GMAT Verbal : Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for GMAT Verbal

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Example Questions

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Example Question #51 : Science Passages

Adapted from “The Influence of the Conception of Evolution on Modern Philosophy” by H. Höffding (1909) in Evolution in Modern Thought (1917 ed.)

When The Origin of Species appeared fifty years ago, Romantic speculation, Schelling's and Hegel's philosophy, still reigned on the continent, while in England, Positivism, the philosophy of Comte and Stuart Mill, represented the most important trend of thought. German speculation had much to say on evolution; it even pretended to be a philosophy of evolution. But then the word "evolution" was to be taken in an ideal, not in a real, sense. To speculative thought, the forms and types of nature formed a system of ideas, within which any form could lead us by continuous transitions to any other. It was a classificatory system which was regarded as a divine world of thought or images, within which metamorphoses could go on—a condition comparable with that in the mind of the poet when one image follows another with imperceptible changes.

Goethe's ideas of evolution, as expressed in his Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der Thiere, belong to this category; it is, therefore, incorrect to call him a forerunner of Darwin. Schelling and Hegel held the same idea; Hegel expressly rejected the conception of a real evolution in time as coarse and materialistic. "Nature," he says, "is to be considered as a system of stages, the one necessarily arising from the other, and being the nearest truth of that from which it proceeds; but not in such a way that the one is naturally generated by the other; on the contrary [their connection lies] in the inner idea which is the ground of nature. The metamorphosis can be ascribed only to the notion as such, because it alone is evolution.... It has been a clumsy idea in the older as well as in the newer philosophy of nature, to regard the transformation and the transition from one natural form and sphere to a higher as an outward and actual production."

Based on the passage, which of the following can be inferred about Schelling’s thought?

Possible Answers:

Its similarities to scientific evolutionary theories are striking.

Its idealistic vigor was an excellent example of reaction against modernity.

None of the other answers

It was based directly on the thought of Goethe and Hegel.

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

Correct answer:

It does not anticipate scientific evolutionary theories.

Explanation:

Without getting into the details of Schelling, we do know that "Schelling . . . held the same idea" as Goethe in the latter's Metamorphosen der Pflanzen und der ThiereThis does not mean that it is directly indebted to it. It merely catalogues his thought as yet another example of a Romantic philosopher whose thought is not the same in character as that of Darwin.

Example Question #1 : Passage Organization And Order

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What would you expect Emerson to write after the underlined sentence?

Possible Answers:

Amusing remarks about the history of science.

A set of reflections on the many figures of humanistic and intellectual history.

A cold discussion of the history of military exploits and the woes arising from them.

A scathing critique of modern militarism.

A great exhortation to be scientific in mindset and outlook.

Correct answer:

A set of reflections on the many figures of humanistic and intellectual history.

Explanation:

This paragraph opens up with the clear structure of presenting a set of contrasts. "Against the heroism of soldiers" the author sets ("presents") "the heroism of scholars." He then lists such a set of contrasts. In the actual essay, he then goes on to discuss some figures at length, using them as images of the kind of intellectual culture he wishes to praise in this passage.

Example Question #1 : Inference About The Subject

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What is implied about the interests of the culture in general during Emerson’s day?

Possible Answers:

It risks focusing on militarism and other such things at the expense of intellectual life and endeavors.

It is full of ignorance and idiocy, having no intellectual culture whatsoever.

It is looking to close down all academies and universities.

It has completely fallen into the barbarism of war.

It has been overcome by demagogues who would lead all peoples into horrible conflicts.

Correct answer:

It risks focusing on militarism and other such things at the expense of intellectual life and endeavors.

Explanation:

The key sentence for this question is, "The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity." The idea expressed here is that the use of the canon—an image for military exploits in general—has a positive resonance with many (a "poetic echo"). Indeed, Emerson implicitly acknowledges that these instruments are being used for purposes that he gives positive connotations to in mentioning: the purposes of expanding freedom and the "primal sentiments of humanity." However, throughout this essay, he wishes to emphasize the secondary status of such things. The implication is that the culture is likely to be overcome by the "poetic echo" of the canon, giving it more than its due importance.

Example Question #3 : Can't Be True In Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

Given the information presented in the passage, which of the following statements cannot be true?

Possible Answers:

Train crews would often find hoboes traveling surreptitiously on trains.

Hoboes would frequently ride on trains without the permission of the train crews.

In the era of the hobo lifestyle, hoboes and train crews got along quite well on long trips.

Train crews often had problems with hoboes that were rarely solved in an amicable manner.

Hoboes lived the kind of lifestyle that made them frequently break the law.

Correct answer:

In the era of the hobo lifestyle, hoboes and train crews got along quite well on long trips.

Explanation:

The author describes, in rather precise detail, how a train crew would get rid of hoboes that were illegally and secretly riding underneath a train. What this indicates is that there was a great deal of tension between train crews and hoboes surreptitiously finding ways to evade the crew. This means that the only answer choice which cannot be true is that train crews and hoboes got along well.

Example Question #114 : Humanities

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

What can be inferred about the position of the average newspaper reporter regarding hobos?

