MCAT Verbal : Understanding limitations of scope

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

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Example Question #376 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Federalist No.19” in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (1788)

Among the confederacies of antiquity, the most considerable was that of the Grecian republics, associated under the Amphictyonic council. From the best accounts transmitted of this celebrated institution, it bore a very instructive analogy to the present Confederation of the American States. The members retained the character of independent and sovereign states, and had equal votes in the federal council. This council had a general authority to propose and resolve whatever it judged necessary for the common welfare of Greece; to declare and carry on war; to decide, in the last resort, all controversies between the members; to fine the aggressing party; to employ the whole force of the confederacy against the disobedient; and to admit new members. The Amphictyons were the guardians of religion, and of the immense riches belonging to the temple of Delphos, where they had the right of jurisdiction in controversies between the inhabitants and those who came to consult the oracle. As a further provision for the efficacy of the federal powers, they took an oath mutually to defend and protect the united cities, to punish the violators of this oath, and to inflict vengeance on sacrilegious despoilers of the temple.

In theory, and upon paper, this apparatus of powers seems amply sufficient for all general purposes. In several material instances, they exceed the powers enumerated in the Articles of Confederation. The Amphictyons had in their hands the superstition of the times, one of the principal engines by which government was then maintained; they had a declared authority to use coercion against refractory cities, and were bound by oath to exert this authority on the necessary occasions.

Very different, nevertheless, was the experiment from the theory. The powers, like those of the present Congress, were administered by deputies appointed wholly by the cities in their political capacities, and exercised over them in the same capacities. Hence the weakness, the disorders, and finally the destruction of the confederacy. The more powerful members, instead of being kept in awe and subordination, tyrannized successively over all the rest. Athens, as we learn from Demosthenes, was the arbiter of Greece seventy-three years. The Lacedaemonians next governed it twenty-nine years; at a subsequent period, after the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had their turn of domination. It happened but too often, according to Plutarch, that the deputies of the strongest cities awed and corrupted those of the weaker; and that judgment went in favor of the most powerful party. Even in the midst of defensive and dangerous wars with Persia and Macedon, the members never acted in concert, and were, more or fewer of them, eternally the dupes or the hirelings of the common enemy. The intervals of foreign war were filled up by domestic vicissitudes, convulsions, and carnage.

After the conclusion of the war with Xerxes, it appears that the Lacedaemonians required that a number of the cities should be turned out of the confederacy for the unfaithful part they had acted. The Athenians, finding that the Lacedaemonians would lose fewer partisans by such a measure than themselves, and would become masters of the public deliberations, vigorously opposed and defeated the attempt. This piece of history proves at once the inefficiency of the union, the ambition and jealousy of its most powerful members, and the dependent and degraded condition of the rest. The smaller members, though entitled by the theory of their system to revolve in equal pride and majesty around the common center, had become, in fact, satellites of the orbs of primary magnitude.

Had the Greeks, says the Abbe Milot, been as wise as they were courageous, they would have been admonished by experience of the necessity of a closer union, and would have availed themselves of the peace which followed their success against the Persian arms to establish such a reformation. Instead of this obvious policy, Athens and Sparta, inflated with the victories and the glory they had acquired, became first rivals and then enemies, and did each other infinitely more mischief than they had suffered from Xerxes. Their mutual jealousies, fears, hatreds, and injuries ended in the celebrated Peloponnesian war, which itself ended in the ruin and slavery of the Athenians who had begun it.

Why could this essay be criticized for having a limited scope?

Possible Answers:

It focuses heavily on the experiences of Athens, Thebes, and Lacedaemonia.

It only focuses on the history immediately after the Peloponnesian War.

It only applies its conclusions to the American confederacy.

It only revolves around Petrarch’s historical writings.

It only makes reference to experience of the Greek confederacy.

Correct answer:

It only makes reference to experience of the Greek confederacy.

Explanation:

This essay suffers from a limited scope because when the author considers the experience of confederacies and the examples they provide to the American confederacy, he mentions only the experience of the Greek confederacy. This negatively impacts the scope because it treats one example as if it is indicative of what always happens to a confederacy.

Example Question #2 : Understanding Limitations Of Scope

Adapted from “William Dean Howells” in What is Man? And Other Essays by Mark Twain (1906)

Is it true that the sun of a man's mentality touches noon at forty and then begins to wane toward setting? Doctor Osler is charged with saying so. Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't; I don't know which it is. But if he said it, I can point him to a case which proves his rule. Proves it by being an exception to it. To this place I nominate Mr. Howells.

