LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #891 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Adapted from A Guide to Stoicism by George Stock (1915)

Among the Greeks and Romans of the classical age, philosophy occupied the place taken by religion in some later societies. Their appeal was to reason, not to revelation. To what, asks Cicero in his Offices, are we to look for training in virtue, if not to philosophy? Many people today are born into certain religions or religious denominations, but it was of his own free choice that the serious-minded young Greek or Roman embraced the tenets of one of the great sects which divided the world of philosophy. Conversions from one sect to another were of quite rare occurrence. A certain Dionysius of Heraclea, who went over from the Stoics to the Cyrenaics, was ever afterward known as "the deserter." It was as difficult to be independent in philosophy as it is with us to be independent in politics. When a young man joined a school, he committed himself to all its opinions, not only as to the end of life, which was the main point of division, but as to all questions on all subjects. The Stoic did not differ merely in his ethics from the Epicurean; he differed also in his theology and his physics and his metaphysics.

The life span of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was from B.C.E. 347 to 275. He did not begin teaching till 315, at the mature age of forty. Aristotle had passed away in 322, and with him closed the great constructive era of Greek thought. The Ionian philosophers had speculated on the physical constitution of the universe, the Pythagoreans on the mystical properties of numbers; Heraclitus had propounded his philosophy of fire, Democritus and Leucippus had struck out a rude form of the atomic theory, Socrates had raised questions relating to man, Plato had discussed them with all the freedom of the dialogue, while Aristotle had systematically worked them out. The later schools did not add much to the body of philosophy. What they did was to emphasize different sides of the doctrine of their predecessors and to drive views to their logical consequences. The great lesson of Greek philosophy is that it is worthwhile to do right irrespective of reward and punishment and regardless of the shortness of life. This lesson the Stoics so enforced by the earnestness of their lives and the influence of their moral teaching that it has become associated more particularly with them. 

The Greeks were all agreed that there was an end or aim of life, and that it was to be called "happiness," but at that point their agreement ended. As to the nature of happiness there was the utmost variety of opinion. Democritus had made it consist in mental serenity, Anaxagoras in speculation, Socrates in wisdom, Aristotle in the practice of virtue with some amount of favor from fortune, Aristippus simply in pleasure. Zeno's contribution to thought on the subject does not at first sight appear illuminating. He said that the end was "to live consistently," the implication doubtless being that no life but the passionless life of reason could ultimately be consistent with itself. Cleanthes, his immediate successor in the school, is credited with having added the words "with nature," thus completing the well-known Stoic formula that the end is "to live consistently with nature."

It was assumed by the Greeks that the ways of nature were "the ways of pleasantness," and that "all her paths" were "peace." This may seem to us a startling assumption, but that is because we do not mean by "nature" the same thing as they did. We connect the term with the origin of a thing, they connected it rather with the end; we mean by a thing's nature what it is or has been, they meant what it ought to become under the most favorable conditions. Hence we find Aristotle maintaining that the State is a natural product, because it is evolved out of social relations which exist by nature. Nature indeed was a highly ambiguous term to the Greeks no less than to ourselves, but in the sense with which we are now concerned, the nature of anything was defined by the Peripatetics as "the end of its becoming." Another definition of theirs puts the matter still more clearly. "What each thing is when its growth has been completed, that we declare to be the nature of each thing."

Following out this conception the Stoics identified a life in accordance with nature with a life in accordance with the highest perfection to which man could attain. Now, as man was essentially a rational animal, his work as man lay in living the rational life. And the perfection of reason was virtue. Hence the ways of nature were no other than the ways of virtue. And so it came about that the Stoic formula might be expressed in a number of different ways which yet all amounted to the same thing. The end was to live the virtuous life, or to live consistently, or to live in accordance with nature, or to live rationally.

Which of these statements best restates the underlined portion of text, “'What each thing is when its growth has been completed, that we declare to be the nature of each thing.'”

Possible Answers:

The nature of a thing is almost impossible to determine as the realities of life rarely allow for perfection to be reached.

The nature of a thing is determined by what it could become when it has reached its highest point.

The nature of a thing is connected by the rate at which it can grow to completion.

The nature of a thing can be declared only when that thing has reached its highest point.

The nature of a thing is determined by what it can be seen to be at its simplest and basest construction.

Correct answer:

The nature of a thing is determined by what it could become when it has reached its highest point.

Explanation:

In context, the author is discussing the difference between the Ancient Greeks' interpretation of the “state of nature” versus “our own understanding.” The author says, “we do not mean by 'nature' the same thing as they did. We connect the term with the origin of a thing, they connected it rather with the end; we mean by a thing's nature what it is or has been, they meant what it ought to become under the most favorable conditions.” So, the underlined portion of text can be understood to mean that the Ancient Greeks believed that “the nature of a thing” is determined by what it could be once it has reached its highest point.

Example Question #205 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One

Matthew Arnold’s prose writings, mainly, were the work of his middle and later years. They deal with, practically, the entire fabric of English civilization and culture in his day; and they are all directed by one clear and consistent critical purpose. That purpose was to “cure the great vice of our intellect, manifesting itself in our incredible vagaries in literature, in art, in religion, in morals; namely, that it is fantastic, and wants sanity.”