Possible Answers:

They generally look down on the hobo lifestyle.

They see hoboes as a quintessential part of American society.

They view the hobo lifestyle as a romantic endeavor.

They believe hoboes should be protected by new governmental regulations.

They believe train crews should be prosecuted when they harm hoboes.

Correct answer:

They generally look down on the hobo lifestyle.

Explanation:

Newspapers only get one mention in the passage, at the very end, when the author describes how the reporters simply say that the hobo killed by the train crew was a drunk tramp who fell asleep on the tracks. This indicates that the newspapers look down on the hobo lifestyle and do not feel that the train crew was doing anything particularly wrong.

Example Question #41 : Humanities Passages

Mounted primarily by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Easter Rising of 1916, also known as the Easter Rebellion, aimed both to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic at a time when the military assets of the United Kingdom were heavily engaged in World War I and thus largely unavailable for activity on the home front. Led by schoolteacher and barrister Patrick Pearse, members of the Irish Volunteers joined forces with the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly and 200 members of the all-female Cumman na mBan, together seizing key locations in Dublin and ultimately proclaiming the Irish Republic independent with the issue of the Easter Proclamation. After six days of fighting, the Rising was suppressed, its leaders court-martialed and executed. Militarily, the Rising was a failure; even with its attention divided, the British military out-classed and outnumbered the insurgent force. Yet support for republicanism continued to rise in Ireland in the wake of the Easter Rebellion. Though many members of the Dublin public were originally simply bewildered by the outbreak of the Rising, the harshness of the British response and the summary execution of the movement’s leaders garnered sympathy. In elections only two years later, Sinn Féin, an Irish republican party, won 73 seats out of 105, dominating the Irish delegation to the British parliament, and under their leadership the Irish would again declare their independence in 1919, establishing the Republic of Ireland which persists to this day.

The passage suggests which of the following about the Easter Rebellion?

Possible Answers:

It was the primary reason that the Irish Republican party was successful in the 1918 parliamentary elections.

If it had not occurred, the emergence of the Republic of Ireland would have been substantially delayed.

The subsequent actions of those who suppressed it contributed to its later success.      

It was unsuccessful mainly because of conflict between the movement’s different leaders.

Its leaders were incorrect when they assumed that the British forces would be hampered by fighting the First World War.

Correct answer:

The subsequent actions of those who suppressed it contributed to its later success.      

Explanation:

Inference questions ask what the passage suggests, rather than what the passage explicitly said; the correct answer, however, may feel like a very small step away, as here. The correct answer must be true, as those who suppressed the Irish Rebellion were the British forces, whose harshness in responding led to sympathy for the movement’s original purpose (ending British rule and establishing an independent Irish Republic)to spread among the Irish populace.

Example Question #1 : Considering Analogous Concepts In Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)

But yet, if any one will be so sceptical as to distrust his senses, and to affirm that all we see and hear, feel and taste, think and do, during our whole being, is but the series and deluding appearances of a long dream, whereof there is no reality; and therefore will question the existence of all things, or our knowledge of anything: I must desire him to consider, that, if all be a dream, then he doth but dream that he makes the question, and so it is not much matter that a waking man should answer him.

But yet, if he pleases, he may dream that I make him this answer, That the certainty of things existing in rerum natura when we have the testimony of our senses for it is not only as great as our frame can attain to, but as our condition needs. For, our faculties being suited not to the full extent of being, nor to a perfect, clear, comprehensive knowledge of things free from all doubt and scruple; but to the preservation of us, in whom they are; and accommodated to the use of life: they serve to our purpose wen enough, if they will but give us certain notice of those things, which are convenient or inconvenient to us.

For he that sees a candle burning, and hath experimented the force of its flame by putting his finger in it, will little doubt that this is something existing without him, which does him harm, and puts him to great pain; which is assurance enough, when no man requires greater certainty to govern his actions by than what is as certain as his actions themselves. And if our dreamer pleases to try whether the glowing heat of a glass furnace be barely a wandering imagination in a drowsy man's fancy, by putting his hand into it, he may perhaps be wakened into a certainty greater than he could wish, that it is something more than bare imagination.

So that this evidence is as great as we can desire, being as certain to us as our pleasure or pain, i.e. happiness or misery; beyond which we have no concernment, either of knowing or being. Such an assurance of the existence of things without us is sufficient to direct us in the attaining the good and avoiding the evil which is caused by them, which is the important concernment we have of being made acquainted with them.

The relationship between the candle and the glass furnace mentioned in paragraph three is analagous to ___________.

Possible Answers:

the smallest things the senses can perceive verses the greatest things

the difference in power between mere human senses and intellect and that needed to perceive and understand the natures of things as they really are

the intellectual power needed to preserve and improve one's life verses the power needed to comprehend all things beyond any doubt

None of the other answers

the force needed to convince a rational person that skepticism is false verses that needed to convince a foolish skeptic

Correct answer:

the force needed to convince a rational person that skepticism is false verses that needed to convince a foolish skeptic

Explanation:

While the candle is associated with being "assurance enough," and "no man requires greater certainty" than the demonstration it provides, the foolish skeptic—i.e., the "dreamer," with his "wandering imagination" and "drowsy man's fancy"—requires a stronger and more forceful proof to break him of his pretence of doubting. 