I read his Venetian Days about forty years ago. I compare it with his paper on Machiavelli in a late number of Harper, and I cannot find that his English has suffered any impairment. For forty years his English has been to me a continual delight and astonishment. In the sustained exhibition of certain great qualities—clearness, compression, verbal exactness, and unforced and seemingly unconscious felicity of phrasing—he is, in my belief, without his peer in the English-writing world. Sustained. I entrench myself behind that protecting word. There are others who exhibit those great qualities as greatly as he does, but only by intervaled distributions of rich moonlight, with stretches of veiled and dimmer landscape between, whereas Howells's moon sails cloudless skies all night and all the nights.

In the matter of verbal exactness Mr. Howells has no superior, I suppose. He seems to be almost always able to find that elusive and shifty grain of gold, the right word. Others have to put up with approximations, more or less frequently; he has better luck. To me, the others are miners working with the gold-pan—of necessity some of the gold washes over and escapes; whereas, in my fancy, he is quicksilver raiding down a riffle—no grain of the metal stands much chance of eluding him. A powerful agent is the right word: it lights the reader's way and makes it plain; a close approximation to it will answer, and much traveling is done in a well-enough fashion by its help, but we do not welcome it and applaud it and rejoice in it as we do when the right one blazes out on us. Whenever we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt: it tingles exquisitely around through the walls of the mouth and tastes as tart and crisp and good as the autumn-butter that creams the sumac-berry. One has no time to examine the word and vote upon its rank and standing, the automatic recognition of its supremacy is so immediate. There is a plenty of acceptable literature which deals largely in approximations, but it may be likened to a fine landscape seen through the rain; the right word would dismiss the rain, then you would see it better. It doesn't rain when Howells is at work.

And where does he get the easy and effortless flow of his speech, and its cadenced and undulating rhythm, and its architectural felicities of construction, its graces of expression, its pemmican quality of compression, and all that? Born to him, no doubt. All in shining good order in the beginning, all extraordinary, and all just as shining, just as extraordinary today, after forty years of diligent wear and tear and use. He passed his fortieth year long and long ago, but I think his English of today—his perfect English, I wish to say—can throw down the glove before his English of that antique time and not be afraid.

Which of these criticisms could most reasonably be leveled against the author?

Possible Answers:

The sample size he considers for proving the consistency of Howells' work is very small.

He blindly follows the opinions of so-called experts.

He employs personal insults against Howells' critics to support his argument.

His personal friendship with Howells biases his opinion and conclusion.

He hides behind analogies and allegories and does not offer a concrete argument.

Correct answer:

The sample size he considers for proving the consistency of Howells' work is very small.

Explanation:

This passage is somewhat limited in its scope because the author considers only a small sample size of Howells' work in trying to prove the consistency that is supposedly present. Throughout the whole of the passage, the author only mentions two of Howells' pieces of writing, in the excerpt where he says: “I read his Venetian Days about forty years ago. I compare it with his paper on Machiavelli in a late number of Harper, and I cannot find that his English has suffered any impairment. For forty years his English has been to me a continual delight and astonishment.” This is then sufficient, in the author’s mind, to spend the rest of the essay essentially restating his belief the Howells is unusually clear and consistent with language.

Example Question #377 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from “Of the Pathetic Fallacy” by John Ruskin in English Critical Essays: Nineteenth Century (1916, ed. Edward Jones)

English affectation has of late much multiplied among us the use of two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians—namely, “objective” and “subjective.” No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, useless; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for ever, get them out of my way, and out of my reader’s. But to get that done, they must be explained.

The word “blue,” say certain philosophers, means the sensation of color that the human eye receives in looking at the open sky, or at a bell gentian. Now, say they further, as this sensation can only be felt when the eye is turned to the object, and as, therefore, no such sensation is produced by the object when nobody looks at it, therefore the thing, when it is not looked at, is not blue; and thus (say they) there are many qualities of things which depend as much on something else as on themselves. To be sweet, a thing must have a taster; it is only sweet while it is being tasted, and if the tongue had not the capacity of taste, then the sugar would not have the quality of sweetness.

And then they agree that the qualities of things which thus depend upon our perception of them, and upon our human nature as affected by them, shall be called “subjective”; and the qualities of things which they always have, irrespective of any other nature, as roundness or squareness, shall be called “objective.”

From these ingenious views the step is very easy to a further opinion, that it does not much matter what things are in themselves, but only what they are to us, and that the only real truth of them is their appearance to, or effect upon, us. From which position, with a hearty desire for mystification, and much egotism, selfishness, shallowness, and impertinence, a philosopher may easily go so far as to believe, and say, that everything in the world depends upon his or her seeing or thinking of it, and that nothing, therefore, exists, but what he or she sees or thinks of.

