LSAT Reading : Extrapolating from Comparative Reading Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Parallel Reasoning And Analogous Cases In Comparative Reading Passages

Passage adapted from G. C. Field's Moral Theory: an introduction (1921)

Moral Philosophy, as here conceived, is a criticism of our moral categories. We all know more or less what a moral judgment is, and we are all, of course, constantly making them. So-and-so is a good (or a bad) man, such-and-such an action is right (or wrong), are two types of the commonest forms of them. In such judgments, we use the ideas, or, to adopt our phraseology, the categories of good or bad, right or wrong. And in ordinary moral thinking we do not criticize these categories. Our interest then is centred in the question whether these or similar judgments are true or not. Is so-and-so a good man? Is this action right or wrong? We assume that there is something which we can call good or right, and we ask where it is present, what men or actions are good or right. But in Philosophy we shift our centre of interest. We are no longer concerned primarily with the question whether, for instance, any particular action is right or wrong; the question that we raise as moral philosophers is, “What does 'good' or 'right' mean?” That is, we are engaged in examining and criticizing our moral categories themselves, instead of, as in ordinary thinking, using and applying them in particular cases.

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

Ethics is the science of morality or conduct. It is accordingly often called practical, as opposed to theoretical, philosophy or metaphysics. The description is correct, if it is meant that ethics is the philosophy or theory of practice. It suggests, however, the question of the relations of moral theory and practice. Life or practice always precedes its theory or explanation; we are men before we are moralists. The moral life, though it implies an intellectual element from the first, is, in its beginnings, and for long, a matter of instinct, of tradition, of authority. The conceptions of good and evil, virtue and vice, duty and desert, which guide the life, not merely of the child but of the mass of mankind, are largely accepted, like intellectual notions, in blind and unquestioning faith. But moral, like intellectual, manhood implies emancipation from such a merely instinctive life; moral maturity brings with it reflection upon the meaning of life. The good man, like the wise man, puts away childish things; as a rational being, he must seek to reduce his life, like his world, to system. The contradictions and rivalries of ethical codes, the varying canons of moral criticism, the apparent chaos of moral practice, force upon him the need of a moral theory. This demand for a rationale of morality, for principles which shall give his life coherence, marks the transition from the practical to the theoretical standpoint, from life itself to its theoretic understanding.

Both passages contain _____________.

Possible Answers:

an argument by analogy.

an argument based in common sense or self-evident propositions

examples of reductio ad absurdum

extrapolation from a few key particular cases to a general rule

an analysis of an inadequite preliminary conception of a crucial notion

Correct answer:

an analysis of an inadequite preliminary conception of a crucial notion


Both passages begin with the claim that the conventional sort of morality is inadequate in some way for some purpose. They then explain what the shortcomings of this intuitive, pre-philosophical conventional morality are, before arguing that a more rigorous philosophical sort of understanding is needed.

Example Question #2 : Parallel Reasoning And Analogous Cases In Comparative Reading Passages

"Europe and the Black Death"

In a series of lectures published after his death, historian David Herlihy theorizes that the Black Death led to the transformation of Western Europe and shaped crucial aspects of modern thinking and behavior. Herlihy’s lectures, written in 1985, draw comparisons to social phenomena associated with more recent epidemics, such as the influenza outbreak of 1919 and the mysterious arrival of AIDS in his own time. However, Herlihy writes that what made the Black Death so historically significant, other than the shocking death toll it levied, was the transformative impact that the plague had on labor markets, agrarian practices, economic innovation, and medical theory.

Herlihy’s lectures take aim at Thomas Malthus’s Iron Law of Population as laid out in his 1798 book titled An Essay on the Principle of Population. The Iron Law states that that population growth is necessarily limited by the available means of subsistence and actual population will be ultimately kept equal to the means of subsistence through catastrophic events. The Black Death, which deprived erstwhile-overpopulated 14th Century Europe of more than 25 million of its residents, became a seminal historical example of a Malthusian population check.

However, Herlihy cautions against characterizing the Black Death as a response to overpopulation in medieval Europe. If that were the case, he asserts, the epidemic would have arrived at the beginning of the century when population growth slowed amidst escalating food prices. Herlihy writes, "The medieval experience shows us not a Malthusian crisis but a stalemate, in the sense that the community was maintaining at stable levels very large numbers over a lengthy period." He posits that the term population deadlock, rather than population crisis, should be used to describe Europe before the epidemics.

According to Herlihy, the arrival of the Black Death to Europe in 1347 broke this deadlock. As a result of crashing populations, trade guilds and landowners went from a labor glut to a labor shortage virtually overnight. The shortage led to innovations in both agriculture and the production of goods. For example, Herlihy theorizes that the invention of the printing press in 1440 occurred in part because the Black Death and successive plagues culled the ranks of scribes needed to transcribe manuscripts by hand. He also argues that the sudden public health crisis bridged the divide between medical theorists and those actually treating patients, resulting in more anatomical research and medical innovation.

Still more profound, Herlihy writes, was the effect the population crash had on longstanding medieval social structures. In addition to forcing agricultural innovation, the plague’s strengthening of the labor market reduced the peasant’s dependence on wealthy landowners. In fact, evidence shows that the labor ranks thinned even more during the outbreak from pessimistic workers who opted to spend their precious remaining time on earth in leisure. Those who continued to work enjoyed greater social mobility, which led to the passage of sumptuary laws by members of the elite desperate to maintain their caste superiority in a waning feudal economic system.

Which of the following is most analogous to the passage’s discussion of the economic transformation in Europe following the Black Death?

Possible Answers:

the discovery of an infectious disease creating a demand for new treatments

an abundance of cheap labor limiting the drive to invest in automation

a real estate price crash making homes more affordable for the working class

rising steel prices slowing new construction

a sudden oil crisis leading to the invention of hyper-efficient engines

Correct answer:

a sudden oil crisis leading to the invention of hyper-efficient engines


Best answer: This choice describes a severe commodity shortage that forces a dependent industry to use that resource more efficiently, just like the European economies had to innovate to make more efficient use of a smaller workforce.

Wrong answers: The appearance of a disease is the only similarity in this choice; A real estate crash is analogous in that a sudden price change helps the poor, but it doesn’t show how the shift produces an economic transformation; An abundance of labor accurately relates to Europe before the Black Death, according to Herlihy; The steel price hike describes a simple cause and effect scenario without the transformative results mentioned in the passage.

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