LSAT Reading : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #81 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Moby Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville (1851)

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?

Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.

But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies—what is the one charm wanting?—Water—there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.

Based on this passage, what role does the sea play for Ishmael?

Possible Answers:

It’s an escape from mundane daily life.

It’s something that many people find attractive but that he personally does not.

It’s an unrelenting antagonist.

It's a sly enemy.

It's a distraction he permits but doesn’t appreciate.

Correct answer:

It’s an escape from mundane daily life.

Explanation:

The author writes that Ishmael takes to the sea whenever he finds himself "growing grim about the mouth" and "involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet." In other words, the sea provides a welcome relief from the mundane and often depressing realities of Ishmael's daily existence.

Example Question #82 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (trans. Garnett 1918)

I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine, anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is from spite. My liver is bad, well—let it get worse! . . .

But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite? Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that continually, even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly conscious with shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an embittered man, that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be genuinely touched, though probably I should grind my teeth at myself afterwards and lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.

I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners and with the officer, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements. I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not let them, purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and—sickened me, at last, how they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying, gentlemen, that I am expressing remorse for something now, that I am asking your forgiveness for something? I am sure you are fancying that . . . However, I assure you I do not care if you are . . .

The author’s purpose in writing this passage is most nearly __________.

Possible Answers:

to introduce a character and his idiosyncrasies

to preface a detailed account of a medical examination

to argue that sick men may still maintain complex personalities

to make a point about self-contradiction and self-esteem

to confuse his readers

Correct answer:

to introduce a character and his idiosyncrasies

Explanation:

In writing these first paragraphs of Notes from Underground, Dostoyevsky is introducing his protagonist and his complex idiosyncrasies. The narrator speaks of the many elements “swarming” in his mind and presents several different facets of himself for the reader to inspect. Although the narrator does speak of medical conditions, he notes that he’s not likely to consult a doctor, so the passage cannot be prefacing a medical exam. Although the narrator does have a complex personality, the main point of the passage is not to link this personality with physiological sickness. The narrator also does engage in self-contradiction, but nowhere is the author discussing self-esteem or confidence. And while the passage may seem confusing, Dostoyevsky’s intent is to present a unified portrait of a man who contains complicated and contradictory personality traits.

Example Question #83 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman (1910)

Some twenty-one years ago I heard the first great anarchist speaker—the inimitable John Most. It seemed to me then, and for many years after, that the spoken word hurled forth among the masses with such wonderful eloquence, such enthusiasm and fire, could never be erased from the human mind and soul. How could any one of all the multitudes who flocked to Most's meetings escape his prophetic voice! Surely they had but to hear him to throw off their old beliefs, and see the truth and beauty of anarchism!

My one great longing then was to be able to speak with the tongue of John Most,—that I, too, might thus reach the masses. Oh, for the naivety of youth's enthusiasm! It is the time when the hardest thing seems but child's play. It is the only period in life worthwhile. Alas! This period is but of short duration. Like spring, the Sturm und Drang period of the propagandist brings forth growth, frail and delicate, to be matured or killed according to its powers of resistance against a thousand vicissitudes.

My great faith in the wonder-worker, the spoken word, is no more. I have realized its inadequacy to awaken thought, or even emotion. Gradually, and with no small struggle against this realization, I came to see that oral propaganda is at best but a means of shaking people from their lethargy: it leaves no lasting impression. The very fact that most people attend meetings only if aroused by newspaper sensations, or because they expect to be amused, is proof that they really have no inner urge to learn.

It is altogether different with the written mode of human expression. No one, unless intensely interested in progressive ideas, will bother with serious books. That leads me to another discovery made after many years of public activity. It is this: all claims of education notwithstanding, the pupil will accept only that which his mind craves. Already this truth is recognized by most modern educators in relation to the immature mind. I think it is equally true regarding the adult. Anarchists or revolutionists can no more be made than musicians. All that can be done is to plant the seeds of thought. Whether something vital will develop depends largely on the fertility of the human soil, though the quality of the intellectual seed must not be overlooked.

