LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Law Passages

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Example Question #1 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from The Common Law, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1881)

To present a general view of the Common Law, other tools are needed besides logic. It is something to show that the consistency of a system requires a particular result, but it is not all. The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depend very much upon its past.

In Massachusetts today, while, on the one hand, there are a great many rules which are quite sufficiently accounted for by their manifest good sense, on the other, there are some which can only be understood by reference to the infancy of procedure among the German tribes, or to the social condition of Rome under the Decemvirs.

I shall use the history of our law so far as it is necessary to explain a conception or to interpret a rule, but no further. In doing so there are two errors equally to be avoided both by writer and reader. One is that of supposing, because an idea seems very familiar and natural to us, that it has always been so. Many things which we take for granted have had to be laboriously fought out or thought out in past times. The other mistake is the opposite one of asking too much of history. We start with man full grown. It may be assumed that the earliest barbarian whose practices are to be considered, had a good many of the same feelings and passions as ourselves.

Which of the following best describes the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

The law can only be understood through its history, rather than through abstract theorizing; the practice of law is, at its heart, not an axiomatic discipline.

Philosophical theories are not adequate for understanding the nature of the common law, but soiciological theories are.

The rules and guidelines of statutory law are rooted in the practices of the distant past, and are unlikely to be applicible to present situations without clarification as to their initial purposes.

Historical research and abstract theory can be combined, albeit with some difficulty, to reach an understanding of the common law.

While history and theory are generally more reliable guides to understanding the law than pure logical reasoning, given that the common law is a product of societies situated in particular times and places, even these tools must observe certain bounds.

Correct answer:

While history and theory are generally more reliable guides to understanding the law than pure logical reasoning, given that the common law is a product of societies situated in particular times and places, even these tools must observe certain bounds.

Explanation:

The credited response is the only one that captures all of the significant aspects of the author's main idea: namely, that mere logic is inadequate for understanding the law; that the common law must be understood through its history and development as a social practice; that the fact that the common law was influenced by the histories of the societies who developed it has shaped the common law of the present day; that both legal theory and an understanding of this history must be used to understand the nature of the common law; and, finally, that there are limits to how far a strictly historical investigation can proceed.

Example Question #2 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

Which of these is the best title for this passage?

Possible Answers:

"How to Properly Identify and Understand the Whole Character of an Individual"

"On the Fallacy of Asking Close Friends to Reveal the Nature of the Accused"

"On the Importance of Understanding Both Sides of an Individual’s Character"

"On the Ignorance of Authorities as to the True Character of an Individual"

"On the Importance of Considering the Testimony of the Poorest Members of Society"

Correct answer:

"How to Properly Identify and Understand the Whole Character of an Individual"

Explanation:

When you are asked to determine the title of a passage, you are generally being asked if you understand the author’s purpose for writing the passage and the thesis that is presented in it. In this case, the purpose of the passage is to urge a complete consideration of the character of an individual by seeking out the evidence of those who are held in the lowest esteem by the individual, because it is to these people that the individual will show the most honest version of him- or herself. The answer choice that is closest to this is "How to Properly Identify and Understand the Whole Character of an Individual." Two other answer choices are close, but both are incomplete. Firstly, "On the Importance of Considering the Testimony of the Poorest Members of Society"—this is the “how” that is discussed in the correct answer. Secondly, "On the Importance of Understanding Both Sides of an Individual’s Character"—this is what the “how” is achieving in the correct answer.

Example Question #109 : Law

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

Which of these sentences best states the thesis of this passage?

Possible Answers:

“Why we do not question the latter ourselves I cannot say. . .”

“Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person, can say reliably only how often the man was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves.”

“It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a man which is at the moment important—his dishonesty only, his laziness, etc.”

“. . . people show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account.”

“. . . one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them.”

Correct answer:

“. . . people show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account.”

