LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #184 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from a text by Charles William Eliot in The Oxford Book of American Essays (1914)

The third characteristic contribution that the United States has made to civilization has been the safe development of suffrage. The experience of the United States has brought out several principles with regard to the suffrage that have not been clearly apprehended by some eminent political philosophers.

In the first place, American experience has demonstrated the advantages of a gradual approach to universal suffrage over a sudden leap. Universal suffrage is not the first and only means of attaining democratic government; rather, it is the ultimate goal of successful democracy. It is not a cure-all for political ills; on the contrary, it may itself easily be the source of great political evils. When constituencies are large, it aggravates the well-known difficulties of party government; so that many of the ills which threaten democratic communities at this moment, whether in Europe or America, proceed from the breakdown of party government rather than from failures of expanded suffrage. The methods of party government were elaborated where suffrage was limited and constituencies were small. Manhood suffrage has not worked perfectly well in the United States, or in any other nation where it has been adopted, and it is not likely very soon to work perfectly anywhere. It is like freedom of the will for the individual—the only atmosphere in which virtue can grow, but an atmosphere in which vice can also grow. Like freedom of the will, it needs to be surrounded with checks and safeguards, but is the supreme good, the goal of perfected democracy. 

Secondly, like freedom of the will, expanded suffrage has an educational effect that has been mentioned by many writers, but seldom been clearly apprehended or adequately described. This educational effect is produced in two ways. In the first place, the combination of individual freedom with the social mobility a wide suffrage tends to produce permits the capable to rise through all grades of society, even within a single generation; and this freedom to rise is intensely stimulating to personal ambition. Thus capable Americans, from youth to age, are bent on bettering themselves and their conditions. Nothing can be more striking than the contrast between an average American laborer conscious that he can rise to the top of the social scale and a European worker who knows that he cannot rise out of his class and is content with his hereditary classification. 

In the second place, it is a direct effect of a broad suffrage that the voters become periodically interested in the discussion of grave public problems. In no field of human endeavor have the fruits of the introduction of steam and electrical power been more striking than in the methods of reaching multitudes of people with instructive narratives, expositions, and arguments. The multiplication of newspapers, magazines, and books is only one of the immense developments in the means of reaching the people. The interest in the minds of the people that prompts to the reading of these multiplied communications comes from the frequently recurring elections. The more difficult the intellectual problem presented in any given election, the more educative the effect of the discussion.

In these discussions, the people who supply the appeals to the receptive masses benefit alongside them. There is no better mental exercise for the most highly trained person than the effort to expound a difficult subject in so clear a way that an untrained person can understand it. The position of the educated and well-to-do is a thoroughly wholesome one in this respect: they cannot depend for the preservation of their advantages on land-owning, hereditary privilege, or any legislation not equally applicable to the poorest and humblest citizen. They must compete. They cannot live in a too-safe corner.

Which of the following questions is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

Where has the biggest advance in suffrage been made in terms of sociopolitical structure?

How has America contributed globally to social and political development?

Why has women's suffrage been ignored or suppressed for so long?

How is suffrage important to the U.S.?

How can we improve European countries by using America as a model?

Correct answer:

How has America contributed globally to social and political development?

Explanation:

Using the beginning of the passage as a guide to answer the question, we can tell that the central message of the passage, and the work from which it is excerpted, is a discourse on the ways in which America has contributed to the advancement of civilization and therefore global social and political development. We can see this from the passage's first paragraph: “The third characteristic contribution that the United States has made to civilization has been the safe development of suffrage. The experience of the United States has brought out several principles with regard to the suffrage that have not been clearly apprehended by some eminent political philosophers."

Example Question #185 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Deeds of a Great Railway by G. R. S. Darroch (1920)

August 4th, 1914, was not fated after all, as we know, to be a day of disaster. That it was not so is perhaps attributable in the main to two causes. "Miraculous" is the manner in which escape from disaster has been described; but the miracle was performed primarily and essentially by the loss of those "many thousands of brave men whose sacrifice we deplore, while we regard their splendid gallantry and self-devotion with unstinted admiration and gratitude." A secondary, but by no means inconsiderable, cause contributory to the successful working of the miracle lay in the fact that we did possess the "order," the "certainty," in regard to moving that part of the army detailed for home defense, and of the six divisions of which the original Expeditionary Force was composed, and which were flung across the Channel to assist in stemming the initial German onrush. And it is with regard to this "order," this "certainty," and the attendant successful working of the railways that the ensuing pages are concerned.

We have already traced in some degree of detail the antecedents of the Railway Executive Committee, that body of distinguished civilian railway experts, who, from the time that the government assumed, under provisions of the Act of 1871, nominal control of the railways, became, and throughout the war remained, responsible to the government for the maintenance and the efficient working of the entire railway systems of the British Isles; and in order to acquire some insight into the amazing and complex detail involved in this efficient working, we cannot very well do better than probe a few of the more salient facts concerning the London and North-Western Railway, which, on the outbreak of hostilities, and appropriately enough, was deputed to act as the "Secretary" Company to the Western and Eastern Commands and afterwards to the Central Force.