Now, to get rid of all these ambiguities and troublesome words at once, be it observed that the word “blue” does not mean the sensation caused by a gentian on the human eye, but it means the power of producing that sensation; and this power is always there, in the thing, whether we are there to experience it or not, and would remain there though there were not left a man on the face of the earth. Precisely in the same way, gunpowder has a power of exploding. It will not explode if you put no match to it. But it has always the power of so exploding, and is therefore called an explosive compound, which it very positively and assuredly is, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary.

In like manner, a gentian does not produce the sensation of blueness if you don’t look at it. But it has always the power of doing so, its particles being everlastingly so arranged by its Maker. And, therefore, the gentian and the sky are always verily blue, whatever philosophy may say to the contrary, and if you do not see them blue when you look at them, it is not their fault but yours.

Hence I would say to these philosophers: If, instead of using the sonorous phrase, “It is objectively so,” you will use the plain old phrase “It is so,” and if instead of the sonorous phrase “It is subjectively so,” you will say, in plain old English, “It does so” or “It seems so to me,” you will, on the whole, be more intelligible to your fellow-creatures; and besides, if you find that a thing which generally “does so” to other people (as a gentian looks blue to most people), does not so to you, on any particular occasion, you will not fall into the impertinence of saying that the thing is not so, or did not so, but you will say simply (what you will be all the better for speedily finding out) that something is the matter with you. If you find that you cannot explode the gunpowder, you will not declare that all gunpowder is subjective, and all explosion imaginary, but you will simply suspect and declare yourself to be an ill-made match. Which, on the whole, though there may be a distant chance of a mistake about it, is, nevertheless, the wisest conclusion you can come to until further experiment.

The primary function of the first paragraph is __________.

Possible Answers:

To highlight a frustration that will be expanded upon

To ridicule the author's opposition

To establish the author's credibility

To provide a counter-argument to the main argument to come

To explain the nature of philosophy

Correct answer:

To highlight a frustration that will be expanded upon

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the author establishes his position on the use of the words "objective" and "subjective" by philosophers. Essentially, their use of these words irritates him. He says, "No words can be more exquisitely, and in all points, useless; and I merely speak of them that I may, at once and for ever, get them out of my way, and out of my reader’s." The author also calls the two words the "most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians." Thus, it is clear he is highlighting his frustrations that he intends to later expand upon. Although his language might suggest he is ridiculing his opposition, that focus of the essay is yet to come; in the first paragraph, he is merely establishing his position on the aforementioned words—he is annoyed. 

Example Question #381 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from The Everyday Life of Abraham Lincoln by Francis Fischer Browne (1913)

In 1838, Lincoln was for a third time a candidate for the State Legislature. Mr. Wilson, one of his colleagues from Sangamon County, states that a question of the division of the county was one of the local issues. "Mr. Lincoln and myself," says Mr. Wilson, "among others residing in the portion of the county that sought to be organized into a new county, opposed the division, and it became necessary that I should make a special canvass through the northwest part of the county, then known as Sand Ridge. I made the canvass. Mr. Lincoln accompanied me, being personally acquainted with everyone we called at nearly every house. At that time it was the universal custom to keep some whiskey in the house for private use and to treat friends. The subject was always mentioned as a matter of politeness, but with the usual remark to Mr. Lincoln, ‘We know you never drink, but maybe your friend would like to take a little.' I never saw Mr. Lincoln drink. He often told me he never drank, and had no desire for drink, nor for the companionship of drinking men."

The result of this canvass was that Lincoln was elected to the Legislature for the session of 1838-39. The next year he was elected for the session of 1840-41. This ended his legislative service, which comprised eight consecutive years, from 1834 to 1841. In these later sessions, he was as active and prominent in the House as he had been in the earlier times when a member from New Salem.

Lincoln's faculty for getting the better of an adversary by an apt illustration or anecdote was seldom better shown than by an incident which occurred during his last term in the Legislature. Hon. James C. Conkling has given the following graphic description of the scene: "A gentleman who had formerly been Attorney General of the State was also a member. Presuming upon his age, experience, and former official position, he thought it incumbent upon himself to oppose Lincoln, who was then one of the acknowledged leaders of his party. He at length attracted the attention of Lincoln, who replied to his remarks, telling one of his humorous anecdotes and making a personal application to his opponent that placed the latter in such a ridiculous attitude that it convulsed the whole House. All business was suspended. In vain the Speaker rapped with his gavel. Members of all parties, without distinction, were compelled to laugh. They not only laughed, they screamed and yelled; they thumped upon the floor with their canes; they clapped their hands and threw up their hats; they shouted and twisted themselves into all sorts of contortions, until their sides ached and the tears rolled down their cheeks. One paroxysm passed away, but was speedily succeeded by another, and again they laughed and screamed and yelled. Another lull occurred, and still another paroxysm, until they seemed to be perfectly exhausted. The ambition of Lincoln's opponent was abundantly gratified, and for the remainder of the session he lapsed into profound obscurity."

