaves

White, male citizens of the Confederacy

All white adults, men and women

Correct answer:

White, male citizens of the Confederacy

Explanation:

The answer to this question would have been the same for the Constitution of both the United States and the Confederate States. When the South seceded from the North in 1860, only white men had the legal right to vote. The US Constitution was vague about what constituted a citizen, so individual states had created various definitions: only white men that owned land; white men that could read; white men of certain religious persuasions. By 1850, however, virtually all white men could vote in the United States. The Confederacy adopted this rule along with much of the rest of its Constitution.

Example Question #9 : Inferences About Passage Content In Social Science Passages

"Team Sports" (2016)

Sports may seem to rule the world. The World Cup for association football, better known as soccer in North America and simply football in Britain, is the most watched event across the globe every four years. The Super Bowl, the championship for American football’s National Football League, has become a topic of conversation internationally, despite the localized reach of its parent league. The Indian Premier League tapped into a cricket mad population of over one billion, giving India a new national obsession in the twenty-first century.

Despite their ubiquity in our modern society, organized team sports are largely the invention of, to borrow from Sir Winston Churchill’s history writing, English speaking peoples during the nineteenth century. This is not to say that certain kinds of large scale games were never played, but they were seen primarily as children’s diversions. When played by adults, they took an informal, chaotic nature. “Football” often merely described a game played on foot rather than horseback, and it often had a simple target of one group of men attempting to get a ball past a parish or county boundary, with their opposition able to stop them anyway they saw fit. Cricket, the game of the upper classes that could play on days other than Sunday, was early developed compared to other sports, but it only had set numbers of players and regular length of games beginning in the mid-eighteenth century.

The nineteenth century saw a positive flood of rules for what were previously considered ways to keep kids amused during an afternoon. In New York, a men’s society calling themselves the Knickerbocker Club set down a firm set of rules for baseball, so that they could play it among themselves and against other teams. At England’s Cambridge University in 1848, a large group of students put together their different forms of football to create a more universal set of rules. The Melbourne Football Club from Victoria, Australia officially set down their own rules for their particular form of football in 1859, giving rise to the game now known as “Australian football.” The late nineteenth century saw the holdouts against the original Cambridge rules develop Rugby football on the principle that the ball should be handled occasionally, which would be modified into Rugby Union in the south of England, Rugby League in the north of England, and American and Canadian football in North America.

This obsession with rules might seem like a particularly Victorian pastime, making sure everything had its place and never allowing anything to get out of order. Yet it was also borne out of the fact that railroads meant that what used to be county pastimes could now be played at a national and even international level and newspapers allowed the stories of far away games to be transmitted almost instantaneously. The extra component that made organized team sports come into being would appear to be the will of the British and their former and current colonies to exert control and authority over every element of life.

Based on the information provided in the passage, it can be inferred that the rules of football set down at Cambridge University ___________________.

Possible Answers:

reflected the significant educational achievements by the people organizing the rules

were widely hailed as being a perfect summation of how football was played

did not reflect every form of football being played throughout England

were a crude interpretation of the way that the game of football was played in England

saw wide-scale compromise by individuals representing different forms of football

Correct answer:

did not reflect every form of football being played throughout England

Explanation:

The author mentions that rules were set down at Cambridge University in 1848, but then in the next sentence states that many people thought that the rules had flaws, leading to the development of other forms of the game. This shows that the Cambridge University rules were not fully represent all of the forms of football being played in England at the time.

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