In a report dated October 1st, 1914, Mr. L. W. Horne, secretary to the "Secretary" Company to the Commands previously mentioned, describes the measures that were adopted both prior to and during mobilization, in conformity with the War Office program.

Owing to the "very drastic alterations in the mobilization time tables" made by the War Office, a staff was specially appointed to deal with the matter, and as a result of herculean efforts, "on mobilization being ordered, not only was our scheme complete, but time tables and sheets numbering many thousands were ready for immediate issue."

Special troop trains were "signaled by a special code of 4-4-4 beats," this code signifying "precedence over all other trains," ordinary passenger service being curtailed as occasion demanded. Seven hundred and fifty-one special trains were required for the "large quantities of stores, equipment, etc.," and "in order to ensure that such consignments should be worked forward without delay," it was agreed that "they should be given 'Perishable transit.'"

As will doubtless be within the memory of most of us, on August 3rd, 1914, Sir Edward Grey was in a position to inform the House that "the mobilization of the Fleet has taken place.” The credit for the promptitude of this precautionary measure was in due course claimed by Mr. Winston Churchill, and resulted shortly afterwards in the resignation from his post as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty of Prince Louis of Battenberg, eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse, Germany. The message spontaneously addressed by His Majesty the King to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe ran, "I send you, and through you to the officers and men of the Fleets . . . the assurance of my confidence that under your direction they will revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy, and prove once again the sure shield of Britain." To enable officers and men to "revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy," coal, not canvas, was needed, this entailing the provision forthwith of six hundred and fifty-one special trains for the conveyance of approximately 150,000 tons of Admiralty coal from the South Wales collieries to certain points on the East Coast.

Which of the following questions is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

What was the main form of transport for troop movement during World War I?

Should we look to railways as patriotic symbols?

In what ways was effective management of the railways achieved during World War I? 

To what extent were the railways utilized by the military during World War I?

How did the railways save Britain from disaster on a day in August 1914?

Correct answer:

In what ways was effective management of the railways achieved during World War I? 

Explanation:

The passage is largely about the ways in which effective management was achieved by the British government and Railway Committees during the First World War. The author specifically talks about the London and North-Western Railway and the Railway Executive Committee, which answered to the government and aided in the mobilization of troops. We could say the passage is about the mobilization of the troops itself, but the focus is more on the management of the mobilization than the mobilization itself.

Example Question #186 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Deeds of a Great Railway by G. R. S. Darroch (1920)

August 4th, 1914, was not fated after all, as we know, to be a day of disaster. That it was not so is perhaps attributable in the main to two causes. "Miraculous" is the manner in which escape from disaster has been described; but the miracle was performed primarily and essentially by the loss of those "many thousands of brave men whose sacrifice we deplore, while we regard their splendid gallantry and self-devotion with unstinted admiration and gratitude." A secondary, but by no means inconsiderable, cause contributory to the successful working of the miracle lay in the fact that we did possess the "order," the "certainty," in regard to moving that part of the army detailed for home defense, and of the six divisions of which the original Expeditionary Force was composed, and which were flung across the Channel to assist in stemming the initial German onrush. And it is with regard to this "order," this "certainty," and the attendant successful working of the railways that the ensuing pages are concerned.

We have already traced in some degree of detail the antecedents of the Railway Executive Committee, that body of distinguished civilian railway experts, who, from the time that the government assumed, under provisions of the Act of 1871, nominal control of the railways, became, and throughout the war remained, responsible to the government for the maintenance and the efficient working of the entire railway systems of the British Isles; and in order to acquire some insight into the amazing and complex detail involved in this efficient working, we cannot very well do better than probe a few of the more salient facts concerning the London and North-Western Railway, which, on the outbreak of hostilities, and appropriately enough, was deputed to act as the "Secretary" Company to the Western and Eastern Commands and afterwards to the Central Force.

In a report dated October 1st, 1914, Mr. L. W. Horne, secretary to the "Secretary" Company to the Commands previously mentioned, describes the measures that were adopted both prior to and during mobilization, in conformity with the War Office program.

Owing to the "very drastic alterations in the mobilization time tables" made by the War Office, a staff was specially appointed to deal with the matter, and as a result of herculean efforts, "on mobilization being ordered, not only was our scheme complete, but time tables and sheets numbering many thousands were ready for immediate issue."

Special troop trains were "signaled by a special code of 4-4-4 beats," this code signifying "precedence over all other trains," ordinary passenger service being curtailed as occasion demanded. Seven hundred and fifty-one special trains were required for the "large quantities of stores, equipment, etc.," and "in order to ensure that such consignments should be worked forward without delay," it was agreed that "they should be given 'Perishable transit.'"