In meetings the audience is distracted by a thousand non-essentials. The speaker, though ever so eloquent, cannot escape the restlessness of the crowd, with the inevitable result that he will fail to strike root. In all probability he will not even do justice to himself.

The relation between the writer and the reader is more intimate. True, books are only what we want them to be; rather, what we read into them. That we can do so demonstrates the importance of written as against oral expression. It is this certainty that has induced me to gather in one volume my ideas on various topics of individual and social importance. They represent the mental and soul struggles of twenty-one years—the conclusions derived after many changes and inner revisions.

The primary purpose of this essay is __________.

Possible Answers:

to explain the author’s transition into writing her arguments, as opposed to offering her opinions in the form of oration

to argue in favor of political anarchism

to demonstrate why orators have such difficulty in convincing an audience to change its opinions

to compare the benefits of the written and spoken word

to lament the loss of oration as an art form and suggest that the written word, when argued convincingly, is the only recourse left to a would-be anarchist trying to bring others into the fold.

Correct answer:

to explain the author’s transition into writing her arguments, as opposed to offering her opinions in the form of oration

Explanation:

It is true that based on the evidence in this passage, the author would be likely to argue in favor of anarchism. It is also true that the author discusses why orators have such difficulty in convincing an audience to change its opinions, and finally, it is true that the author compares the benefits of the written word to those of the spoken word; however, the primary purpose of this essay is to reveal the reasons and motivations behind the author’s own transition from a belief in oration to an emphasis on the written word. Evidence for this can be found most noticeably in the conclusion when the author summarizes her purpose for writing the passage: “The relation between the writer and the reader is more intimate. True, books are only what we want them to be; rather, what we read into them. That we can do so demonstrates the importance of written as against oral expression. It is this certainty which has induced me to gather in one volume my ideas on various topics of individual and social importance.”

Example Question #84 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

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

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

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

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

Lord Timon is used in this passage to represent __________.

Possible Answers:

the wealthy man who offers his generosity only in times of bounty

the recipient who reacts ungratefully and offends the benefactor

the beneficiary who callously rejects the offer of generosity and kindness

the gift-giver who gives willingly and foolishly expects gratitude

the benefactor who gives away everything he has and ensures his own penury

Correct answer:

the gift-giver who gives willingly and foolishly expects gratitude

Explanation:

Lord Timon is a character from a play by Shakespeare who gives generously to the poor, but is aggrieved to find that they are not as grateful as he expects, because the poor are more envious and angry of the possessions that Timon is able to give. In this passage the author mentions Lord Timon in the following excerpt: “This giving is flat usurpation, and therefore when the beneficiary is ungrateful, as all beneficiaries hate all Timons, not at all considering the value of the gift, but looking back to the greater store it was taken from, I rather sympathize with the beneficiary than with the anger of my lord Timon.” It is followed by this shorter excerpt which more clearly reveals the significance of Timon to the author’s overall argument “For, the expectation of gratitude is mean, and is continually punished by the total insensibility of the obliged person.”

Example Question #85 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from from Olympe De Gouge's Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen (1791).

Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust toward his companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? What advantages have you gathered in the revolution? A scorn more marked, a disdain more conspicious. During the centuries of corruption you only reigned over the weakness of men. Your empire is destroyed; what is left to you then? Firm belief in the injustices of men. The reclaiming of your patrimony founded on the wise decrees of nature; why should you fear such a beautiful enterprise?

…Whatever the barriers set up against you, it is in your power to overcome them; you only have to want it. Let us pass now to the appalling account of what you have been in society; and since national education is an issue at this moment, let us see if our wise legislators will think sanely about the education of women.