In June, 1842, ex-President Van Buren was journeying through Illinois with a company of friends. When near Springfield they were delayed by bad roads, and were compelled to spend the night at Rochester, some miles out. The accommodations at this place were very poor, and a few of the ex-President's Springfield friends proposed to go out to meet him and try to aid in entertaining him. Knowing Lincoln's ability as a talker and storyteller, they begged him to go with them and aid in making their guest at the country inn pass the evening as pleasantly as possible. Lincoln, with his usual good nature, went with them, and entertained the party for hours with graphic descriptions of Western life, anecdotes, and witty stories. Judge Peck, who was of the party and a warm friend of the ex-President, says that Lincoln was at his best. There was a constant succession of brilliant anecdotes and funny stories, accompanied by loud laughter in which Van Buren took his full share. "He also," says the Judge, "gave us incidents and anecdotes of Elisha Williams, and other leading members of the New York bar, going back to the days of Hamilton and Burr. Altogether there was a right merry time. Mr. Van Buren said the only drawback upon his enjoyment was that his sides were sore from laughing at Lincoln's stories for a week thereafter."

Which of Lincoln’s characteristics or desires is least related to this passage?

Possible Answers:

His humor

His temperate lifestyle

His political ambitions

The fact that he was good-natured

His desire to end slavery

Correct answer:

His desire to end slavery

Explanation:

All of these characteristics or desires are mentioned, at least implicitly, in this passage except for Lincoln’s desire to end slavery. The author talks about Lincoln’s temperate lifestyle when he shows how Lincoln did not drink; Lincoln’s good-nature and humor are the primary focus of this essay; and Lincoln’s political ambitions are shown in the way he campaigns in the first paragraph and his ability to use his characteristics to defeat challengers in the third paragraph. The author makes no mention of Lincoln’s desire to end slavery.

Example Question #382 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Utilitarianism by John Stewart Mill (1863)

Only while the world is in a very imperfect state can it happen that anyone’s best chance of serving the happiness of others is through the absolute sacrifice of his own happiness; but while the world is in that imperfect state, I fully admit that the readiness to make such a sacrifice is the highest virtue that can be found in man. I would add something that may seem paradoxical: namely that in this present imperfect condition of the world, the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of bringing about such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life by making him feel that fate and fortune—let them do their worst!—have no power to subdue him. Once he feels that, it frees him from excessive anxiety about the evils of life and lets him (like many a stoic in the worst times of the Roman empire) calmly develop the sources of satisfaction that are available to him, not concerning himself with the uncertainty regarding how long they will last or the certainty that they will end.

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim that they have as much right as the stoic or the transcendentalist to maintain the morality of devotion to a cause as something that belongs to them. The utilitarian morality does recognize that human beings can sacrifice their own greatest good for the good of others; it merely refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. It regards as wasted any sacrifice that doesn’t increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness. The only self-renunciation that it applauds is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means to happiness, of others. . . . I must again repeat something that the opponents of utilitarianism are seldom fair enough to admit, namely that the happiness that forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.

As the practical way to get as close as possible to this ideal, the ethics of utility would command two things. (1) First, laws and social arrangements should place the happiness (or what for practical purposes we may call the interest) of every individual as much as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole. (2) Education and opinion, which have such a vast power over human character, should use that power to establish in the mind of every individual an unbreakable link between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the kinds of conduct (whether doing or allowing) that are conducive to universal happiness. If (2) is done properly, it will tend to have two results: (2a) The individual won’t be able to conceive the possibility of being personally happy while acting in ways opposed to the general good. (2b) In each individual a direct impulse to promote the general good will be one of the habitual motives of action, and the feelings connected with it will fill a large and prominent place in his sentient existence. This is the true character of the utilitarian morality. If those who attack utilitarianism see it as being like this, I don’t know what good features of some other moralities they could possibly say that utilitarianism lacks, what more beautiful or more elevated developments of human nature any other ethical systems can be supposed to encourage, or what motivations for action that aren’t available to the utilitarian those other systems rely on for giving effect to their mandates.

Which of the following is outside the scope of this excerpt?

Possible Answers:

The possible results of adopting a specific method of thinking and behavior

The logic by which a person might make a moral choice within the moral system discussed

The role of sacrifice within a specific moral system

The reasons why the world is considered "imperfect" in the moral system discussed

The nature of some of the objections to the moral system discussed

Correct answer:

The reasons why the world is considered "imperfect" in the moral system discussed

Explanation:

The only option not within the scope of the excerpt is the reasons why the world is considered "imperfect" in a utilitarian moral system. The author takes the imperfect nature of the world and the necessity to adapt one's moral behavior to this condition as givens in his moral system; therefore, the reasons why the world is imperfect are not within the scope of the argument made in this excerpt.