Explanation:

The primary thesis of this passage is that people show the worst of themselves to people they hold in very low esteem. This is the primary focus of the author’s argument, particularly in the long third and concluding paragraphs. Of these answer choices, only “. . . people show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account” is close to this. The statement that appears in the introduction, “It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc.” is incorrect because it only introduces the importance of understanding the whole of a person's character. This is part of the author’s argument, of course, but it mainly functions as a prelude into how to understand the whole of a person's character. The answer choice “. . . one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them" is part of the evidence the author presents to support the thesis.

Example Question #3 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

According to the author, an accused person would be most likely to portray him- or herself in a positive, dishonest light to __________.

Possible Answers:

his or her lawyer

his or her work colleagues

his or her close friends

his or her teacher

his or her butler

Correct answer:

his or her close friends

Explanation:

The main point of the author’s argument is that people are more likely to portray themselves honestly and demonstrate their deficiencies to those whom they deem of little importance or who are least likely to damage their personal well-being. The corollary to this, of course, is that people are most likely to portray themselves positively and dishonestly to people whose opinions they value the most. From this, we may infer that an accused man would present the best form of himself to those who are closest to him (in this case “his best friends.”) This is also directly stated at the beginning of the third paragraph when the author says, “We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare.”

Example Question #4 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

The main point of the first paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

None of these answers represents the main point of the first paragraph.

For the purpose of judging a person, it is necessary to consider the whole condition and personality of an individual, not merely those which seem relevant to the case.

When judging the character of an individual, it is of the greatest value to interview those who are seen by the accused as outside of his or her consideration because people often show the worst of themselves to those they hold in the lowest regard.

Every person who appears before a judge is distinct and different and cannot be treated as similar to any of the judge’s previous cases.

Someone who aspires to be a judge must be very careful about the flaws and foibles present in his or her own personality, for without due consideration, they will naturally influence his or her thinking and judgment.

Correct answer:

For the purpose of judging a person, it is necessary to consider the whole condition and personality of an individual, not merely those which seem relevant to the case.

Explanation:

The main point of the first paragraph is to urge would-be judges and practitioners of law to consider the whole of an individual’s personality when passing judgment on him or her, not simply considering those characteristics that seem relevant to the case. This is most clearly evidenced in the first few lines, where the author states, “It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety.” Along the same lines, the author states in the concluding sentences of the first paragraph, “Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.” The answer choice that reads “When judging the character of an individual, it is of the greatest value to interview those who are seen by the accused as outside of his or her consideration because people often show the worst of themselves to those they hold in the lowest regard” is closer to the main point of the whole essay than the main point of its first paragraph.

Example Question #5 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

Socrates, in the Meno, sends for one of Meno's servants, to prove the possibility of absolutely certain a priori knowledge. The servant is to determine the length of a rectangle, the area of which is twice that of one measuring two feet. He is to have no previous knowledge of the matter and is to discover the answer for himself. The servant first gives out an incorrect answer, that the length of a rectangle having twice the area of the one mentioned is four feet, thinking that the length doubles with the area. Thereupon Socrates triumphantly points out to Meno that the servant does as a matter of fact not yet quite know the truth under consideration, but that he really thinks he knows it; and then Socrates, in his own Socratic way, leads the servant to the correct solution.

When we properly consider what we have to do with a witness who has to relate any fact, we may see in the Socratic method the simplest example of our task. We must never forget that the majority of mankind dealing with any subject whatever always believe that they know and repeat the truth, and even when they say doubtfully, “I believe— It seems to me,'' there is, in this diffidence, more meant than meets the ear. When people say “I believe that—‘' it merely means that they intend to ensure themselves against the event of being contradicted by better informed persons; but they certainly have not the doubt their expression indicates. When, however, the report of some bare fact is in question (“It rained,” “It was 9 o’clock,'' or “His beard was brown,”) it does not matter to the narrator, and if he or she imparts such facts with the introduction “I believe,'' then he or she was really uncertain. The matter becomes important only where the issue involves partly-concealed observations, conclusions, and judgments. In such cases another factor enters—conceit; what the witness asserts he or she is fairly certain of just because he or she asserts it, and all the “I believes,'' “Perhapses,'' and “It seemeds'' are merely insurance against all accidents.

