LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #51 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Oxford Book of American Essays (1914)

It is natural to believe in great men. If the companions of our childhood should turn out to be heroes, and their condition regal, it would not surprise us. All mythology opens with demigods, and the circumstance is high and poetic; that is, their genius is paramount. In the legends of the Gautama, the first men ate the earth, and found it deliciously sweet.

Nature seems to exist for the excellent. The world is upheld by the veracity of good men: they make the earth wholesome. They who lived with them found life glad and nutritious. Life is sweet and tolerable only in our belief in such society, and actually or ideally we manage to live with superiors. We call our children and our lands by their names. Their names are wrought into the verbs of language, their works and effigies are in our houses, and every circumstance of the day recalls an anecdote of them.

The search after the great is the dream of youth and the most serious occupation of manhood. We travel into foreign parts to find his works—if possible, to get a glimpse of him. But we are put off with fortune instead. You say the English are practical; the Germans are hospitable; in Valencia the climate is delicious; and in the hills of the Sacramento there is gold for the gathering. Yes, but I do not travel to find comfortable, rich, and hospitable people, or clear sky, or ingots that cost too much. But if there were any magnet that would point to the countries and houses where are the persons who are intrinsically rich and powerful, I would sell all, and buy it, and put myself on the road today.

The people go with us on their credit. The knowledge that in the city is a man who invented the railroad raises the credit of all the citizens. But enormous populations, if they be beggars, are disgusting, like moving cheese, like hills of ants or of fleas—the more, the worse.

Our religion is the love and cherishing of these patrons. The gods of fable are the shining moments of great men. We run all our vessels into one mould. Our colossal theologies of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, are the necessary and structural action of the human mind. The student of history is like a man going into a warehouse to buy clothes or carpets. He fancies he has a new article. If he goes to the factory, he shall find that his new stuff still repeats the scrolls and rosettes which are found on the interior walls of the pyramids of Thebes. Our theism is the purification of the human mind. Man can paint, or make, or think nothing but man. He believes that the great material elements had their origin from his thought. And our philosophy finds one essence collected or distributed.

Other men are lenses through which we read our own minds. I count him a great man who inhabits a higher sphere of thought, into which other men rise with labor and difficulty; he has but to open his eyes to see things in a true light, and in large relations, whilst they must make painful corrections and keep a vigilant eye on many sources of error. His service to us is of like sort. It costs a beautiful person no exertion to paint his or her image on our eyes; yet how splendid is that benefit! It costs no more for a wise soul to convey his quality to other men. And everyone can do his best thing easiest. He is great who is what he is from nature, and who never reminds us of others.

Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the fifth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

It takes a hero to break from religion.

Religion is essentially the celebration of man.

We love and cherish those who brought us religion.

Religion was founded on the deeds of great men done in the name of a deity.

Religion is the whetstone of great men.

Correct answer:

Religion is essentially the celebration of man.

Explanation:

The author states, “Our religion is the love and cherishing of these patrons. . . . Our theism is the purification of the human mind. Man can paint, or make, or think nothing but man. He believes that the great material elements had their origin from his thought.” Therefore he is stating, in the fifth paragraph, that religion is essentially the celebration of great men, as man cannot perceive anything beyond man. While it could be suggested that religion was founded on the deeds of great men, the point of the paragraph is to highlight how religion uses and is used by great men (“The gods of fable are the shining moments of great men”), not how they founded religion.

Example Question #5 : Passage Organization And Order

Adapted from Volume 1 of History of Woman Suffrage by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage (1887)

Change is a law of life, and the development of society a natural growth. Although to this law we owe the discoveries of unknown worlds, the inventions of machinery, swifter modes of travel, and clearer ideas as to the value of human life and thought, yet each successive change has met with the most determined opposition. Fortunately, progress is not the result of pre-arranged plans of individuals, but is born of a fortuitous combination of circumstances that compel certain results, overcoming the natural inertia of mankind. There is a certain enjoyment in habitual sluggishness; in rising each morning with the same ideas as the night before; in retiring each night with the thoughts of the morning. This inertia of mind and body has ever held the multitude in chains. Thousands have thus surrendered their most sacred rights of conscience. In all periods of human development, thinking has been punished as a crime, which is reason sufficient to account for the general passive resignation of the masses to their conditions and environments.

