ACT Reading : Determining Context-Dependent Meanings of Phrases and Clauses in Paired Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for ACT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #6 : Paired Passages

Passage #1

Adapted from "On War" by James Boswell (1777)

When I saw workingmen engaged with grave assiduity in fashioning weapons of death, I was struck with wonder at the shortsightedness of human beings, who were soberly preparing the instruments of destruction of their own species. I have since found upon a closer study of man, that my wonder might have been spared. The views of most individuals are limited to their own happiness; and the workmen whom I beheld so busy in the arsenal of Venice saw nothing but what was good in the labor for which they received such wages as procured them the comforts of life. That their immediate satisfaction was not hindered by a view of the remote consequential and contingent evils for which they were responsible, would not surprise one who has had seen too much of the world. We must have the telescope of philosophy to make us perceive distant ills; further, we know that there are individuals of our species to whom the immediate misery of others is nothing in comparison with their own advantage—for we know that in every age there have been found men very willing to perform the office of executioner.


Passage #2

Adapted from "What is Patriotism?" by Max Eastman (1915)

With proper recognition of the possible variation of individuals, we can say that patriotism is one of these unalterable facts of man's nature. A talent for fighting solidarity with a group is a part of the instinct of human beings. It is composed of two tendencies that are laid down in his nervous system when he is born called pugnacity and gregariousness, or group-loyalty. All men and most animals are pugnacious. They love to fight. Everybody loves to fight. Some people get all the fighting they want at the breakfast table, and other people have to carry it out in the law courts or the battlefield, where it makes more noise. [Theodore] Roosevelt loves to charge up San Juan Hill, and then he loves to prosecute for libel anybody that says he didn't charge up San Juan Hill. War people fight for war and peace people fight for peace. When Roosevelt calls the peace people mollycoddles and college sissies, I only want to walk up and smash him.

It is far better though that we should conquer our instinct to fight and put faith in reason. It may seem gigantic; but it is by no means a utopian undertaking to unite the whole world of nations in such a federation. For all the organic interests of men, except their sheer love of patriotic fighting itself, are against the perpetual recurrence of international war. War and the mere joy of existence are incompatible. War makes it impossible to live, and it makes it impossible even to die for a noble purpose. Let men but understand themselves, and the mechanism of their emotions by which they are brought into this perennial catastrophe, and they will be ready enough to take gigantic measures to prevent it.

What is the “telescope of philosophy” that the author of the first passage describes?

Possible Answers:

the love of patriotic fighting.

the ability to understand the experience of distant suffering.

the wonder felt by an observer of human tendencies.

the devotion that the workers of the arsenal of Venice have to their labor.

Correct answer:

the ability to understand the experience of distant suffering.


The “telescope of philosophy” is meant to describe the ability to perceive the suffering of people who live far away. You can answer this question by reading the sentence that precedes the one that mentions the “telescope of philosophy.” In that preceding sentence, the author describes individuals who are not considerate of the long-distance suffering caused by their work fashioning weapons. The author contrasts these individuals, who represent the majority of mankind, with those individuals who are able to understand the experience of distant suffering. These enlightened people are referred to by the author as possessing the “telescope of philosophy.”

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