LSAT Reading : Parallel Reasoning in Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Parallel Reasoning In Humanities Passages

Adapted from ‘Gifts.’ in The Oxford Book of American Essays (1914) by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

If, at any time, it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give until the opportunity is gone. Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world. These gay natures contrast with the somewhat stern countenance of ordinary nature; they are like music heard out of a workhouse. Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws. Yet these delicate flowers look like the frolic and interference of love and beauty. Men used to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted. Something like that pleasure the flowers give us: what am I to whom these sweet hints are addressed? Fruits are acceptable gifts because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them. If a man should send to me to come a hundred miles to visit him, and should set before me a basket of fine summer fruit, I should think there was some proportion between the labor and the reward.

For common gifts, necessity makes pertinences and beauty every day, and one is glad when an imperative leaves him no option, since if the man at the door have no shoes, you have not to consider whether you could procure him a paint-box. And as it is always pleasing to see a man eat bread, or drink water, in the house or out of doors, so it is always a great satisfaction to supply these first wants. Necessity does everything well. In our condition of universal dependence, it seems heroic to let the petitioner be the judge of his necessity, and to give all that is asked, though at great inconvenience. If it be a fantastic desire, it is better to leave to others the office of punishing him. I can think of many parts I should prefer playing to that of the Furies. Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift which one of my friends prescribed is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought. But our tokens of compliment and love are for the most part barbarous. Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. This is right and pleasing, for it restores society in so far to the primary basis, when a man’s biography is conveyed in his gift, and every man’s wealth is an index of his merit. But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith’s. This is fit for kings, and rich men who represent kings, and a false state of property, to make presents of gold and silver stuffs, as a kind of symbolical sin-offering, or payment of blackmail.

He is a good man who can receive a gift well. We are either glad or sorry at a gift, and both emotions are unbecoming. Some violence, I think, is done, some degradation borne, when I rejoice or grieve at a gift. I am sorry when my independence is invaded, or when a gift comes from such as do not know my spirit, and so the act is not supported; and if the gift pleases me overmuch, then I should be ashamed that the donor should read my heart, and see that I love his commodity, and not him. The gift, to be true, must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him. When the waters are at level, then my goods pass to him, and his to me. All his are mine, all mine his. I say to him, How can you give me this pot of oil, or this flagon of wine, when all your oil and wine is mine, which belief of mine this gift seems to deny? Hence the fitness of beautiful, not useful things for gifts. This giving is flat usurpation, and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as all beneficiaries hate all Timons, not at all considering the value of the gift, but looking back to the greater store it was taken from, I rather sympathize with the beneficiary than with the anger of my lord Timon. For, the expectation of gratitude is mean, and is continually punished by the total insensibility of the obliged person. It is a very onerous business, this of being served, and the debtor naturally wishes to give you a slap. A golden text for these gentlemen is that which I so admire in the Buddhist, who never thanks, and who says, "Do not flatter your benefactors."

The author’s characterization of Nature in the first paragraph could be most closely compared to __________.

Possible Answers:

a harsh schoolmaster

an ungrateful beneficiary

an impartial administrator

a fulsome toady

a loving mother

Correct answer:

an impartial administrator

Explanation:

The author describes nature in the following terms: “Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws.” Although the author states that “we are children,” nature is not portrayed as a loving mother. Instead, nature is portrayed as a body of universal laws that does not care much for us: “she is not fond;” “everything is dealt without fear or favor.” The author is highlighting the impartial administrative functions of nature. It might be reasonable to determine that the correct answer is a “harsh schoolmaster,” as the author uses the word “severe” and suggests that nature is in some ways controlling, but it is clear that the author more closely wishes to reflect the impartiality of nature, rather than the harshness.

Example Question #2 : Parallel Reasoning In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from James Seth's A Study of Ethical Principles (1898)

Is the true method of ethics the method of science or that of philosophy? Our answer to this question must determine our general view of the ethical problem, and cannot fail to affect the solution which we reach. The characteristic tendency of our time to reduce all thought to the scientific form, and to draw the line sharply between natural or positive science, on the one hand, and metaphysics or philosophical speculation, on the other, has made itself felt in ethics, which is now defined as 'moral science' rather than as 'moral philosophy,' its older designation.

Yet, while we must recognise, in the view that the true method of ethics is scientific rather than philosophic, a return to the older and sounder tradition of ethical thought, it is necessary, in order to determine more precisely the place of ethics among the sciences, to distinguish carefully between two types or groups of sciences, both alike distinguishable from metaphysics or philosophy. The common task of all science is the rationalisation of our judgments, through their organisation into a system of thought: when thus systematised, our judgments are scientifically 'explained.'

But these judgments are of two kinds: judgments of fact and judgments of worth, or judgments of what is and judgments of what ought to be. There are, accordingly, two types of science: first, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the chaotic mass of our Is-judgments; secondly, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the no less chaotic mass of our Ought-judgments. The former type of science we may call natural or descriptive; the latter, normative or appreciative. The purpose of the natural or descriptive sciences is the discovery, by reason, of the actual or phenomenal order—the order that characterises 'matters of fact;' the purpose of the normative or appreciative sciences is the discovery, by the same reason, of the ideal order which always transcends and rebukes the actual order.

To the former class—that of the natural or descriptive sciences—belong all the sciences of nature and of man as a natural being. Ethics, on the other hand, is, like logic and aesthetics, a normative or appreciative science–a science of value. These three sciences deal with our critical judgments, as distinguished from our factual judgments; they endeavour to systematise these judgments by deducing them from a common standard of value, a final criterion of appreciation. Our several judgments, so far as they are consistent with one another, about the value of thoughts, of feelings, and of actions, are reducible to a common denominator of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. The discovery of this common denominator of intellectual, of aesthetic, and of moral judgment, and the construction of the system of principles which these judgments, when made coherent and self - consistent, constitute, is the task of the three normative sciences, — logic, aesthetics, and ethics.