Again, "subjection to the powers that be" has been the lesson of both church and state, throttling science, checking invention, crushing free thought, persecuting and torturing those who have dared to speak or act outside of established authority. Anathemas and the stake have upheld the church, banishment and the scaffold the throne, and the freedom of mankind has ever been sacrificed to the idea of protection. So entirely has the human will been enslaved in all classes of society in the past, that monarchs have humbled themselves to popes, nations have knelt at the feet of monarchs, and individuals have sold themselves to others under the subtle promise of "protection"—a word that simply means release from all responsibility, all use of one's own faculties—a word that has ever blinded people to its true significance. Under authority and this false promise of "protection," certain beliefs have been inculcated, certain crimes invented, in order to intimidate the masses. Hence, the church made free thought the worst of sins, and the spirit of inquiry the worst of blasphemies; while the state proclaimed her temporal power of divine origin, and all rebellion high treason alike to God and the king, to be speedily and severely punished. In this union of church and state mankind touched the lowest depth of degradation.

All these influences fell with crushing weight on woman; more sensitive, helpless, and imaginative, she suffered a thousand fears and wrongs where man did one. Lecky, in his "History of Rationalism in Europe," shows that the vast majority of the victims of fanaticism and witchcraft, burned, drowned, and tortured, were women. Society, including our systems of jurisprudence, civil and political theories, trade, commerce, education, religion, friendships, and family life, have all been framed on the sole idea of man's rights. Hence, he takes upon himself the responsibility of directing and controlling the powers of woman, under that all-sufficient excuse of tyranny, "divine right."

The people who demand authority for every thought and action, who look to others for wisdom and protection, are those who perpetuate tyranny. The thinkers and actors who find their authority within, are those who inaugurate freedom. Obedience to outside authority to which woman has everywhere been trained, has not only dwarfed her capacity, but made her a retarding force in civilization, recognized at last by statesmen as a dangerous element to free institutions. Hence, in the scientific education of woman, in the training of her faculties to independent thought and logical reasoning, lies the hope of the future.

Which of these represents the central idea of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Without the protective interests of the medieval church, mankind would have been unlikely to reach its current zenith of productivity and personal freedom.

The combined efforts of the church and state have done little to improve the condition of mankind.

The “natural inertia” of mankind hinders our ability to progress and improve ourselves.

Emancipation from the authority of church and state is necessary in order for women to achieve true equality in human society.

Subjugating people to the established authority of church and state has stifled the growth of individual liberty in mankind.

Correct answer:

Subjugating people to the established authority of church and state has stifled the growth of individual liberty in mankind.

Explanation:

The author uses the second paragraph to introduce her argument that the primary responsibility for the degradation of mankind rests at the feet of the combined efforts of church and state. After determining that this is the function of the second paragraph, it might be reasonable to say that the correct answer is that the combined efforts of the church and state have done little to improve the condition of mankind. But, the language and implication here is not strong enough; it is more correct to infer that the author is stating that the church and state have had an extremely negative effect, rather than just one that is not wholly positive.

Example Question #887 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Adapted from "Belize" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

As an independent country, Belize has existed for little over thirty years, having achieved full autonomy from Britain in 1981. Thirty years is not a lot of time to develop a distinct cultural identity anywhere in the world, and in Belize, the situation is complicated by several factors. There is no dominant ethnic group; religion and language are far from homogenous; it is the only former English colony in Latin America, and it is seemingly closer to a Caribbean state than a Central American one, a situation that is not helped by the tension that exists between Belize and Guatemala. Without a homogenous culture, Belizean national identity is hard to define, particularly for an outsider.