Women have done more harm than good. Constraint and dissimulation have been their lot. What force has taken from them, ruse returned; they have had recourse to all the resources of their charms, and the most irreproachable man has not resisted them. Poison, the sword, women controlled everything; they ordered up crimes as much as virtues. For centuries, the French government, especially, depended on the nocturnal administration of women; officials kept no secrets from their indiscretion; ambassadorial posts, military commands, the ministry, the presidency [of a court], the papacy, the college of cardinals, in short everything that characterizes the folly of men, profane and sacred, has been submitted to the cupidity and ambition of this sex formerly considered despicable and respected, and since the revolution, respectable and despised…

Under the former regime, everyone was vicious, everyone guilty… A woman only had to be beautiful and amiable; when she possessed these two advantages, she saw a hundred fortunes at her feet… The most indecent woman could make herself respectable with gold; the commerce in women was a kind of industry amongst the highest classes, which henceforth will enjoy no more credit. If it still did, the revolution would be lost, and in the new situation we would still be corrupted. Can reason hide the fact that every other road to fortune is closed to a woman bought by a man, bought like a slave from the coasts of Africa? The difference between them is great; this is known. The slave [that is, the woman] commands her master, but if the master gives her her freedom without compensation and at an age when the slave has lost all her charms, what does this unfortunate woman become? The plaything of disdain; even the doors of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, they say: why did she not know how to make her fortune?

What does the author hope that her intended audience will do?

Possible Answers:

Be unjust to their companions

Recognize their rights 

Recognize that men are committing injustices

Reign over the weakness of men

Correct answer:

Recognize their rights 

Explanation:

The author identifies what she hopes her intended audience will do in the first sentence when she notes, "Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights." The author argues that men became unjust to their companions as a result of their new-found freedom, and that women have realized that men are committing injustices. The author finally notes that women only reigned over the weakness of men before the revolution ("during the centuries of corruption"), since they were specifically disempowered by the legal and social structures of society. While the revolution has torn down many of these structures it has not replaced them with any structures that actually empower women.

Example Question #86 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from from Olympe De Gouge's Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Female Citizen (1791).

Women, wake up; the tocsin of reason sounds throughout the universe; recognize your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The torch of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his force and needs yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust toward his companion. Oh women! Women, when will you cease to be blind? What advantages have you gathered in the revolution? A scorn more marked, a disdain more conspicious. During the centuries of corruption you only reigned over the weakness of men. Your empire is destroyed; what is left to you then? Firm belief in the injustices of men. The reclaiming of your patrimony founded on the wise decrees of nature; why should you fear such a beautiful enterprise?

…Whatever the barriers set up against you, it is in your power to overcome them; you only have to want it. Let us pass now to the appalling account of what you have been in society; and since national education is an issue at this moment, let us see if our wise legislators will think sanely about the education of women.

Women have done more harm than good. Constraint and dissimulation have been their lot. What force has taken from them, ruse returned; they have had recourse to all the resources of their charms, and the most irreproachable man has not resisted them. Poison, the sword, women controlled everything; they ordered up crimes as much as virtues. For centuries, the French government, especially, depended on the nocturnal administration of women; officials kept no secrets from their indiscretion; ambassadorial posts, military commands, the ministry, the presidency [of a court], the papacy, the college of cardinals, in short everything that characterizes the folly of men, profane and sacred, has been submitted to the cupidity and ambition of this sex formerly considered despicable and respected, and since the revolution, respectable and despised…

Under the former regime, everyone was vicious, everyone guilty… A woman only had to be beautiful and amiable; when she possessed these two advantages, she saw a hundred fortunes at her feet… The most indecent woman could make herself respectable with gold; the commerce in women was a kind of industry amongst the highest classes, which henceforth will enjoy no more credit. If it still did, the revolution would be lost, and in the new situation we would still be corrupted. Can reason hide the fact that every other road to fortune is closed to a woman bought by a man, bought like a slave from the coasts of Africa? The difference between them is great; this is known. The slave [that is, the woman] commands her master, but if the master gives her her freedom without compensation and at an age when the slave has lost all her charms, what does this unfortunate woman become? The plaything of disdain; even the doors of charity are closed to her; she is poor and old, they say: why did she not know how to make her fortune?