Example Question #20 : Extrapolating From Humanities Passages

Adapted from Jack London’s The Road (1907)

Barring accidents, a good hobo, with youth and agility, can hold a train down despite all the efforts of the train-crew to "ditch" him—given, of course, night-time as an essential condition. When such a hobo, under such conditions, makes up his mind that he is going to hold her down, either he does hold her down, or chance trips him up. There is no legitimate way, short of murder, whereby the train-crew can ditch him. That train-crews have not stopped short of murder is a current belief in the tramp world. Not having had that particular experience in my tramp days I cannot vouch for it personally.

But this I have heard of the "bad" roads. When a tramp has "gone underneath," on the rods, and the train is in motion, there is apparently no way of dislodging him until the train stops. The tramp, snugly ensconced inside the truck, with the four wheels and all the framework around him, has the "cinch" on the crew—or so he thinks, until some day he rides the rods on a bad road. A bad road is usually one on which a short time previously one or several trainmen have been killed by tramps. Heaven pity the tramp who is caught "underneath" on such a road—for caught he is, though the train be going sixty miles an hour.

The "shack" (brakeman) takes a coupling-pin and a length of bell-cord to the platform in front of the truck in which the tramp is riding. The shack fastens the coupling-pin to the bell- cord, drops the former down between the platforms, and pays out the latter. The coupling-pin strikes the ties between the rails, rebounds against the bottom of the car, and again strikes the ties. The shack plays it back and forth, now to this side, now to the other, lets it out a bit and hauls it in a bit, giving his weapon opportunity for every variety of impact and rebound. Every blow of that flying coupling-pin is freighted with death, and at sixty miles an hour it beats a veritable tattoo of death. The next day the remains of that tramp are gathered up along the right of way, and a line in the local paper mentions the unknown man, undoubtedly a tramp, assumably drunk, who had probably fallen asleep on the track.

Given the author's description of the train crew's behavior, which of the following is an analogous behavior?

Possible Answers:

A football coach who advises his own players to seriously injure the opposing players.

A senator who ignores his constituents' needs for his own profit.

An airline pilot who forces a rowdy passenger off of the plane before take-off.

A school principal who makes many students drop out of school due to excessively harsh rules.

A ship captain who allows a stowaway to fall of the deck through the normal actions of the working of the ship.

Correct answer:

A ship captain who allows a stowaway to fall of the deck through the normal actions of the working of the ship.

Explanation:

The train crew takes the hobo laying underneath the train and disposes of him in a gruesome and violent manner; however, it is done in a way which can be claimed as part of the natural working of the train crew, rather than doing something which would call attention to their actions. This is most similar to the ship captain who lets a stowaway fall off the ship's deck through a "normal" course of action.

Example Question #1 : Passage Organization And Order

Adapted from “The Celebration of Intellect” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1861)

I cannot consent to wander from the duties of this day into the fracas of politics. The brute noise of cannon has, I know, a most poetic echo in these days when it is an instrument of freedom and the primal sentiments of humanity. Yet it is but representative and a far-off means and servant; but here in the college we are in the presence of the constituency and the principle itself. Here is, or should be, the majesty of reason and the creative cause, and it were a compounding of all gradation and reverence to suffer the flash of swords and the boyish strife of passion and the feebleness of military strength to intrude on this sanctity and omnipotence of Intellectual Law.

Against the heroism of soldiers I set the heroism of scholars, which consists in ignoring the other. You shall not put up in your Academy the statue of Caesar or Pompey, of Nelson or Wellington, of Washington or Napoleon, of Garibaldi, but of Archimedes, of Milton, of Newton. . . .

For either science and literature is a hypocrisy, or it is not. If it be, then resign your charter to the Legislature, turn your college into barracks and warehouses, and divert the funds of your founders into the stock of a rope-walk or a candle-factory, a tan-yard or some other undoubted conveniency for the surrounding population. But if the intellectual interest be, as I hold, no hypocrisy, but the only reality, then it behooves us to enthrone it, obey it, and give it possession of us and ours; to give, among other possessions, the college into its hand casting down every idol, every pretender, every hoary lie, every dignified blunder that has crept into its administration.

What is being compared and contrasted in the first paragraph of this essay?

Possible Answers:

The great wars of history and the great intellectual achievements of the past

The idiocy of children and the calm wisdom of sages

The world of military concerns and that of intellectual undertakings

None of the other answer choices is correct.

The loud blasts of war and the quiet of the humanist's study

Correct answer:

The world of military concerns and that of intellectual undertakings

Explanation:

The paragraph opens by trying to stay out of the "fracas" (noisy place of disturbances) of politics. It continually comes back to the fact that Emerson wishes to focus upon the life of the mind and not the "feebleness of military strength." The contrast is thus between the more militaristic life of the modern day and the life of the intellect with its own undertakings.

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