The recent history of Belize gives significant insight into why this should be. The area was originally part of the great Mayan empire in Central America, but the Maya were in decline long before the arrival of Europeans. First, the Spanish came and settled much of the area around Belize, but due to a distinct absence of gold and silver, they largely ignored the territory of Belize itself. The first Europeans to occupy Belize in any significant number were English pirates—violent men who grew wealthy pillaging Spanish ships. But pirates by their very nature create transient communities; it would be English Puritans who were the first Europeans to settle Belize on a permanent basis. They sustained themselves on Belize’s fecund agricultural land and, following the introduction of sugar and the extensive logging of timber, eventually grew wealthy—wealthy enough to purchase slaves to do the bulk of the work for them. For one-hundred and fifty years, the economic system of slavery was dominant in Belize, but following the territory’s formal inclusion as a colony of Britain (called the British Honduras colony) in the 1840s, the institution of slavery was outlawed. 

By this time, however, two significant and long-lasting precedents had been set. The first was the cultural and ethnic diversity of Belize. The marriage of European colonials to freed slaves created a large mestizo population, and the country received influxes of immigrants from the Caribbean, Spanish-speaking refugees from Honduras and El Salvador during times of Civil War, and settlers from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The arrival of people of so many different ethnic backgrounds has only increased the significance of the second precedent, established in colonial times—namely the concentration of property ownership in the hands of foreigners.

At the height of the British Honduras colony, the wealth in Belize was entirely held by English and Scottish settlers, and native Belizeans were either engaged in open conflict with the crown or else forced into servitude and subjugation. The legacy has continued long past independence. In contemporary Belize, almost eighty percent of property and businesses are owned by outsiders. The English and Spanish have largely been replaced with Americans and Taiwanese, but the matter remains the same. What little wealth is produced in the nation is exported elsewhere, and those that live in Belize are often forced to rely exclusively on tourism. If Belizeans are unable to own their own property and to manage their own businesses, then national identity and cultural homogeny may have little opportunity to flourish.

And, yet, the experience of talking with the people in Belize belies these expectations. There are many people, of course, who have recently arrived in Belize and carry with them their culture, language, and customs. These people initially tend to stick to their small and distinct social groups. But, there is a growing tendency to integrate into the larger population. The majority of people are first- or second-generation independent Belizeans. Like people across the world who gained nationhood in the twentieth century, there is a distinct sense of sincere pride that would be hard to recognize in the overly ironic West. Belizeans—be they Maya, Garifuna, Honduran, Amish, Mestizo, or Taiwanese—believe in the future of their country. There is little doubt that the road ahead will be challenging, but there are causes for resilient optimism. Not least of these is Belize’s rich biodiversity and unmolested natural wonders that make it such a haven for naturalists and scientists from around the world. The future of Belize is likely to be one of continuous diversity, but like other former colonial nations like Brazil and the United States, Belizeans believe they can make a strength of it.

The main point of the second paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

Belizean national identity is fragile and subject to the influx of many different types of people

Belize has been settled by many different types of people

slavery was the driving force behind the growth of Belize

slavery was introduced to Belize once the Puritan settlers discovered the wealth of the land

Belize should be considered closer to a Caribbean state than a Central American one

Correct answer:

Belize has been settled by many different types of people

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the author focuses on highlighting how Belize has been settled by many different types of people. He traces the arrival and decline of several different groups. Although the author does discuss how slavery was part of the economic growth of Belize and was introduced by Puritan settlers, it is not the primary emphasis of the paragraph. The answer choice “Belizean national identity is fragile and subject to the influx of many different types of people” is closer to a description of the overall essay than it is to the point of the second paragraph.

Example Question #51 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Belize" by Daniel Morrison (2014)

As an independent country, Belize has existed for little over thirty years, having achieved full autonomy from Britain in 1981. Thirty years is not a lot of time to develop a distinct cultural identity anywhere in the world, and in Belize, the situation is complicated by several factors. There is no dominant ethnic group; religion and language are far from homogenous; it is the only former English colony in Latin America, and it is seemingly closer to a Caribbean state than a Central American one, a situation that is not helped by the tension that exists between Belize and Guatemala. Without a homogenous culture, Belizean national identity is hard to define, particularly for an outsider.