Example Question #383 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume (1748)

1. Moral philosophy, or the science of human nature, may be treated after two different manners, each of which has its peculiar merit and may contribute to the entertainment, instruction, and reformation of mankind. The one considers man chiefly as born for action and as influenced in his measures by taste and sentiment, pursuing one object and avoiding another according to the value that these objects seem to possess and according to the light in which they present themselves. As virtue, of all objects, is allowed to be the most valuable, this species of philosophers paint her in the most amiable colors, borrowing all helps from poetry and eloquence and treating their subject in an easy and obvious manner and such as is best fitted to please the imagination and engage the affections. They select the most striking observations and instances from common life; place opposite characters in a proper contrast; and alluring us into the paths of virtue by the views of glory and happiness, direct our steps in these paths by the soundest precepts and most illustrious examples. They make us feel the difference between vice and virtue; they excite and regulate our sentiments; and so they can but bend our hearts to the love of probity and true honor, they think, that they have fully attained the end of all their labors.

2. The other species of philosophers considers man in the light of a reasonable rather than an active being, and endeavors to form his understanding more than cultivate his manners. They regard human nature as a subject of speculation, and with a narrow scrutiny examine it in order to find those principles that regulate our understanding, excite our sentiments, and make us approve or blame any particular object, action, or behavior. They think it a reproach to all literature that philosophy should not yet have fixed, beyond controversy, the foundation of morals, reasoning, and criticism, and should forever talk of truth and falsehood, vice and virtue, beauty and deformity, without being able to determine the source of these distinctions. While they attempt this arduous task, they are deterred by no difficulties, but proceeding from particular instances to general principles, they still push on their enquiries to principles more general, and rest not satisfied ‘till they arrive at those original principles, by which, in every science, all human curiosity must be bounded. Though their speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise, and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labor of their whole lives if they can discover some hidden truths that may contribute to the instruction of posterity.

3. It is certain that the easy and obvious philosophy will always, with the generality of mankind, have the preference above the accurate and abstruse, and by many will be recommended, not only as more agreeable, but more useful than the other. It enters more into common life; molds the heart and affections; and, by touching those principles which actuate men, reforms their conduct, and brings them nearer to that model of perfection that it describes. On the contrary, the abstruse philosophy, being founded on a turn of mind, which cannot enter into business and action, vanishes when the philosopher leaves the shade, and comes into open day; nor can its principles easily retain any influence over our conduct and behavior. The feelings of our hearts, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosopher to the mere plebeian.

Which of the following is NOT within the scope of the passage?

Possible Answers:

A comparison of the applicability of the two main kinds of moral philosophy

The reasoning behind popular preference of certain philosophical ideas

The foundations of moral philosophy

A survey of the field of moral philosophy

The way in which the two moral philosophies described can be applied to specific ethical situations

Correct answer:

The way in which the two moral philosophies described can be applied to specific ethical situations

Explanation:

The passage features a general outlining of, and arguments for and against, the practical applicability of what the author considers the two major schools of moral philosophy. Since his discussion is intentionally general in nature, an application of the two philosophies to specific instances would be outside the scope of the passage. The goal of the passage is to discuss the two schools broadly and to express the author's highly generalized preference for one over the other; his argument is not based on the specific outcomes in specific situations of the two schools of thought.

Example Question #384 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from "A Criticism on the English Historians" by Samuel Johnson in The Rambler #122 (1751)

Of the various kinds of speaking or writing, which serve necessity, or promote pleasure, none appears so artless or easy as simple narration; for what should make him who knows the whole order and progress of an affair unable to relate it? Yet we hourly find such as endeavor to entertain or instruct us by recitals, clouding the facts that they intend to illustrate, and losing themselves and their auditors in wilds and mazes, in digression and confusion. When we have congratulated ourselves upon a new opportunity of inquiry, and new means of information, it often happens, that without designing either deceit or concealment, without ignorance of the fact, or unwillingness to disclose it, the relator fills the ear with empty sounds, harasses the attention with fruitless impatience, and disturbs the imagination by a tumult of events, without order of time, or train of consequence.