Generally, statements are made without such reservations and with full assurance. This holds also and more intensely of court witnesses, particularly in crucial matters. Anybody experienced in his or her conduct comes to be absolutely convinced that witnesses do not know what they know. A series of assertions are made with utter certainty. Yet when these are successively subjected to closer examinations, tested for their ground and source, only a very small portion can be retained unaltered. Of course, one may here overshoot the mark. It often happens, even in the routine of daily life, that a person may be made to feel shaky in his most absolute convictions, by means of an energetic attack and searching questions. Conscientious and sanguine people are particularly easy subjects of such doubts. Somebody narrates an event; questioning begins as to the indubitability of the fact, as to the exclusion of possible deception; the narrator becomes uncertain, recalling that, because of a lively imagination, he or she has already believed him- or herself to have seen things otherwise than they actually were, and finally he or she admits that the matter might probably have been different. During trials this is still more frequent. The circumstance of being in court of itself excites most people; the consciousness that one's statement is, or may be, of great significance increases the excitement; and the authoritative character of the official subdues very many people to conform their opinions to his or hers. What wonder then, that however much a person may be convinced of the correctness of his or her evidence, he or she may yet fail in the face of the doubting judge to know anything certainly?

Now one of the most difficult tasks of the criminalist is to hit, in just such cases, upon the truth—neither to accept the testimony blindly and uncritically, nor to render the witness, who otherwise is telling the truth, vacillating and doubtful. But it is still more difficult to lead the witness, who is not intentionally falsifying, but has merely observed incorrectly or has made false conclusions, to a statement of the truth as Socrates leads the servant in the Meno. It is as modern as it is comfortable to assert that this is not the judge's business—that the witness is to depose, his or her evidence is to be accepted, and the judge is to judge. Yet it is supposed before everything else that the duty of the court is to establish the material truth—that the formal truth is insufficient. Moreover, if we notice false observations and let them by, then, under certain circumstance, we are minus one important piece of evidence pro and con, and the whole case may be turned topsy-turvy. We shall, then, proceed in the Socratic fashion. But, inasmuch as we are not concerned with mathematics, and are hence more badly placed in the matter of proof, we shall have to proceed more cautiously and with less certainty than when the question is merely one of the area of a square. On the one hand we know only in the rarest cases that we are not ourselves mistaken, so that we must not, without anything further, lead another to agree with us; on the other hand, we must beware of perverting the witness from his or her possibly sound opinions. Whoever is able to correct the witness's apparently false conceptions and to lead him or her to discover his or her error of his or her own accord and then to speak the truth— whoever can do this and yet does not go too far, deducing from the facts nothing that does not actually follow from them—that person is a master among us.

The author of this passage is most concerned with __________.

Possible Answers:

deciphering the truth

encouraging a preferential verdict

disproving the importance of witness testimony

engendering a belief in the immutability of witness testimony

debasing an opponent's witnesses

Correct answer:

deciphering the truth

Explanation:

As the author is seemingly advising would-be lawyers and judges on how to proceed with legal questioning, we might assume that he is trying to help them encourage a preferential verdict; however, if you read carefully, it becomes readily apparent that the author is more concerned with deciphering the truth as accurately as it can be deciphered. Evidence that suggests this is the author’s true intention can be found towards the end of the passage, such as when the author states, “on the other hand, we must beware of perverting the witness from his or her possibly sound opinions” and “Whoever is able to correct the witness's apparently false conceptions and to lead him or her to discover his or her error of his or her own accord and then to speak the truth— whoever can do this and yet does not go too far, deducing from the facts nothing that does not actually follow from them—that person is a master among us.” Notice how the author includes the phrase “does not go too far.”

Example Question #6 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from The Common Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1881)

If it were necessary to trench further upon the field of morals, it might be suggested that the dogma of equality applied even to individuals only within the limits of ordinary dealings in the common run of affairs. You cannot argue with your neighbor, except on the admission for the moment that he is as wise as you, although you may by no means believe it. In the same way, you cannot deal with him, where both are free to choose, except on the footing of equal treatment, and the same rules for both. The ever-growing value set upon peace and the social relations tends to give the law of social being the appearance of the law of all being. But it seems to me clear that the ultima ratio, not only regum, but of private persons, is force, and that at the bottom of all private relations, however tempered by sympathy and all the social feelings, is a justifiable self-preference. If a man is on a plank in the deep sea that will only float one, and a stranger lays hold of it, he will thrust him off if he can. When the state finds itself in a similar position, it does the same thing.