The recent history of Belize gives significant insight into why this should be. The area was originally part of the great Mayan empire in Central America, but the Maya were in decline long before the arrival of Europeans. First, the Spanish came and settled much of the area around Belize, but due to a distinct absence of gold and silver, they largely ignored the territory of Belize itself. The first Europeans to occupy Belize in any significant number were English pirates—violent men who grew wealthy pillaging Spanish ships. But pirates by their very nature create transient communities; it would be English Puritans who were the first Europeans to settle Belize on a permanent basis. They sustained themselves on Belize’s fecund agricultural land and, following the introduction of sugar and the extensive logging of timber, eventually grew wealthy—wealthy enough to purchase slaves to do the bulk of the work for them. For one-hundred and fifty years, the economic system of slavery was dominant in Belize, but following the territory’s formal inclusion as a colony of Britain (called the British Honduras colony) in the 1840s, the institution of slavery was outlawed. 

By this time, however, two significant and long-lasting precedents had been set. The first was the cultural and ethnic diversity of Belize. The marriage of European colonials to freed slaves created a large mestizo population, and the country received influxes of immigrants from the Caribbean, Spanish-speaking refugees from Honduras and El Salvador during times of Civil War, and settlers from Taiwan and Hong Kong. The arrival of people of so many different ethnic backgrounds has only increased the significance of the second precedent, established in colonial times—namely the concentration of property ownership in the hands of foreigners.

At the height of the British Honduras colony, the wealth in Belize was entirely held by English and Scottish settlers, and native Belizeans were either engaged in open conflict with the crown or else forced into servitude and subjugation. The legacy has continued long past independence. In contemporary Belize, almost eighty percent of property and businesses are owned by outsiders. The English and Spanish have largely been replaced with Americans and Taiwanese, but the matter remains the same. What little wealth is produced in the nation is exported elsewhere, and those that live in Belize are often forced to rely exclusively on tourism. If Belizeans are unable to own their own property and to manage their own businesses, then national identity and cultural homogeny may have little opportunity to flourish.

And, yet, the experience of talking with the people in Belize belies these expectations. There are many people, of course, who have recently arrived in Belize and carry with them their culture, language, and customs. These people initially tend to stick to their small and distinct social groups. But, there is a growing tendency to integrate into the larger population. The majority of people are first- or second-generation independent Belizeans. Like people across the world who gained nationhood in the twentieth century, there is a distinct sense of sincere pride that would be hard to recognize in the overly ironic West. Belizeans—be they Maya, Garifuna, Honduran, Amish, Mestizo, or Taiwanese—believe in the future of their country. There is little doubt that the road ahead will be challenging, but there are causes for resilient optimism. Not least of these is Belize’s rich biodiversity and unmolested natural wonders that make it such a haven for naturalists and scientists from around the world. The future of Belize is likely to be one of continuous diversity, but like other former colonial nations like Brazil and the United States, Belizeans believe they can make a strength of it.

The main point of the fourth paragraph is that __________.

Possible Answers:

The property situation is the fault of English and Spanish settlers who paid little attention to the needs of the local population.

Belizean cultural identity is firmly tied to its economic identity.

Based on aspects of its economy, one would expect Belize to have little chance to generate a cultural identity.

Belizean cultural identity can emerge due to the enormous potential for wealth that exists in the country.

Property ownership has doomed Belize to poverty and a lack of national cohesion.

Correct answer:

Based on aspects of its economy, one would expect Belize to have little chance to generate a cultural identity.

Explanation:

The fourth paragraph is intended to highlight the problems one would expect to face Belize given the fact that people there are largely unable to own private property and businesses. The author states, “What little wealth is produced in the nation is exported elsewhere and those that live in Belize are often forced to rely exclusively on tourism. If Belizeans are unable to own their own property, to manage their own businesses then national identity and cultural homogeny should have little opportunity to flourish.” The main point of this is that one would expect Belize to have little chance to generate a cultural identity. This is obviously set up so that the author can refute them and explain why these claims are inaccurate in the conclusion. One could answer that “Property ownership has doomed Belize to poverty and a lack of national cohesion” is correct, but this suggests that the author believes Belize is doomed, which certainly does not seem the case.