It is natural to believe, upon the same principle, that no writer has a more easy task than the historian. The philosopher has the works of omniscience to examine, and is therefore engaged in disquisitions, to which finite intellects are utterly unequal. The poet trusts to his invention, and is not only in danger of those inconsistencies, to which every one is exposed by departure from truth, but may be censured as well for deficiencies of matter, as for irregularity of disposition, or impropriety of ornament. But the happy historian has no other labor than of gathering what tradition pours down before him, or records treasure for his use. He has only the actions and designs of men like himself to conceive and to relate; he is not to form, but copy characters, and therefore is not blamed for the inconsistency of statesmen, the injustice of tyrants, or the cowardice of commanders. The difficulty of making variety consistent, or uniting probability with surprise, needs not to disturb him; the manners and actions of his personages are already fixed; his materials are provided and put into his hands, and he is at leisure to employ all his powers in arranging and displaying them.

Yet, even with these advantages, very few in any age have been able to raise themselves to reputation by writing histories; and among the innumerable authors who fill every nation with accounts of their ancestors, or undertake to transmit to futurity the events of their own time, the greater part, when fashion and novelty have ceased to recommend them, are of no other use than chronological memorials, which necessity may sometimes require to be consulted, but which fright away curiosity and disgust delicacy.

It is observed that our nation, which has produced so many authors eminent for almost every other species of literary excellence, has been hitherto remarkably barren of historical genius; and so far has this defect raised prejudices against us, that some have doubted whether an Englishman can stop at that mediocrity of style, or confine his mind to that even tenor of imagination that narrative requires.

They who can believe that nature has so capriciously distributed understanding, have surely no claim to the honor of serious confutation. The inhabitants of the same country have opposite characters in different ages; the prevalence or neglect of any particular study can proceed only from the accidental influence of some temporary cause; and if we have failed in history, we can have failed only because history has not hitherto been diligently cultivated.

But how is it evident, that we have not historians among us, whom we may venture to place in comparison with any that the neighboring nations can produce? The attempt of Raleigh is deservedly celebrated for the labor of his researches, and the elegance of his style; but he has endeavored to exert his judgment more than his genius, to select facts, rather than adorn them; and has produced an historical dissertation, but seldom risen to the majesty of history.

Which of the following is NOT within the scope of the excerpt?

Possible Answers:

The literary status and reputation of Sir Walter Raleigh

The nature of successful historical writing

The accomplishments of British historians

The difficulties inherent to narrating actual events

The inherent difficulties of writing in English as opposed to writing in romance languages like French or Italian

Correct answer:

The inherent difficulties of writing in English as opposed to writing in romance languages like French or Italian

Explanation:

While the author does compare the reputation of English historians to those of "other nations," there is no mention made of the nature of the English language accounting for this difference. There is also no specific mention of romance languages made in the text.

Example Question #385 : Mcat Verbal Reasoning

Adapted from Bacon by R. W. Church (1884)

The life of Francis Bacon is one that it is a pain to write or to read. It is the life of a man endowed with as rare a combination of noble gifts as ever was bestowed on a human intellect; the life of one with whom the whole purpose of living and of every day's work was to do great things to enlighten and elevate humanity; it was the life of a man who had high thoughts of the ends and methods of law and government, and with whom the general and public good was regarded as the standard by which the use of public power was to be measured. All his life long his first and never-sleeping passion was the romantic and splendid ambition after knowledge, for the conquest of nature and for the service of humankind. It is difficult to imagine a grander and more magnificent career, and his name ranks among the few chosen examples of human achievement. And yet it was not only an unhappy life; it was a poor life. We expect that such an overwhelming weight of glory should be borne up by a character corresponding to it in strength and nobleness. But that is not what we find. He cringed to such a man as Buckingham. He sold himself to the corrupt and ignominious government of James I. He was willing to be employed to hunt to death a friend like Essex, guilty, deeply guilty, to the State, but to Bacon the most loving and generous of benefactors. With his eyes open he gave himself up without resistance to a system unworthy of him; he would not see what was evil in it, and chose to call its evil good, and he was its first and most signal victim.