As will doubtless be within the memory of most of us, on August 3rd, 1914, Sir Edward Grey was in a position to inform the House that "the mobilization of the Fleet has taken place.” The credit for the promptitude of this precautionary measure was in due course claimed by Mr. Winston Churchill, and resulted shortly afterwards in the resignation from his post as a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty of Prince Louis of Battenberg, eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse, Germany. The message spontaneously addressed by His Majesty the King to Admiral Sir John Jellicoe ran, "I send you, and through you to the officers and men of the Fleets . . . the assurance of my confidence that under your direction they will revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy, and prove once again the sure shield of Britain." To enable officers and men to "revive and renew the old glories of the Royal Navy," coal, not canvas, was needed, this entailing the provision forthwith of six hundred and fifty-one special trains for the conveyance of approximately 150,000 tons of Admiralty coal from the South Wales collieries to certain points on the East Coast.

Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the passage?

Possible Answers:

After the Navy the railways were the main form of military transportation.

The mobilization of forces was greatly aided by the prompt mobilization of the railways. 

The appointment of railway bodies to military committees aided the comfort of troops in their journeys to the front.

The measures taken prior to and during mobilization were of tantamount importance.

The railways were the most important part of the war effort.

Correct answer:

The mobilization of forces was greatly aided by the prompt mobilization of the railways. 

Explanation:

Of the answers, the most precise and correct is that “the mobilization of forces was greatly aided by the prompt mobilization of the railways,” as the author states this in the first paragraph of the passage and goes on to detail how it was accomplished and why it was so in the rest of the passage. While “the measures taken” is correct in a sense, it is not the main point of the passage, only a part of it. Likewise, “the railways were the most important part of the war effort” is almost correct, but, along with the other two answers, it is incorrect in that it is overstating what the author says or is misstating things.

Example Question #187 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Bread and the Newspaper” by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1861) in The Oxford Book of American Essays (1914, ed. Brander Matthews)

This is the new version of the “panem et circenses” of the Roman populace. It is our ultimatum, as that was theirs. They must have something to eat, and the circus-shows to look at. We must have something to eat, and the papers to read. How this war is simplifying our mode of being! We live on our emotions, as the sick man is said in the common speech to be nourished by his fever. Our ordinary mental food has become distasteful, and what would have been intellectual luxuries at other times, are now absolutely repulsive.

All this change in our manner of existence implies that we have experienced some very profound impression, which will sooner or later betray itself in permanent effects on the minds and bodies of many among us. We cannot forget Corvisart’s observation of the frequency with which diseases of the heart were noticed as the consequence of the terrible emotions produced by the scenes of the great French Revolution. Laennec tells the story of a convent, of which he was the medical director, where all the nuns were subjected to the severest penances and schooled in the most painful doctrines. They all became consumptive soon after their entrance, so that, in the course of his ten years’ attendance, all the inmates died out two or three times, and were replaced by new ones. He does not hesitate to attribute the disease from which they suffered to those depressing moral influences to which they were subjected.

So far we have noticed little more than disturbances of the nervous system as a consequence of the war excitement in non-combatants. Take the first trifling example which comes to our recollection. A sad disaster to the Federal army was told the other day in the presence of two gentlemen and a lady. Both the gentlemen complained of a sudden feeling at the epigastrium, or, less learnedly, the pit of the stomach, changed color, and confessed to a slight tremor about the knees. The lady had a "grande révolution," as French patients say, went home, and kept her bed for the rest of the day. Perhaps the reader may smile at the mention of such trivial indispositions, but in more sensitive natures death itself follows in some cases from no more serious cause. An old gentleman fell senseless in fatal apoplexy, on hearing of Napoleon’s return from Elba. One of our early friends, who recently died of the same complaint, was thought to have had his attack mainly in consequence of the excitements of the time.

We all know what the war fever is in our young men, what a devouring passion it becomes in those whom it assails. Patriotism is the fire of it, no doubt, but this is fed with fuel of all sorts. The love of adventure, the contagion of example, the fear of losing the chance of participating in the great events of the time, the desire of personal distinction, all help to produce those singular transformations which we often witness, turning the most peaceful of our youth into the most ardent of our soldiers. But something of the same fever in a different form reaches a good many non-combatants, who have no thought of losing a drop of precious blood belonging to themselves or their families. Some of the symptoms we shall mention are almost universal; they are as plain in the people we meet everywhere as the marks of an influenza, when that is prevailing.

The first is a nervous restlessness of a very peculiar character. Men cannot think, or write, or attend to their ordinary business. They stroll up and down the streets, or saunter out upon the public places. We confessed to an illustrious author that we laid down the volume of his work which we were reading when the war broke out. It was as interesting as a romance, but the romance of the past grew pale before the red light of the terrible present. Meeting the same author not long afterwards, he confessed that he had laid down his pen at the same time that we had closed his book. He could not write about the sixteenth century any more than we could read about it, while the nineteenth was in the very agony and bloody sweat of its great sacrifice.

The author characterizes the war primarily by __________.