Example Question #889 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Diary Of Samuel Pepys (1893) by Samuel Pepys.

September 1st. Up and at the office all the morning, and then dined at home. Got my new closet made mighty clean against to-morrow. Sir W. Pen and my wife and Mercer and I to "Polichinelly," but were there horribly frighted to see Young Killigrew come in with a great many more young sparks; but we hid ourselves, so as we think they did not see us. By and by, they went away, and then we were at rest again; and so, the play being done, we to Islington, and there eat and drank and mighty merry; and so home singing, and, after a letter or two at the office, to bed.

2nd (Lord's day). Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights after yesterdays cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's baker's' house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus's Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs.————lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down: I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); to White Hall, and there up to the Kings house in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor—[Sir Thomas Bludworth.]—from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret.

Here meeting, with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul's, and there walked along Watlingstreet, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King's message he cried, like a fainting woman, "Lord! What can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it." That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oil, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers' things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration.

Which one of the following is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

Contempt for the inhabitants of the city.

Criticism of the people in charge of the city.

The superficial decisions of an ignorant man.

An intimate knowledge of London. 

The rebirth of a metropolis.

Correct answer:

An intimate knowledge of London. 

Explanation:

The central crux of the passage lies in an intimate knowledge of London. Without it the author would not be able to describe each place with such comfortable detail or be able to give reasons as to the spread of the fire, as he does. The passage does not concern the rebirth of the city and although one can interpret slight criticisms of the people who govern and live in the city they are not central to the piece. Likewise the author's needs are not superficial although he does appear to be somewhat inactive. He is also not ignorant as he shows a good knowledge of what is happening in his descriptions.

Example Question #511 : Humanities

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 is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

The description of the author's friends.

A general sense of heroism.

The appointment of officers. 

The literacy of senior soldiers.

The preparation of the regiment.

Correct answer:

The appointment of officers. 

Explanation:

Each of these could be argued to be at the center of the passage. However the most valid answer is the appointment of officers as four paragraphs are dedicated to the description of specific appointed officers whilst the other paragraphs deal with why officers were appointed and how they were trained. Although it is quite obvious, this answer could be reached by careful elimination of the others on the basis of their information being too general or too specific.

Example Question #51 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796)

The monks having attended their abbot to the door of his cell, he dismissed them with an air of conscious superiority in which humility's semblance combated with the reality of pride. He was no sooner alone, than he gave free loose to the indulgence of his vanity. When he remembered the enthusiasm that his discourse had excited, pride told him loudly that he was superior to the rest of his fellow-creatures.

“Who,” thought he; “Who but myself has passed the ordeal of youth, yet sees no single stain upon his conscience? Who else has subdued the violence of strong passions and an impetuous temperament, and submitted even from the dawn of life to voluntary retirement? I seek for such a man in vain. I see no one but myself possessed of such resolution. Religion cannot boast Ambrosio's equal! How powerful an effect did my discourse produce upon its auditors! How they loaded me with benedictions, and pronounced me the sole uncorrupted stalwart of the church! What then now is left for me to do? Nothing, but to watch as carefully over the conduct of my brothers as I have hitherto watched over my own. Yet hold! May I not be tempted from those paths which till now I have pursued without one moment's wandering? I must now abandon the solitude of my retreat; the fairest and noblest dames of Madrid continually present themselves at the abbey, and will use no other confessor. Should I meet some lovely female in that world that I am constrained to enter, lovely . . . as you, Madonna . . . !”

As he said this, he fixed his eyes upon a picture of the Virgin, which was suspended opposite to him. This for two years had been the object of his increasing wonder and adoration. He paused, and gazed upon it with delight.