What is the most likely explanation for the author's repeated references to nature?

Possible Answers:

The author is referencing a natural social order to contrast with French social order 

The author references nature to show how developed the French people are in comparison with others 

The author references nature to emphasis that women have innate needs and characteristics

The author believes that referencing nature will encourage the reader to think of past, simpler times 

Correct answer:

The author is referencing a natural social order to contrast with French social order 

Explanation:

The author's references to nature occur primarily in the first paragaph, where she notes "the powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies" and "the reclaiming of your patrimony founded on the wise decrees of nature; why should you fear such a beautiful enterprise?" These references contrast the French social order with what she deems a "natural" social order, as the author harkens the reader to advocate the return of the natural order. The author does not indicate that women have innate needs and characteristics, nor does the author indicate that the "natural" order is in any way more "simple." Finally, the author does not compare the French people with any other cultural or national group.

Example Question #87 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (1859).

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else.  The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

It is, perhaps hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties. We are not speaking of children, or of young persons below the age which the law may fix as that of manhood or womanhood. Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as well as against external injury. For the same reason, we may leave out of consideration those backward states of society in which the race itself may be considered as in its nonage. The early difficulties in the way of spontaneous progress are so great, that there is seldom any choice of overcoming them; and a ruler full of the spirit of improvement is warranted in the use of any expedients that will attain an end, perhaps otherwise unattainable.  Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion. Until then, there is nothing for them but implicit obedience… But as soon as mankind have attained the capacity of being guided to their own improvement by conviction or persuasion (a period long since reached in all nations with whom we need here concern ourselves), compulsion, either in the direct form or in that of pains and penalties for non-compliance, is no longer admissible as a means to their own good, and justifiable only for the security of others.

Which of the following best describes the primary purpose of this passage?

Possible Answers:

To convince readers that there is a significant difference in the social development of civilized and barbarian nations 

To reinforce the claim that all individuals have a right to liberty and individual sovereignty 

To justify the involvement of government in individual affairs for the physical or moral good of a person or community 

To argue that, in civilized society, liberty that does not cause harm to others should be an absolute right 

Correct answer:

To argue that, in civilized society, liberty that does not cause harm to others should be an absolute right 

Explanation:

The main purpose of this passage is to argue that, in civilized society, liberty that does not cause harm to others should be an absolute right. This concept is introduced in the first sentence as the "object of this Essay." Mill explicitly notes that government involvement for the physical/moral good of a person or community in a civilized society is an unacceptable abuse of liberty; however, Mill does not argue that all individuals have a right to liberty and individual sovereignty (barbarians are not considered to have this right). Finally, while the author establishes a difference between civilized and barbarian nations, it is not the purpose of this text to convince readers of the differences in social development between the two groups Mill outlined. 

Example Question #88 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Culture and Anarchy (1868) by Matthew Arnold.