Possible Answers:

its significance in distracting society

the sacrifice and suffering involved

the physical and mental disturbances caused

its importance to social growth

its economic impact

Correct answer:

the physical and mental disturbances caused

Explanation:

Answering this question really only requires an understanding of the primary thesis of the passage. The author spends most of the passage focusing on the mental and physical disturbances that are being caused by the war. It might be reasonable to suppose that the author characterizes the war based on the sacrifice and suffering involved, but this ignores the author’s repeated emphasis on the impact of the war on the mental and physical state of the young and the non-combatants. It might also be reasonable, from an in-depth understanding of the opening paragraph, to suppose that the author characterizes the war by its significance in distracting society ("bread and circuses" were the means used to distract the Roman population during times of political unrest or corruption), but this misses the overall thesis of the essay.

Example Question #188 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Rough Riders (1899) By Theodore Roosevelt

Up to the last moment we were spending every ounce of energy we had in getting the regiment into shape. Fortunately, there were a good many vacancies among the officers, as the original number of 780 men was increased to 1,000; so that two companies were organized entirely anew. This gave the chance to promote some first-rate men.

One of the most useful members of the regiment was Dr. Robb Church, formerly a Princeton football player. He was appointed as Assistant Surgeon, but acted throughout almost all the Cuban campaign as the Regimental Surgeon. It was Dr. Church who first gave me an idea of Bucky O'Neill's versatility, for I happened to overhear them discussing Aryan word roots together, and then sliding off into a review of the novels of Balzac, and a discussion as to how far Balzac could be said to be the founder of the modern realistic school of fiction. Church had led almost as varied a life as Bucky himself, his career including incidents as far apart as exploring and elk hunting in the Olympic Mountains, cooking in a lumber camp, and serving as doctor on an emigrant ship.

Woodbury Kane was given a commission, and also Horace Devereux, of Princeton. Kane was older than the other college men who entered in the ranks; and as he had the same good qualities to start with, this resulted in his ultimately becoming perhaps the most useful soldier in the regiment. He escaped wounds and serious sickness, and was able to serve through every day of the regiment's existence.

Two of the men who made Second Lieutenants by promotion from the ranks while in San Antonio were John Greenway, a noted Yale football player and catcher on her baseball nine, and David Goodrich, for two years captain of the Harvard crew. They were young men, Goodrich having only just graduated; while Greenway, whose father had served with honor in the Confederate Army, had been out of Yale three or four years. They were natural soldiers, and it would be well nigh impossible to overestimate the amount of good they did the regiment. They were strapping fellows, entirely fearless, modest, and quiet. Their only thought was how to perfect themselves in their own duties, and how to take care of the men under them, so as to bring them to the highest point of soldierly perfection. I grew steadily to rely upon them, as men who could be counted upon with absolute certainty, not only in every emergency, but in all routine work. They were never so tired as not to respond with eagerness to the slightest suggestion of doing something new, whether it was dangerous or merely difficult and laborious. They not merely did their duty, but were always on the watch to find out some new duty which they could construe to be theirs. Whether it was policing camp, or keeping guard, or preventing straggling on the march, or procuring food for the men, or seeing that they took care of themselves in camp, or performing some feat of unusual hazard in the fight—no call was ever made upon them to which they did not respond with eager thankfulness for being given the chance to answer it. Later on I worked them as hard as I knew how, and the regiment will always be their debtor.

Greenway was from Arkansas. We could have filled up the whole regiment many times over from the South Atlantic and Gulf States alone, but were only able to accept a very few applicants. One of them was John McIlhenny, of Louisiana; a planter and manufacturer, a big-game hunter and book-lover, who could have had a commission in the Louisiana troops, but who preferred to go as a trooper in the Rough Riders because he believed we would surely see fighting. He could have commanded any influence, social or political, he wished; but he never asked a favor of any kind. He went into one of the New Mexican troops, and by his high qualities and zealous attention to duty speedily rose to a sergeantcy, and finally won his lieutenancy for gallantry in action.

The tone of the officers' mess was very high. Everyone seemed to realize that he had undertaken most serious work. They all earnestly wished for a chance to distinguish themselves, and fully appreciated that they ran the risk not merely of death, but of what was infinitely worse—namely, failure at the crisis to perform duty well; and they strove earnestly so to train themselves, and the men under them, as to minimize the possibility of such disgrace. Every officer and every man was taught continually to look forward to the day of battle eagerly, but with an entire sense of the drain that would then be made upon his endurance and resolution. They were also taught that, before the battle came, the rigorous performance of the countless irksome duties of the camp and the march was demanded from all alike, and that no excuse would be tolerated for failure to perform duty. Very few of the men had gone into the regiment lightly, and the fact that they did their duty so well may be largely attributed to the seriousness with which these eager, adventurous young fellows approached their work. This seriousness, and a certain simple manliness which accompanied it, had one very pleasant side. During our entire time of service, I never heard in the officers' mess a foul story or a foul word; and though there was occasional hard swearing in moments of emergency, even this was the exception.

Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Every man had to be able to ride well.

Only the educated were allowed to become officers.

The cohesive nature of the officers was infectious.

It was important for the regiment to have officers volunteer.

Despite preparing until departure, the regiment was well-trained. 

Correct answer:

Despite preparing until departure, the regiment was well-trained. 