“What beauty in that countenance!” He continued after a silence of some minutes. “Oh! If such a creature existed, and existed but for me! Gracious God, should I then resist the temptation? Should I not barter for a single embrace the reward of my sufferings for thirty years? Should I not abandon . . . Fool that I am! Whither do I suffer my admiration of this picture to hurry me? Away, impure ideas! Let me remember that woman is forever lost to me. Never was mortal formed so perfect as this picture. But even did such exist, the trial might be too mighty for a common virtue, but Ambrosio's is proof against temptation. Temptation, did I say? To me it would be none. It is not the woman's beauty that fills me with such enthusiasm; it is the painter's skill that I admire, it is the divinity that I adore! Are not the passions dead in my bosom? Have I not freed myself from the frailty of mankind? Fear not, Ambrosio! Take confidence in the strength of your virtue.”

Here his reverie was interrupted by three soft knocks at the door of his cell. With difficulty did the abbot awake from his delirium. The knocking was repeated.

“Who is there?” said Ambrosio at length.

“It is only Rosario,” replied a gentle voice.

“Enter! Enter, my son!”

The door was immediately opened, and Rosario appeared with a small basket in his hand.

Rosario was a young novice belonging to the monastery, who in three months intended to make his profession. A sort of mystery enveloped this youth, which rendered him at once an object of interest and curiosity.

Which one of the following best captures the author's description of the abbot?

Possible Answers:

A man who is prone to open lapses in professionalism and in the execution of his duties

A man with the public appearance of a pious man who in private is prone to symptoms of pride and lust.

A man without scruples who is in a position of religious power

A man who displays his feelings of equality with his peers yet shows evidence of being a sinner when alone

A man full of pride and superiority who is made pious only through imagery

Correct answer:

A man with the public appearance of a pious man who in private is prone to symptoms of pride and lust.

Explanation:

To answer this question, we need a general sense of the information given in the passage. We know from the first two paragraphs that the abbot is not only revered but also has feelings of pride which do not suit his station. These feelings of pride are also very obviously hidden or kept for his private moments. We also learn that he is subject to feelings of lust for the painting in his room. He does not show feelings of equality; he is not made pious by the religious imagery of the painting; he does have some moral sense in the passage; and he does not have any lapses during his duties in the passage.

Example Question #512 : Humanities

Adapted from a text by Benjamin Franklin in The Oxford Book of American Essays (1914)

I received my dear friend’s two letters, one for Wednesday and one for Saturday. This is again Wednesday. I do not deserve one for today, because I have not answered the former. But, indolent as I am, and averse to writing, the fear of having no more of your pleasing epistles, if I do not contribute to the correspondence, obliges me to take up my pen.

I am charmed with your description of Paradise, and with your plan of living there; and I approve much of your conclusion, that, in the meantime, we should draw all the good we can from this world. In my opinion we might all draw more good from it than we do, and suffer less evil, if we would take care not to give too much for whistles. For to me it seems that most of the unhappy people we meet with are become so by neglect of that caution.

You ask what I mean? You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.

When I was a child of seven years old, my friends, on a holiday, filled my pocket with coppers. I went directly to a shop where they sold toys for children, and being charmed with the sound of a whistle that I met by the way in the hands of another boy, I voluntarily offered and gave all my money for one. I then came home, and went whistling all over the house, much pleased with my whistle, but disturbing all the family. My brothers, sisters, and cousins, understanding the bargain I had made, told me I had given four times as much for it as it was worth, put me in mind what good things I might have bought with the rest of the money, and laughed at me so much for my folly that I cried with vexation, and the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.

This, however, was afterwards of use to me, the impression continuing on my mind, so that often, when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle, and I saved my money.

As I grew up, came into the world, and observed the actions of men, I thought I met with many, very many, who gave too much for the whistle.

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, This man gives too much for his whistle.

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, Poor man, said I, you pay too much for your whistle.

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, Mistaken man, said I, you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, What a pity, say I, that she should pay so much for a whistle!

In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.

Yet I ought to have charity for these unhappy people, when I consider that, with all this wisdom of which I am boasting, there are certain things in the world so tempting, for example, the apples of King John, which happily are not to be bought; for if they were put to sale by auction, I might very easily be led to ruin myself in the purchase, and find that I had once more given too much for the whistle.