Bacon has been judged with merciless severity. But he has also been defended by an advocate whose name alone is almost a guarantee for the justness of the cause which he takes up, and the innocency of the client for whom he argues. Mr. Spedding devoted nearly a lifetime, and all the resources of a fine intellect and an earnest conviction, to make us revere as well as admire Bacon. But it is vain. It is vain to fight against the facts of his life: his words, his letters. "Men are made up," says a keen observer, "of professions, gifts, and talents; and also of themselves." With all his greatness, his splendid genius, his magnificent ideas, his enthusiasm for truth, his passion to be the benefactor of his kind; with all the charm that made him loved by good and worthy friends, amiable, courteous, patient, delightful as a companion, ready to take any trouble—there was in Bacon's "self" a deep and fatal flaw. He was a pleaser of men. He was one of the men—there are many of them—who are unable to release their imagination from the impression of present and immediate power, face-to-face with themselves. It seems as if he carried into conduct the leading rule of his philosophy of nature, parendo vincitur. In both worlds, moral and physical, he felt himself encompassed by vast forces, irresistible by direct opposition. Men whom he wanted to bring round to his purposes were as strange, as refractory, as obstinate, as impenetrable as the phenomena of the natural world. It was no use attacking in front, and by a direct trial of strength, people like Elizabeth or Cecil or James; he might as well think of forcing some natural power in defiance of natural law. The first word of his teaching about nature is that she must be won by observation of her tendencies and demands; the same radical disposition of temper reveals itself in his dealings with men: they, too, must be won by yielding to them, by adapting himself to their moods and ends; by spying into the drift of their humor, by subtly and pliantly falling in with it, by circuitous and indirect processes, the fruit of vigilance and patient thought. He thought to direct, while submitting apparently to be directed. But he mistook his strength. Nature and man are different powers, and under different laws. He chose to please man, and not to follow what his soul must have told him was the better way. He wanted, in his dealings with men, that sincerity on which he insisted so strongly in his dealings with nature and knowledge. And the ruin of a great lifetime was the consequence.

Which of these most clearly falls outside of the scope of this passage?

Possible Answers:

Bacon’s personal strengths and weaknesses

Bacon’s relationship with the British government

Bacon’s reputation in his own time period

Bacon’s legacy in the years since his death

Bacon’s approach to scientific inquiry

Correct answer:

Bacon’s reputation in his own time period

Explanation:

Bacon’s approach to scientific inquiry is mentioned on numerous occasions, as is his relationship with the British government. Both of these are clearly within the scope of the passage. Bacon’s personal strengths and weaknesses are the primary topic of the passage and Bacon’s posthumous legacy is mentioned at the beginning of the first and second passage. Bacon’s reputation in his own time period, however, is not discussed. This is the only answer choice that can be said to be outside the scope of the passage.

Example Question #9 : Understanding Limitations Of Scope

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

M. D'Héricault does not belong to the school of writers who treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line, and set with plain and ineffaceable landmarks. The French Revolution has nearly always been handled in this way, alike by those who think it fruitful in blessings, and by their adversaries, who pronounce it a curse inflicted by the wrath of Heaven. Historians have looked at the Revolution as a plain landsman looks at the sea. To the landsman the ocean seems one huge immeasurable flood, obeying a simple law of ebb and flow, and offering to the navigator a single uniform force. Yet in truth we know that the oceanic movement is the product of many forces; the seeming uniformity covers the energy of a hundred currents and counter-currents; the sea-floor is not even nor the same, but is subject to untold conditions of elevation and subsidence; the sea is not one mass, but many masses moving along definite lines of their own. It is the same with the great tides of history. Wise men shrink from summing them up in single propositions. That the French Revolution led to an immense augmentation of happiness, both for the French and for mankind, can only be denied by the Pope. That it secured its beneficent results untempered by any mixture of evil, can only be maintained by men as mad as Doctor Pangloss. The Greek poetess Corinna said to the youthful Pindar, when he had interwoven all the gods and goddesses in the Theban mythology into a single hymn, that we should sow with the hand and not with the sack. Corinna's monition to the singer is proper to the interpreter of historical truth: he should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe. It is doubtless mere pedantry to abstain from the widest conception of the sum of a great movement. A clear, definite, and stable idea of the meaning in the history of human progress of such vast groups of events as the Reformation or the Revolution, is indispensable for anyone to whom history is a serious study of society. It is just as important, however, not to forget that they were really groups of events, and not in either case a single uniform movement. A sensible man learns, in everyday life, to abstain from praising and blaming character by wholesale; he becomes content to say of this trait that it is good, and of that act that it was bad.

M. D'Héricault's volume naturally suggests such reflections as these. Of all the men of the Revolution, Robespierre has suffered most from the audacious idolatry of some writers, and the splenetic impatience of others. M. Louis Blanc and M. Ernest Hamel talk of him as an angel or a prophet, and the Ninth Thermidor is a red day indeed in their martyrology. Michelet and M. D'Héricault treat him as a mixture of Cagliostro and Caligula, both a charlatan and a miscreant. We are reminded of the commencement of an address of the French Senate to the first Bonaparte: 'Sire,' they began, 'the desire for perfection is one of the worst maladies that can afflict the human mind.' This bold aphorism touches one of the roots of the judgments we pass both upon men and events. It is because people so irrationally think fit to insist upon perfection, that Robespierre's admirers would fain deny that he ever had a fault, and the tacit adoption of the same impracticable standard makes it easier for Robespierre's wholesale detractors to deny that he had a single virtue or performed a single service. The point of view is essentially unfit for history. It is folly for the historian, as it is for the statesman, to strain after the imaginative unity of the dramatic creator. Social progress is an affair of many small pieces and slow accretions, and the interest of historic study lies in tracing, amid the immense turmoil of events and through the confusion of voices, the devious course of the sacred torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. And it is not the bearers who are most interesting, but the torch.