Explanation:

The main point of the passage is that despite training “up to the last moment” the officers and the regiment in turn were very well trained and well prepared for battle, not to mention eager. We can see this tireless preparation in these lines “They were also taught that, before the battle came, the rigorous performance of the countless irksome duties of the camp and the march were demanded from all alike, and that no excuse would be tolerated for failure to perform duty.”

Example Question #189 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Federalist No. 11” by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

The importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion, and which has commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.

There are appearances to authorize a supposition that the adventurous spirit, which distinguishes the commercial character of America, has already excited uneasy sensations in several of the maritime powers of Europe. They seem to be apprehensive of our too great interference in that carrying trade, which is the support of their navigation and the foundation of their naval strength. Those of them which have colonies foresee the dangers that may threaten their American dominions from the neighborhood of States, which have all the dispositions, and would possess all the means, requisite to the creation of a powerful marine. Impressions of this kind will naturally indicate the policy of fostering divisions among us and of depriving us of an active commerce in our own bottoms. This would answer the threefold purpose of preventing our interference in their navigation, of monopolizing the profits of our trade, and of clipping the wings by which we might soar to a dangerous greatness.

If we continue united, we may counteract a policy so unfriendly to our prosperity in a variety of ways. By prohibitory regulations extending throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other for the privileges of our markets. This assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate the importance of the markets of three millions of people to any manufacturing nation, and the immense difference there would be to the trade and navigation of such a nation between a direct communication in its own ships and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns to and from America in the ships of another country. Suppose, for instance, we had a government in America capable of excluding Great Britain from all our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate, with the fairest prospect of success, for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive kind in the dominions of that kingdom? When these questions have been asked, upon other occasions, they have received a plausible, but not a solid or satisfactory answer. It has been said that prohibitions on our part would produce no change in the system of Britain, because she could prosecute her trade with us through the medium of the Dutch, who would be her immediate customers and paymasters for those articles which were wanted for the supply of our markets. But would not her navigation be materially injured by the loss of the important advantage of being her own carrier in that trade? Would not the principal part of its profits be intercepted by the Dutch, as a compensation for their agency and risk?

A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will justify a belief that in such a state of things, our trade would derive the most substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government, and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see themselves altogether supplanted in our trade.

A further resource for influencing the conduct of European nations toward us, in this respect, would arise from the establishment of a federal navy. There can be no doubt that the continuance of the Union under an efficient government would soon put it in our power to create a navy which, if it could not vie with those of the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties. This would be more peculiarly the case in relation to operations in the West Indies. Our position is, in this respect, a most commanding one. And if to this consideration we add that of the usefulness of supplies from this country in the prosecution of military operations in the West Indies, it will readily be perceived that a situation so favorable would enable us to bargain with great advantage for commercial privileges. A price would be set not only upon our friendship, but upon our neutrality. By a steady adherence to the Union we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate.

Which of the following best states the author’s primary argument in the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The impact of a strong and unified United States on the economy of Europe is hard to predict and the cause of much fear.

The United States needs to create a powerful navy in order to discourage European interference.

The European powers fear the growth of the United States and so seek to encourage its division.

Regardless of European expectations, the American people decide the future of the United States.

The ascendency of the United States is inevitable and will lead to a shake-up of the world order.

Correct answer:

The European powers fear the growth of the United States and so seek to encourage its division.

Explanation:

The primary argument of the second paragraph is that Europe fears the growth of the United States, as seen in this quotation: “Those of them which have colonies in America foresee the dangers that may threaten their American dominions from the neighborhood of States.” The paragraph also argues that the aforementioned European nations would seek to encourage the division of America, as seen in this excerpt: “Impressions of this kind will naturally indicate the policy of fostering divisions among us, and of depriving us, as far as possible, of an active commerce in our own bottoms.”

Many of the other answer choices are part of the author’s argument in the second paragraph, but they do not represent the primary argument. When determining the primary argument it is often helpful to consider the impact of the paragraph on the thesis as a whole. In this instance, the author is using the fear of the European powers to promote the support of the unity of the United States, particularly for commercial purposes. He seems to be saying something like “These European countries fear our economic competition, and if they fear us, we must feel confident in the inevitability of our rise.”

Example Question #190 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Times of Erasmus and Luther” in Short Studies on Great Subjects by James Anthony Froude (1867)

Every single department of intellectual or practical life was penetrated with the beliefs, or was interwoven with the interests, of the clergy; and thus it was that, when differences of religious opinion arose, they split society to its foundations. The lines of cleavage penetrated everywhere, and there were no subjects whatever in which those who disagreed in theology possessed any common concern. When men quarreled, they quarreled altogether. The disturbers of settled beliefs were regarded as public enemies who had placed themselves beyond the pale of humanity, and were considered fit only to be destroyed like wild beasts, or trampled out like the seed of a contagion.