Which one of the following is most central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

A series of portrayals of people who overvalued aspects of their lives

The author's story of the whistle

A warm message to a friend

A desire to educate

A decisive reply to a letter

Correct answer:

The author's story of the whistle

Explanation:

You could argue a decent case for any of these answers, but the most relevant one is the story of the whistle. Without the story, the author could not teach the lesson he wishes to teach. Likewise, the author includes portrayals of people who overvalued aspects of their lives due to the story. The decisiveness and warmness of the reply rely on the author telling the story, as he says, “You love stories, and will excuse my telling one of myself.” If we ask ourselves the question “Did the author intend to tell the story before he wrote the letter?” we could easily and effectively argue that the answer is “yes.”

Example Question #51 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Mysticism, Logic, and Other Essays by Bertrand Russell (1917)

When we try to ascertain the motives which have led men to the investigation of philosophical questions, we find that, broadly speaking, they can be divided into two groups, often antagonistic, and leading to very divergent systems. These two groups of motives are, on the one hand, those derived from religion and ethics, and, on the other hand, those derived from science. Plato, Spinoza, and Hegel may be taken as typical of the philosophers whose interests are mainly religious and ethical, while Leibniz, Locke, and Hume may be taken as representatives of the scientific wing. In Aristotle, Descartes, Berkeley, and Kant we find both groups of motives strongly present.

Herbert Spencer, in whose honor we are assembled today, would naturally be classed among scientific philosophers; it was mainly from science that he drew his data, his formulation of problems, and his conception of method. But his strong religious sense is obvious in much of his writing, and his ethical preoccupations are what make him value the conception of evolution—that conception in which, as a whole generation has believed, science and morals are to be united in fruitful and indissoluble marriage.

It is my belief that the ethical and religious motives, in spite of the splendidly imaginative systems to which they have given rise, have been, on the whole, a hindrance to the progress of philosophy, and ought now to be consciously thrust aside by those who wish to discover philosophical truth. Science, originally, was entangled in similar motives, and was thereby hindered in its advances. It is, I maintain, from science, rather than from ethics and religion, that philosophy should draw its inspiration.

But there are two different ways in which a philosophy may seek to base itself upon science. It may emphasize the most general results of science, and seek to give even greater generality and unity to these results. Or it may study the methods of science, and seek to apply these methods, with the necessary adaptations, to its own peculiar province. Much philosophy inspired by science has gone astray through preoccupation with the results momentarily supposed to have been achieved. It is not results, but methods that can be transferred with profit from the sphere of the special sciences to the sphere of philosophy. What I wish to bring to your notice is the possibility and importance of applying to philosophical problems certain broad principles of method which have been found successful in the study of scientific questions.

The opposition between a philosophy guided by scientific method and a philosophy dominated by religious and ethical ideas may be illustrated by two notions which are very prevalent in the works of philosophers, namely the notion of the universe, and the notion of good and evil. A philosopher is expected to tell us something about the nature of the universe as a whole, and to give grounds for either optimism or pessimism. Both these expectations seem to me mistaken. I believe the conception of "the universe" to be, as its etymology indicates, a mere relic of pre-Copernican astronomy, and I believe the question of optimism and pessimism to be one which the philosopher will regard as outside his scope, except, possibly, to the extent of maintaining that it is insoluble.

What does the author believe has long hindered the progress of science?

Possible Answers:

Its entanglement with religious and ethical motivations

The general disdain for scientific investigation among the general population

The inattention to detail among leading scientific figures

Ignorance of the scientific method among leading scientific figures

The overriding influence of religious institutions

Correct answer:

Its entanglement with religious and ethical motivations

Explanation:

Answering this question requires paying close attention to detail. In the third paragraph, the author states, “It is my belief that the ethical and religious motives in spite of the splendidly imaginative systems to which they have given rise have been on the whole a hindrance to the progress of philosophy. . . Science, originally, was entangled in similar motives, and was thereby hindered in its advances.” Based on this quotation, we can ascertain quite plainly that science's entanglement with religious and ethical motives has long hindered its progress, in the author’s opinion.