So long as the distinction between a natural and a normative science is clearly realised, there is no reason why we should not recognise both a natural science and a normative science of ethics. What we may call the natural history of morality, the genetic study of the moral life (and the moral consciousness), is the presupposition of an intelligent interpretation of its significance, the indispensable preliminary to its reduction to ethical system. The business of such a preliminary investigation is simply to discover the causation of morality, the uniformities of sequence which characterise moral antecedents and consequents as they characterise all other phenomena. But such an investigation of the moral facts, though it is well entitled to the name of science, is only the handmaid of ethics as a normative science, as the effort to determine the meaning or content of the facts.

Which of the following examples is most closely analogous to the distinction drawn by the author?

Possible Answers:

The distinction between the practice of natural science and philosophy of science

The distinction between the jurisprudence and philosophy of law

The distinction between writing fiction and the study of literature

The distinction between the practice of natural science and the study of its history, development, and origins

The distinction between writing plays and performing them

Correct answer:

The distinction between the jurisprudence and philosophy of law

Explanation:

The primary distinction drawn in the passage is between natural ethical science, which describes what is, and normative ethical science, which describes what ought to be. Thus, the best parallel is the one between jurisprudence (the study of what laws are) and philosophy of law (what laws ought to do). Other answers, which rely on other relationships (e.g., between practice and theory, practice and history, or thing studied and the discipline that studies it) do not have this same parallel relationship.

Example Question #3 : Parallel Reasoning In Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from James Seth's A Study of Ethical Principles (1898)

Is the true method of ethics the method of science or that of philosophy? Our answer to this question must determine our general view of the ethical problem, and cannot fail to affect the solution which we reach. The characteristic tendency of our time to reduce all thought to the scientific form, and to draw the line sharply between natural or positive science, on the one hand, and metaphysics or philosophical speculation, on the other, has made itself felt in ethics, which is now defined as 'moral science' rather than as 'moral philosophy,' its older designation.

Yet, while we must recognise, in the view that the true method of ethics is scientific rather than philosophic, a return to the older and sounder tradition of ethical thought, it is necessary, in order to determine more precisely the place of ethics among the sciences, to distinguish carefully between two types or groups of sciences, both alike distinguishable from metaphysics or philosophy. The common task of all science is the rationalisation of our judgments, through their organisation into a system of thought: when thus systematised, our judgments are scientifically 'explained.'

But these judgments are of two kinds: judgments of fact and judgments of worth, or judgments of what is and judgments of what ought to be. There are, accordingly, two types of science: first, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the chaotic mass of our Is-judgments; secondly, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the no less chaotic mass of our Ought-judgments. The former type of science we may call natural or descriptive; the latter, normative or appreciative. The purpose of the natural or descriptive sciences is the discovery, by reason, of the actual or phenomenal order—the order that characterises 'matters of fact;' the purpose of the normative or appreciative sciences is the discovery, by the same reason, of the ideal order which always transcends and rebukes the actual order.

To the former class—that of the natural or descriptive sciences—belong all the sciences of nature and of man as a natural being. Ethics, on the other hand, is, like logic and aesthetics, a normative or appreciative science–a science of value. These three sciences deal with our critical judgments, as distinguished from our factual judgments; they endeavour to systematise these judgments by deducing them from a common standard of value, a final criterion of appreciation. Our several judgments, so far as they are consistent with one another, about the value of thoughts, of feelings, and of actions, are reducible to a common denominator of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. The discovery of this common denominator of intellectual, of aesthetic, and of moral judgment, and the construction of the system of principles which these judgments, when made coherent and self - consistent, constitute, is the task of the three normative sciences, — logic, aesthetics, and ethics.

So long as the distinction between a natural and a normative science is clearly realised, there is no reason why we should not recognise both a natural science and a normative science of ethics. What we may call the natural history of morality, the genetic study of the moral life (and the moral consciousness), is the presupposition of an intelligent interpretation of its significance, the indispensable preliminary to its reduction to ethical system. The business of such a preliminary investigation is simply to discover the causation of morality, the uniformities of sequence which characterise moral antecedents and consequents as they characterise all other phenomena. But such an investigation of the moral facts, though it is well entitled to the name of science, is only the handmaid of ethics as a normative science, as the effort to determine the meaning or content of the facts.

Given the position taken by the author in the passage, ____________ are most like logic, aesthetics, and ethics when considered together because ______________.

Possible Answers:

optics, mechanics, and acoustics . . . all three are subaltern branches of one discipline, physics

poststructuralism, deconstruction, and formalism . . . all three are schools of thought for making aesthetic judgments within a certain field

optics, mechanics, and chemistry . . . all three proceed by making normative judgments

prose, poetry, and drama . . . all three are different forms for a work

portraiture, mural, and graffiti . . . all three have common materials and technique

Correct answer:

optics, mechanics, and chemistry . . . all three proceed by making normative judgments

Explanation:

"Ethics, on the other hand, is, like logic and aesthetics, a normative or appreciative science–a science of value. These three sciences deal with our critical judgments, as distinguished from our factual judgments; they endeavour to systematise these judgments by deducing them from a common standard of value, a final criterion of appreciation."

This passage indicates that what unites the three sciences is the way in which they make their judgments; it is not so much that all three have been classified into one field or have any particular element in common other than proceeding by making the same kinds of judgments. Thus, the credited response will be the one that contains three disciplines that also proceed by making the same kinds of judgments, as in the credited response.

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