Three centuries have passed over our heads since the time of which I am speaking, and the world is so changed that we can hardly recognize it as the same. The secrets of nature have been opened out to us on a thousand lines, and men of science of all creeds can pursue side by side their common investigations. Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Calvinists contend with each other in honorable rivalry in arts, and literature, and commerce, and industry. They read the same books. They study at the same academies. They have seats in the same senates. They preside together on the judicial bench, and carry on, without jar or difference, the ordinary business of the country. Those who share the same pursuits are drawn in spite of themselves into sympathy and good-will. When they are in harmony in so large a part of their occupations, the points of remaining difference lose their venom. Those who thought they hated each other unconsciously find themselves friends, and as far as it affects the world at large, the acrimony of controversy has almost disappeared.

Imagine, if you can, a person being now put to death for a speculative theological opinion. You feel at once, that in the most bigoted country in the world such a thing has become impossible, and the impossibility is the measure of the alteration which we have all undergone. The formulas remain as they were on either side—the very same formulas which were once supposed to require these detestable murders. But we have learned to know each other better. The cords which bind together the brotherhood of mankind are woven of a thousand strands. We do not any more fly apart or become enemies, because, here and there, in one strand out of so many, there are still unsound places. If I were asked for a distinct proof that Europe was improving and not retrograding, I should find it in this phenomenon. It has not been brought about by controversy. Men are fighting still over the same questions which they began to fight about at the Reformation. Protestant divines have not driven Catholics out of the field, nor Catholics, Protestants. Each polemic writes for his own partisans, and makes no impression on his adversary.

Controversy has kept alive a certain quantity of bitterness, and that, I suspect, is all that it would accomplish if it continued till the day of judgment. I sometimes, in impatient moments, wish the laity in Europe would treat their controversial divines as two gentlemen once treated their seconds, when they found themselves forced into a duel without knowing what they were quarreling about. As the principals were being led up to their places, one of them whispered to the other, “If you will shoot your second, I will shoot mine."

Which of the following best conveys the author's primary argument in the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The role of science in shaping our understanding of absolute truth is still under threat from the discord created by religious controversy.

Religious disagreements between men of all faiths have almost disappeared in the last three hundred years, much to the betterment of society.

The relationship between men of different Christian faith has improved immeasurably in the last three hundred years.

The role of the clergy in shaping European affairs has continuously and gradually waned in the years since the time of Luther and Erasmus.

The relationship between the laity and the clergy has not improved in any significant way in over three hundred years.

Correct answer:

The relationship between men of different Christian faith has improved immeasurably in the last three hundred years.

Explanation:

In the first paragraph, the author focuses on developing the idea that three hundred years before he wrote this essay, Europe was embroiled in much conflict and disagreement born of religious controversy. In the second paragraph, he seems to go on to explain how the relationship between men of different Christian faith has improved dramatically in the time that has passed. Evidence to support this conclusion can be found by linking the meanings of the first and second paragraphs and in excerpts such as “Three centuries have passed over our heads since the time of which I am speaking, and the world is so changed that we can hardly recognize it as the same” and “Those who thought they hated each other, unconsciously find themselves friends; and as far as it affects the world at large, the acrimony of controversy has almost disappeared.” Although the author would argue that the following statements are true, they do not represent his primary argument in the second paragraph: “Religious disagreements between men of all faiths have almost disappeared in the last three hundred years, much to the betterment of society”; “The role of the clergy in shaping European affairs has continuously and gradually waned in the years since the time of Luther and Erasmus.” The other two answer choices are even further removed from the primary argument of the second paragraph.

Example Question #41 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from “Federalist No. 11” by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1788)

The importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion, and which has commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.

There are appearances to authorize a supposition that the adventurous spirit, which distinguishes the commercial character of America, has already excited uneasy sensations in several of the maritime powers of Europe. They seem to be apprehensive of our too great interference in that carrying trade, which is the support of their navigation and the foundation of their naval strength. Those of them which have colonies foresee the dangers that may threaten their American dominions from the neighborhood of States, which have all the dispositions, and would possess all the means, requisite to the creation of a powerful marine. Impressions of this kind will naturally indicate the policy of fostering divisions among us and of depriving us of an active commerce in our own bottoms. This would answer the threefold purpose of preventing our interference in their navigation, of monopolizing the profits of our trade, and of clipping the wings by which we might soar to a dangerous greatness.

If we continue united, we may counteract a policy so unfriendly to our prosperity in a variety of ways. By prohibitory regulations extending throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other for the privileges of our markets. This assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate the importance of the markets of three millions of people to any manufacturing nation, and the immense difference there would be to the trade and navigation of such a nation between a direct communication in its own ships and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns to and from America in the ships of another country. Suppose, for instance, we had a government in America capable of excluding Great Britain from all our ports; what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate, with the fairest prospect of success, for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive kind in the dominions of that kingdom? When these questions have been asked, upon other occasions, they have received a plausible, but not a solid or satisfactory answer. It has been said that prohibitions on our part would produce no change in the system of Britain, because she could prosecute her trade with us through the medium of the Dutch, who would be her immediate customers and paymasters for those articles which were wanted for the supply of our markets. But would not her navigation be materially injured by the loss of the important advantage of being her own carrier in that trade? Would not the principal part of its profits be intercepted by the Dutch, as a compensation for their agency and risk?