The disparagers of culture make its motive curiosity; sometimes, indeed, they make its motive mere exclusiveness and vanity. The culture which is supposed to plume itself on a smattering of Greek and Latin is a culture which is begotten by nothing so intellectual as curiosity; it is valued either out of sheer vanity and ignorance, or else as an engine of social and class distinction, separating its holder, like a badge or title, from other people who have not got it. No serious man would call this culture, or attach any value to it, as culture, at all. To find the real ground for the very differing estimate which serious people will set upon culture, we must find some motive for culture in the terms of which may lie a real ambiguity; and such a motive the word curiosity gives us. I have before now pointed out that in English we do not, like the foreigners, use this word in a good sense as well as in a bad sense; with us the word is always used in a somewhat disapproving sense; a liberal and intelligent eagerness about the things of the mind may be meant by a foreigner when he speaks of curiosity, but with us the word always conveys a certain notion of frivolous and unedifying activity. In the Quarterly Review, some little time ago, was an estimate of the celebrated French critic, Monsieur Sainte-Beuve, and a very inadequate estimate it, in my judgment, was. And its inadequacy consisted chiefly in this: that in our English way it left out of sight the double sense really involved in the word curiosity, thinking enough was said to stamp Monsieur Sainte-Beuve with blame if it was said that he was impelled in his operations as a critic by curiosity, and omitting either to perceive that Monsieur Sainte-Beuve himself, and many other people with him, would consider that this was praiseworthy and not blameworthy, or to point out why it ought really to be accounted worthy of blame and not of praise. For as there is a curiosity about intellectual matters which is futile, and merely a disease, so there is certainly a curiosity,—a desire after the things of the mind simply for their own sakes and for the pleasure of seeing them as they are,—which is, in an intelligent being, natural and laudable. Nay, and the very desire to see things as they are implies a balance and regulation of mind which is not often attained without fruitful effort, and which is the very opposite of the blind and diseased impulse of mind which is what we mean to blame when we blame curiosity. Montesquieu says:—"The first motive which ought to impel us to study is the desire to augment the excellence of our nature, and to render an intelligent being yet more intelligent." This is the true ground to assign for the genuine scientific passion, however manifested, and for culture, viewed simply as a fruit of this passion; and it is a worthy ground, even though we let the term curiosity stand to describe it.

The author's purpose in writing the passage is best stated as being __________.

Possible Answers:

a critique of critics who defend the role of curiosity in culture

an effort to encourage critics to rethink the role of curiosity in cultural scholarship

a paean to the role of Greek and Latin in culture

a defense of the role of cultural criticism in the larger culture

an attempt at introducing a new concept and idea

Correct answer:

an effort to encourage critics to rethink the role of curiosity in cultural scholarship

Explanation:

The author lambastes the unnamed critics who do not wish to view "curiosity" as a worthwhile component of culture. For the rest of the passage, the author presents evidence in order to make those critics, and their sympathizers, change their minds and view "curiosity" in a much more positive light.

Example Question #89 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Edgehill: The Battle and Battlefield (1904), by Edwin Walford.

The reign of King Charles I. showed a widening of the difference between the ecclesiastic and puritan elements of the English community—elements which were the centers of the subsequently enlarged sections, royalist and parliamentarian. In the later dissentions between the King and the Commons it was early apparent how widespread had been the alienation of the people from the King’s cause—an alienation heightened, as Green in his “Short History” tells us, by a fear that the spirit of Roman Catholicism, so victorious on the continent, should once more become dominant in England. How great was the tension may be known from the fact of the contemplated emigration to the American colonies of such leaders as Lord Saye and Sele, Lord Warwick, Lord Brooke, and Sir John Hampden and Oliver Cromwell. When the rupture at last came, the Parliament was found to have secured the larger arsenals, and also to have forces at its disposal in the trained bands of London and in the militia, which it was enabled rapidly to enroll. Though the unfurling of the Royal Standard near Nottingham failed to secure many adherents to the King’s cause, Essex hesitated to attack the royalists when they might have been easily dispersed, thinking no doubt to overawe the King by mere show of force. Yet when Charles began recruiting in the neighborhood of Shrewsbury, he was soon able to gather an army, and on October 12th, 1642, he commenced his march upon London. The astute and carefully moderate policy of the Commons was to rescue the King from his surroundings, and to destroy the enemies, especially the foreign enemies, of the State, about the King’s person. The sanctity of the King’s person was yet a prominent factor—the belief in divinity of Kingship, notwithstanding all the misrule there had been, was yet alive in the hearts of the people. Therefore when the King had gathered his forces together and began his Southward march, Lord Essex with his army was commissioned “to march against his Majesties Army and fight with them, and to rescue the persons of the King, Prince and Duke of York.” The Earl of Essex, with the Parliamentarian forces, was at that time in Worcestershire, endeavoring to prevent the recruiting of the King’s troops; and though the Earl moved two days later on by rapid marches into Warwickshire, it was only to find that he had been out-marched by the King, who, after resting at Southam, stood with the Royalist army at Edgcot across the way to the capital. That this had been accomplished, notwithstanding the opposition of the strongholds of Warwick and Coventry, speaks not unfavorably for the generalship of Earl Lindsay, the King’s Lieutenant-General, whom we find at Edgcot contemplating an attack upon Banbury Castle. The King’s was a good position: it commanded all the roads to London, held Banbury in its hand, covered the Cherwell bridge and fords, and had within touch the dominating escarpment of Edge Hill. If the purpose was the subjection of some prominent leaders of the Parliamentarians it succeeded only in the taking of Lord Saye and Sele’s house at Broughton, and of Banbury, and Banbury Castle; in the partial destruction of Lord Spencer’s house at Wormleighton, and in sending a summons to Warwick Castle to surrender.