The considerations that answer the argument of equal rights also answer the objections to treating man as a thing, and the like. If a man lives in society, he is liable to find himself so treated. The degree of civilization which a people has reached, no doubt, is marked by their anxiety to do as they would be done by. It may be the destiny of humanity that the social instincts shall grow to control our actions absolutely, even in anti-social situations. But they have not yet done so, and as the rules of law are or should be based upon a morality that is generally accepted, no rule founded on a theory of absolute unselfishness can be laid down without a breach between law and working beliefs.

If it be true, as I shall presently try to show, that the general principles of criminal and civil liability are the same, it will follow from that alone that theory and fact agree in frequently punishing those who have been guilty of no moral wrong, and who could not be condemned by any standard that did not avowedly disregard the personal peculiarities of the individuals concerned. If punishment stood on the moral grounds that are proposed for it, the first thing to be considered would be those limitations in the capacity for choosing rightly that arise from abnormal instincts, want of education, lack of intelligence, and all the other defects which are most marked in the criminal classes. I do not say that they should not be, or at least I do not need to for my argument. I do not say that the criminal law does more good than harm. I only say that it is not enacted or administered on that theory.

Which one of the following best summarizes the author's main point?

Possible Answers:

Criminal law should be based around punishment for wrongdoing above everything else.

Criminal law is largely enacted on the basis of what keeps order rather than a sense of fairness or equality.

Criminal law and civil law are completely different concepts that should not be compared.

Criminals deserve any punishment the state gives out because they are immoral and dangerous.

Criminal law should never be considered a matter of fairness because natural law will suffice.

Correct answer:

Criminal law is largely enacted on the basis of what keeps order rather than a sense of fairness or equality.

Explanation:

The author makes an argument about the nature of criminal law, but largely in the service of dissuading the reader out of common notions of what criminal law should be. In particular, the author highlights that the state rarely concerns itself with fairness or equal rights when effecting criminal law. The author argues that criminal law is actually not even meant to do more good than harm.

Example Question #7 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from the Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice Morrison Waite in the United States Supreme Court Case Reynolds v. U.S. 98 U.S. 145 (1878)

The word "religion" is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed.

Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the colonies and states to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining [98 U.S. 145, 163] heretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the states, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State having under consideration “a bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion” postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the people be requested “to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of assembly.”

This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a "Memorial and Remonstrance," which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated "that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator," was not within the cognizance of civil government. [Semple's Virginia Baptists, Appendix.] At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, "for establishing religious freedom," drafted by Mr. Jefferson, was passed. [1 Jeff. Works, 45; 2 Howison, Hist. of Va. 298.] In the preamble of this act (12 Hening's Stat. 84) religious freedom is defined; and after a recital "that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty," it is declared "that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order." In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the state.

Which of the following statements best describes the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

A person's religious beliefs do not matter in regards to whether or not they are allowed to break the law.

Religion and the law are two entirely different categories that have no bearing on each other.

The definition of religion is best left to the people who must use religion as a First Amendment protection.

Religion should not be defined by legislators or jurors, because only scholars and clergy should be allowed to define religion.

The best way to define "religion" in the context of the First Amendment is through the thoughts of the people who wrote the Amendment.

Correct answer:

The best way to define "religion" in the context of the First Amendment is through the thoughts of the people who wrote the Amendment.

Explanation:

The author takes as his main task an effort to define religion for the purposes of the law. As such, he insists on going back to the very people who first made the law in question, which is the First Amendment. To do this, Waite analyzes the thoughts of various late-eighteenth century lawmakers in the arguments over the First Amendment.

Example Question #7 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action, and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action, that is prescribed by some superior, and that the inferior is bound to obey.