A mature consideration of the objects suggested by these questions will justify a belief that in such a state of things, our trade would derive the most substantial benefits. Such a point gained from the British government, and which could not be expected without an equivalent in exemptions and immunities in our markets, would be likely to have a correspondent effect on the conduct of other nations, who would not be inclined to see themselves altogether supplanted in our trade.

A further resource for influencing the conduct of European nations toward us, in this respect, would arise from the establishment of a federal navy. There can be no doubt that the continuance of the Union under an efficient government would soon put it in our power to create a navy which, if it could not vie with those of the great maritime powers, would at least be of respectable weight if thrown into the scale of either of two contending parties. This would be more peculiarly the case in relation to operations in the West Indies. Our position is, in this respect, a most commanding one. And if to this consideration we add that of the usefulness of supplies from this country in the prosecution of military operations in the West Indies, it will readily be perceived that a situation so favorable would enable us to bargain with great advantage for commercial privileges. A price would be set not only upon our friendship, but upon our neutrality. By a steady adherence to the Union we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate.

The author’s primary argument in the fifth paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Without the friendship of Britain, and the rest of the European powers, the United States cannot hope to maximize its commercial potential.

American economic growth cannot reach its full potential until the United States takes full control over the European colonies in the West Indies, and to do this the United States needs to create a modern and dynamic navy.

The British will always seek to interfere in American affairs, so the wisest course of action for the United States is to seek the allegiance of the other European nations against the British.

The geographic proximity of the United States to the West Indies will allow America to act as a commanding and arbitrating force in European affairs in the Western hemisphere.

The United States has great need to establish a powerful and modern naval force to meet the potential threats of European invasion or interference.

Correct answer:

The geographic proximity of the United States to the West Indies will allow America to act as a commanding and arbitrating force in European affairs in the Western hemisphere.

Explanation:

In the fifth paragraph, the author is primarily trying to convince his audience that America’s uniquely fortunate position, in close proximity to the economically significant West Indies, will allow America to act from a commanding position in settling any and all European matters in the Western hemisphere. This can be seen in such excerpts as “Our position is, in this respect, a most commanding one” and “A price would be set not only upon our friendship, but upon our neutrality. By a steady adherence to the Union we may hope, erelong, to become the arbiter of Europe in America, and to be able to incline the balance of European competitions in this part of the world as our interest may dictate.” Although the author does argue that America needs to establish a powerful navy, this is not his primary argument. The navy is part of the means by which the author hopes to fulfill his goals of making America a commanding and arbitrating force in the commercial affairs of European nations.

Example Question #42 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals by David Hume (1777)

We may observe that, in displaying the praises of any humane, beneficent man, there is one circumstance that never fails to be amply insisted on, namely, the happiness and satisfaction derived to society from his intercourse and good offices. To his parents, we are apt to say, he endears himself by his pious attachment and duteous care still more than by the connections of nature. His children never feel his authority but when employed for their advantage. With him, the ties of love are consolidated by beneficence and friendship. The ties of friendship approach, in a fond observance of each obliging office, to those of love and inclination. His domestics and dependents have in him a sure resource and no longer dread the power of fortune but so far as she exercises it over him. From him the hungry receive food, the naked clothing, the ignorant and slothful skill and industry. Like the sun, an inferior minister of providence he cheers, invigorates, and sustains the surrounding world.

If confined to private life, the sphere of his activity is narrower, but his influence is all benign and gentle. If exalted into a higher station, mankind and posterity reap the fruit of his labors.

As these topics of praise never fail to be employed, and with success, where we would inspire esteem for any one, may it not thence be concluded that the utility resulting from the social virtues forms at least a PART of their merit, and is one source of that approbation and regard so universally paid to them?

When we recommend even an animal or a plant as USEFUL and BENEFICIAL, we give it an applause and recommendation suited to its nature. As, on the other hand, reflection on the baneful influence of any of these inferior beings always inspires us with the sentiment of aversion. The eye is pleased with the prospect of corn fields and loaded vineyards, horses grazing, and flocks pasturing, but flies the view of briars and brambles, affording shelter to wolves and serpents.

A machine, a piece of furniture, a vestment, a house well contrived for use and convenience, is so far beautiful, and is contemplated with pleasure and approbation. An experienced eye is here sensible to many excellencies, which escape persons ignorant and uninstructed.

Can anything stronger be said in praise of a profession, such as merchandize or manufacture, than to observe the advantages which it procures to society? And is not a monk and inquisitor enraged when we treat his order as useless or pernicious to mankind?

The historian exults in displaying the benefit arising from his labors. The writer of romance alleviates or denies the bad consequences ascribed to his manner of composition.

In general, what praise is implied in the simple epithet USEFUL! What reproach in the contrary!