Which of these most clearly falls outside of the scope of this passage?

Possible Answers:

None of these are clearly outside of the scope of this passage.

How Robespierre is portrayed by historians

The approach taken by most historians of the French Revolution

The correct approach to historical examination

The life of Robespierre

Correct answer:

The life of Robespierre

Explanation:

All of these are clearly within the scope of this passage except an examination of the life of Robespierre. Although he is mentioned on several occasions, it is only for the purpose of highlighting the author’s criticisms of some historians' approaches to historical examination. The author does not provide a history of Robespierre; he provides a review of the histories of Robespierre.

Example Question #10 : Understanding Limitations Of Scope

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

The history of the Victorian Age will never be written; we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art. Concerning the age which has just passed, our fathers and our grandfathers have poured forth and accumulated so vast a quantity of information that the industry of a Ranke would be submerged by it, and the perspicacity of a Gibbon would quail before it. It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch. If he is wise, he will adopt a subtler strategy. He will attack his subject in unexpected places; he will fall upon the flank, or the rear; he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses, hitherto undivined. He will row out over that great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen, from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity. Guided by these considerations, I have written the ensuing studies. I have attempted, through the medium of biography, to present some Victorian visions to the modern eye. They are, in one sense, haphazard visions—that is to say, my choice of subjects has been determined by no desire to construct a system or to prove a theory, but by simple motives of convenience and of art. It has been my purpose to illustrate rather than to explain. It would have been futile to hope to tell even a précis of the truth about the Victorian age, for the shortest précis must fill innumerable volumes. But, in the lives of an ecclesiastic, an educational authority, a woman of action, and a man of adventure, I have sought to examine and elucidate certain fragments of the truth which took my fancy and lay to my hand.

I hope, however, that the following pages may prove to be of interest from the strictly biographical, no less than from the historical point of view. Human beings are too important to be treated as mere symptoms of the past. They have a value that is independent of any temporal processes—which is eternal, and must be felt for its own sake. The art of biography seems to have fallen on evil times in England. We have had, it is true, a few masterpieces, but we have never had, like the French, a great biographical tradition; we have had no Fontenelles and Condorcets, with their incomparable éloges, compressing into a few shining pages the manifold existences of men. With us, the most delicate and humane of all the branches of the art of writing has been relegated to the journeymen of letters; we do not reflect that it is perhaps as difficult to write a good life as to live one. Those two fat volumes, with which it is our custom to commemorate the dead—who does not know them, with their ill-digested masses of material, their slipshod style, their tone of tedious panegyric, their lamentable lack of selection, of detachment, of design? They are as familiar as the cortege of the undertaker, and wear the same air of slow, funereal barbarism. One is tempted to suppose, of some of them, that they were composed by that functionary as the final item of his job. The studies in this book are indebted, in more ways than one, to such works—works which certainly deserve the name of Standard Biographies. For they have provided me not only with much indispensable information, but with something even more precious—an example. How many lessons are to be learned from them! But it is hardly necessary to particularize. To preserve, for instance, a becoming brevity—a brevity which excludes everything that is redundant and nothing that is significant—that, surely, is the first duty of the biographer. The second, no less surely, is to maintain his own freedom of spirit. It is not his business to be complimentary; it is his business to lay bare the facts of the case, as he understands them. That is what I have aimed at in this book—to lay bare the facts of some cases, as I understand them, dispassionately, impartially, and without ulterior intentions.

In the opening of this essay, the author primarily emphasizes __________.

Possible Answers:

the importance of subjectivity in approaching historical research in order to ensure that personal bias and instinct is removed from the telling of history

his belief in the weaknesses in historical inquiry that emerged during the Victorian Era and continue to affect contemporary historians in his day

the value of studying narrow and specific aspects of the Victorian Era in order to compliment the general and broad understanding of this time period

the overwhelming difficulty that historians face when attempting to study a recent period of history

the need to educate young students on the correct manner in which to study history

Correct answer:

the value of studying narrow and specific aspects of the Victorian Era in order to compliment the general and broad understanding of this time period

Explanation:

The author says, “If he is wise . . . he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses, hitherto undivined. He will row out over that great ocean of material, and lower down into it . . .  a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen . . . to be examined with a careful curiosity.” He is primarily emphasizing the value of narrow and specific analysis as opposed to broad and general analysis. The author says that a historian need not employ a complete review of the time period to discern some truth, rather he can determine some truth through a focus on some specific or oft-overlooked inquiry.

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