Thus when the supreme being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all moveable bodies must conform. And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest, when a workman forms a clock, or other piece of mechanism, he establishes at his own pleasure certain arbitrary laws for its direction; as that the hand shall describe a given space in a given time; to which law as long as the work conforms, so long it continues in perfection, and answers the end of its formation.

If we farther advance, from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws; more numerous indeed, but equally fixed and invariable. The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again—the method of animal nutrition, digestion, secretion, and all other branches of vital economy—are not left to chance, or the will of the creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great creator.

This then is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being; and in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for it's existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense, and in which it is our present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct: that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.

Which of the following most accurately states the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Laws are rules that describe how all things should act; however, the most important type of laws are those that govern human conduct and how people should act.

Laws are rules that are always obeyed by irrational beings.

Laws are recommendations from a superior that are generally followed.

Laws are rules issued by a higher power that guide how other things and people act.

Laws are rules for the creation of order and regulation of the affairs of human beings and the natural world.

Correct answer:

Laws are rules issued by a higher power that guide how other things and people act.

Explanation:

The credited response is the one that best encapsulates the main ideas of the passage—that laws are rules; that they are given from a superior to an inferior; and that they guide the actions of human beings and the natural world. The other responses either do not incorporate all three of these points (e.g. they leave out the stipulation that laws are given by a superior to an inferior), or they place an undue or incorrect emphasis on some point the author may or may not have made (e.g. the role of law in creating order).

Example Question #8 : Main Idea Of Law Passages

"The Supreme Court" by William Floyd (2015)

Supreme Court decisions frame the understanding of law in America in a way no other body of writing has come close to approaching. While the Constitution and Acts of Congress are the actual law of the land, only through the interpretation, approval, and arguments of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court do these laws have a full meaning and power throughout the nation. Despite this place of prominence, the actual knowledge of Supreme Court decisions by most Americans is shockingly limited. The full depth and meaning of what the Supreme Court says is often elided for a popular opinion that remarkably distorts the ultimate meaning of the rulings of the highest court in the land.

Take the famous 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Popularly, the case is known as the event which made abortion legal throughout the United States, becoming a flash point both for pro-abortion and anti-abortion activists in the four decades since the Court handed down the decision. In actuality, the court decided that there was an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which could not be violated by state or Federal laws that outlawed aborting a fetus, whether it targeted the woman seeking an abortion or the doctor performing the procedure. In essence, the court did not assert that abortion was legal, but rather that the state could not make abortion illegal. The practical difference might be quite small, but the legal difference is significant.

More importantly, the ruling was a 7-2 decision, which meant that along with the majority opinion which found a right to privacy, there were two dissents which emphatically did not find such a right. Justice Byron White famously wrote, “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the court’s judgement.” While lower courts, legislators, and law enforcement officials had to comply with the majority opinion, a future Supreme Court decision can look to what Justice White argued and find that there is in fact no right to privacy inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment. This is the part of Supreme Court decisions that most confuses the general public. The majority decision holds as law, but all the opinions are part of the larger record and fabric of the Supreme Court. This means that the law of the land, when filtered through the arguments of the Supreme Court, can and will change depending on who is sitting in the nine chairs of the dais in the Supreme Court building.

Which of the following statements best summarizes the author's main idea in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Americans generally do not understand the full importance or true arguments of Supreme Court decisions.

Supreme Court decisions have little effect on lower courts, legislators, and law enforcement officials.

The Supreme Court must do a better job making its decisions understood by the general population.

Supreme Court decisions should be viewed as arguments between the majority opinions and the dissenting opinions.

Supreme Court decisions are well beyond the comprehension of the average American.

Correct answer:

Americans generally do not understand the full importance or true arguments of Supreme Court decisions.

Explanation:

The author discusses the general understanding of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to highlight that the popular knowledge about the decision, that it legalized abortion, does not reflect the nuances of the argument behind the case. In particular, the author notes that the general view of the case is an oversimplification and misunderstanding, while also pointing out that the dissenting opinion is more important than is generally believed.

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