Your Gods, says Cicero [De Nat. Deor. lib. i.], in opposition to the Epicureans, cannot justly claim any worship or adoration, with whatever imaginary perfections you may suppose them endowed. They are totally useless and inactive. Even the Egyptians, whom you so much ridicule, never consecrated any animal but on account of its utility.

The skeptics assert [Sext. Emp. adrersus Math. lib. viii.], though absurdly, that the origin of all religious worship was derived from the utility of inanimate objects, as the sun and moon, to the support the well-being of mankind. This is also the common reason assigned by historians, for the deification of eminent heroes and legislators [Diod. Sic. passim.].

To plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children—meritorious acts, according to the religion of Zoroaster.

In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail, as soon as farther experience and sounder reasoning have given us more just notions of human affairs, we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil.

Giving alms to common beggars is naturally praised because it seems to carry relief to the distressed and indigent, but when we observe the encouragement thence arising to idleness and debauchery, we regard that species of charity rather as a weakness than a virtue.

Which one of the following best captures the author's attitude toward people who question religion?

Possible Answers:

He rejects their statements wholeheartedly.

He thinks they have an argument which seems valid at first glance, but upon further consideration turns out to be faulty.

He suggests that their point about the origin of worship is valid even if their arguments are incorrect.

He denies their existence.

He supports their points and their arguments.

Correct answer:

He suggests that their point about the origin of worship is valid even if their arguments are incorrect.

Explanation:

The author says that "The skeptics assert [Sext. Emp. adrersus Math. lib. viii.], though absurdly, that the origin of all religious worship was derived from the utility of inanimate objects.” While he is mentioning their conclusion that religious worship derives from the utility of inanimate objects, he adds that this is asserted "absurdly." Thus, we can infer that the author agrees with their point about the origin of worship having to do with useful things, though he disagrees with their arguments.

Example Question #43 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle (1843)

How true, for example, is that other old Fable of the Sphinx, who sat by the wayside, propounding her riddle to the passengers, which if they could not answer she destroyed them! Such a Sphinx is this Life of ours, to all men and societies of men. Nature, like the Sphinx, is of womanly celestial loveliness and tenderness; the face and bosom of a goddess, but ending in claws and the body of a lioness. There is in her a celestial beauty,— which means celestial order, pliancy to wisdom; but there is also a darkness, a ferocity, fatality, which are infernal. And does she not propound her riddles to us? Of each man she asks daily, in mild voice, yet with a terrible significance, “Do you know the meaning of this Day? What can you do Today, or wisely attempt to do?” Nature, Universe, Destiny, Existence, howsoever we name this grand unnameable Fact in the midst of which we live and struggle, is as a heavenly bride to the wise and brave, to them who can discern her behests and do them; a destroying fiend to them who cannot.

With Nations it is as with individuals: Can they rede the riddle of Destiny? This English Nation, will it get to know the meaning of its strange new Today? Is there sense enough extant, discoverable anywhere or anyhow, in our united twenty-seven million heads to discern the same; valor enough in our twenty-seven million hearts to dare and do the bidding thereof? It will be seen!

The secret of gold Midas, which he with his long ears never could discover, was that he had offended the Supreme Powers—that he had parted company with the eternal inner Facts of this Universe, and followed the transient outer Appearances thereof. Properly it is the secret of all unhappy men and unhappy nations. Had they known Nature's right truth, Nature's right truth would have made them free; but they have forgotten the right Inner True, and taken up with the Outer Sham-true. They answer the Sphinx's question wrong.

Foolish men imagine that because judgment for an evil thing is delayed, there is no justice, but an accidental one, here below. Judgment for an evil thing is many times delayed some day or two, some century or two, but it is sure as life, it is sure as death! In the center of the world-whirlwind, verily now as in the oldest days, dwells and speaks a god. The great soul of the world is just. O brother, can it be needful now at this late epoch of experience to remind thee of such a fact; which all manner of old Pagan Romans, Scythians, and heathen Greeks, and indeed more or less all men, have managed at one time to see into; nay which thou thyself, till redtape philosophy strangled the inner life of thee, hadst once some inkling of: that there is justice here below, and even, at bottom, that there is nothing else but justice! Forget that, thou hast forgotten all. Success will never more attend thee: how can it now? Thou hast the whole Universe against thee.

Which one of the following concepts is central to the third paragraph?

Possible Answers:

The forsaking of an art for a science

The misinterpretation of riches or goods as the ultimate goal

The similarities between the beliefs of ancient and modern cultures

The misunderstanding of what is right and what is wrong

The association between appearances and actual truth

Correct answer:

The misinterpretation of riches or goods as the ultimate goal

Explanation:

What lies at the center of the third paragraph can be summed up by one of its closing lines: “Foolish men mistake transitory semblance for eternal fact, and go astray more and more.” Essentially, in the author's opinion, any man who pays more attention to the possessions he will only be able to own in this lifetime than the search or drive for understanding the divine is a fool. The statement that best sums this up, although some of the others come close, is “The misinterpretation (mistaking) of riches (transitory semblance) as the ultimate goal (eternal fact.)”

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