The author's purpose in writing the passage is best described as ___________.

Possible Answers:

a critique of the military strategy of the anti-royalist factions

an effort to explain the causes of a particular moment in the English Civil War

a presentation of the different opinions on both sides of the English Civil War

an attempt to belittle the actions of King Charles I and his supporters

a chronicle of the efforts by one side in the English Civil War

Correct answer:

an effort to explain the causes of a particular moment in the English Civil War

Explanation:

The author is extremely matter of fact throughout the passage, giving an assessment of many different facts and details. However, distinguishing the purpose involves saying what this information is going towards, and in the case of this passage, all the information is pointing towards the ultimate positioning of the King at Edge Hill and how this situation developed.

Example Question #90 : Tone, Structure, And Purpose Of Humanities Passages

"Ed Sullivan and All the Rest" by William Floyd (2015)

Modern television talk shows center on the host, with the guests as a side dish that still accentuates the main entrée of the funny person at the center of the spectacle. Their forerunners were on television as early as television was in American homes, scene stealers such as Steve Allen and Jack Parr making even the most famous celebrities play inside their world. At the same time, though, one man showed how a television show could highlight a variety of performers, from the remarkable to the mundane and the famous to the unknown. If more television shows operated like “The Ed Sullivan Show,” maybe television would be less ego centric.

Ed Sullivan began his career before World War II as an entertainment and sports reporter, gaining his first significant notoriety as a celebrity maker for his gossip column in the New York Daily News. This influential position led him to be chosen as the host of “The Toast of the Town,” a variety show on CBS, in 1948. He was awkward on camera and made no effort to be a schmoozer or comedian. Despite his awkwardness, Ed Sullivan became a household name, with his show first informally and then officially being known as “The Ed Sullivan Show.” No one cared about watching Sullivan himself, but rather what Sullivan presented to his audience each week. Sullivan was a force behind the scenes, putting together the show that everyone wanted to watch each week.

The genius of Sullivan’s show was that it was truly a variety show. Sullivan made sure to show his audience ballet and opera selections, yet also never shied away from presenting Rock n Roll acts on his prestigious time slot. He was also a key benefactor for a number of young comedians, who would present their usual stand-up routines free of comment in front of a national audience. Naturally, the Beatles were not actually big in America until they had gotten the Sullivan anointment, but many other acts could credit Sullivan with a breakthrough. Considering the time he was on the air, 1948 to 1971, Sullivan made twentieth century American popular culture. With the fragmentation of culture through cable, the internet, and streaming services, no one can ever hope to have the same impact as a man described as having the personality of an Easter Island statue.

The author's purpose in writing the passage is best summarized as being __________.

Possible Answers:

to mock the style of modern television hosts

to illustrate the proper way to host a television show

to reconsider the elevated status held by Ed Sullivan among television critics

to reevaluate the impact of a former television host

to undermine the arguments presented by rival television critics

Correct answer:

to reevaluate the impact of a former television host

Explanation:

The author's focus is on Ed Sullivan, but this focus is framed around the lessons that Sullivan's style and approach can have for modern television hosts. Additionally, the author's tone shows that there is some hope Sullivan might be reevaluated despite his often awkward nature.

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