Example Question #361 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Adapted from How to Tell a Story and Other Essays by Mark Twain (1897)

There are several kinds of stories, but only one difficult kind—the humorous. The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. The humorous story is strictly a work of art—high and delicate art—and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story—understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print—was created in America, and has remained at home. The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it; but the teller of the comic story tells you beforehand that it is one of the funniest things he has ever heard. And sometimes he is so glad and happy that he will repeat the "nub" of it and glance around from face to face, collecting applause, and then repeat it again. It is a pathetic thing to see.

Let me set down an instance of the comic method, using an anecdote that has been popular all over the world for twelve or fifteen hundred years:

In the course of a certain battle, a soldier whose leg had been shot off appealed to another soldier who was hurrying by to carry him to the rear, informing him at the same time of his injury; whereupon the generous son of Mars, shouldering the unfortunate, proceeded to carry out the other’s desire. Bullets and cannon-balls were flying in all directions, and presently one of the latter took the wounded man's head off—without, however, his deliverer being aware of it. Soon he was hailed by an officer, who said:

"Where are you going with that carcass?"

"To the rear, sir—he's lost his leg!"

"His leg, forsooth?" responded the astonished officer; "you mean his head, you booby."

Whereupon the soldier dispossessed himself of his burden, and stood looking down upon it in great perplexity. At length he said:

"It is true, sir, just as you have said." Then after a pause he added, "But he TOLD me IT WAS HIS LEG—"

Here the narrator bursts into explosion after explosion of thunderous horse-laughter, repeating that nub from time to time. It takes only a minute and a half to tell that in its comic-story form; and isn't worth the telling, after all. Put into the humorous-story form it takes ten minutes, and is about the funniest thing I have ever listened to—as James Whitcomb Riley tells it.

He tells it in the character of a dull-witted old farmer who has just heard it for the first time, thinks it is unspeakably funny, and is trying to repeat it to a neighbor. But he can't remember it; so he gets all mixed up and wanders helplessly round and round, putting in tedious details that don't belong in the tale and only retard it; taking them out conscientiously and putting in others that are just as useless; stopping his narrative a good while in order to try to recall the name of the soldier that was hurt, and finally remembering that the soldier's name was not mentioned, and remarking placidly that the name is of no real importance, anyway—better, of course, if one knew it, but not essential, after all—and so on, and so on, and so on.

The teller is innocent and happy and pleased with himself, and has to stop occasionally to keep from laughing outright, but his body quakes in a jelly-like way with interior chuckles; and at the end of the ten minutes the audience have laughed until they are exhausted, and the tears are running down their faces. The simplicity and innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness of the old farmer are perfectly simulated, and the result is a performance which is thoroughly charming and delicious. This is art and fine and beautiful, and only a master can compass it; but a machine could tell the other story.

What is the primary difference between a humorous story and a witty story?

Possible Answers:

A witty story is the property of Europeans and cannot be understood by Americans; a humorous story is solely the property of Americans. 

A witty story is rarely clever and can only be redeemed by the careful oration of the narrator; a humorous story is funny and intelligent in every context.

None of the other answer choices is correct. The author does not define the difference between a witty story and a humorous story.

A humorous story has no place in polite society, but a witty story can be told comfortably in formal settings. 

A witty story depends on good subject matter; a humorous story depends on the artistry of the story teller. 

Correct answer:

A witty story depends on good subject matter; a humorous story depends on the artistry of the story teller. 

Explanation:

In the opening paragraph, the author says “The humorous story is American, the comic story is English, the witty story is French. The humorous story depends for its effect upon the manner of the telling; the comic story and the witty story upon the matter.” From this, we may determine that the author believes that a witty story depends on good subject matter, whereas a humorous story is dependent on the artistry of the storyteller. Although the author does state that witty stories are French and humorous stories are American, he does not claim that witty stories cannot be understood by Americans, so this answer choice is still incorrect.

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