The main body of his purely literary criticism, with the exception of a few scattered essays, is to be found in the lectures On Translating Homer (1861), and The Study of Celtic Literature (1867), and in the two volumes entitled Essays on Criticism (1865, 1889). The most notable of these books, as illustrating Arnold’s literary ideals and preferences—his critical method may be equally well studied in the others —is, undoubtedly, the first series of Essays on Criticism. Its appearance, in 1865, was something of a literary sensation, by reason of its style, the novelty and confidence of its opinions and the wide and curious range of its subjects. No volumes of critical essays had before appeared, in England at least, on a collection of subjects and authors so diverse as the literary influence of academies, pagan and medieval religious sentiment, a Persian passion-play, the Du Guerins, Joubert, Heine, Spinoza, Marcus Aurelius. And the first two essays, in particular, struck a note of challenge to all the popular critics of the day. They proclaimed the appearance of a paladin bent, above everything, upon piercing the armor of self-sufficiency and “provinciality,” in which the average English “authority in matters of taste” had been accustomed to strut with much confidence. Here, for the first time, we come across verbal weapons to be repeatedly used with devastating effect in a lifelong campaign against the hosts of Philistia. The famous nickname “Philistine,” borrowed from Heine, makes its first appearance in this book. We now first hear, also, of “the provincial spirit,” “the best that is known and thought in the world,” “the free play of the mind,” “flexibility of intelligence”—afterwards to be identified with Plato’s “prose of the center,” “the modern spirit,” “criticism of life,” and other phrases destined, by iterated use, to become familiar. Although the author’s weapons were mainly of his own making, his way of using them, his adroit and dexterous methods of attack, had been learnt from France. French prose, for Matthew Arnold, was the “prose of the center,” the nearest modern equivalent to “Attic prose,” and the two contemporary critics he admired most were Sainte-Beuve and Renan. In purely literary criticism, Sainte-Beuve is his chief model; but his methods in other critical fields were largely the results of his reading of Renan. As early as 1859, he speaks of Renan as one “between whose line of endeavour and my own I imagine there is considerable resemblance.” The two resembled each other not least in the adoption of a style, lenis, minimeque pertinax—“sinuous, easy, unpolemical”—very unlike the “highly-charged, heavy-shotted articles” of English newspaper critics.

Arnold’s knowledge and appreciation of French prose were wide and peculiarly sensitive, and stand in curious contrast to his lack of enthusiasm for, if not indifference to, French poetry. France, “famed in all great arts, in none supreme,” appeared to him to have achieved her most signal triumphs in prose, but his partiality to French prose led him to some strange vagaries of judgment in his estimates of individual writers. Sainte-Beuve and Renan, no doubt, deserved the flattery he paid both by imitating them, but he has given an exaggerated importance to such writers as the Du Gueacuterins, Joubert and Amiel.

When we turn from these eccentric preferences to the main principles of his literary criticism, we find, in his definitions of them, at any rate, much that is incontrovertible and a little that is open to question. “Disinterestedness,” he tells us, is the first requisite in a literary critic—“a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” With this goes “knowledge”; and no English critic is adequately equipped who does not “possess one great literature, at least, besides his own.” Criticism in England was altogether too provincial. Nothing quite like this had been stated in English before, and no critic, in his practice, made so sedulous an effort as Arnold to convince his countrymen of their insularity, and to persuade them to acquire an European outlook in literature and art. When he becomes a little more particular in his definitions and says that “the end and aim of all literature” is “a criticism of life,” and, again, that “poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life,” he provokes a debate which, at one time, was pursued with considerable spirit and some acerbity—especially, as Sir Leslie Stephen has put it, by critics who were “unable to distinguish between an epigram and a philosophical dogma.”

According to the authors, which of the following is NOT true about Matthew Arnold’s work?

Possible Answers:

It is where Arnold used many of his later-famous phrases for the first time.

It proposed to remedy intellectual erraticism.

It encouraged detachment of the critic.

It contained references to various French authors.

It was a proponent of English provincialism.

Correct answer:

It was a proponent of English provincialism.

Explanation:

Arnold's work was not a proponent but rather an opponent of English provincialism. As stated in the second paragraph, his work “proclaimed the appearance of a paladin bent, above everything, upon piercing the armour of self-sufficiency and 'provinciality.'"

Example Question #206 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One

Matthew Arnold’s prose writings, mainly, were the work of his middle and later years. They deal with, practically, the entire fabric of English civilization and culture in his day; and they are all directed by one clear and consistent critical purpose. That purpose was to “cure the great vice of our intellect, manifesting itself in our incredible vagaries in literature, in art, in religion, in morals; namely, that it is fantastic, and wants sanity.”

The main body of his purely literary criticism, with the exception of a few scattered essays, is to be found in the lectures On Translating Homer (1861), and The Study of Celtic Literature (1867), and in the two volumes entitled Essays on Criticism (1865, 1889). The most notable of these books, as illustrating Arnold’s literary ideals and preferences—his critical method may be equally well studied in the others —is, undoubtedly, the first series of Essays on Criticism. Its appearance, in 1865, was something of a literary sensation, by reason of its style, the novelty and confidence of its opinions and the wide and curious range of its subjects. No volumes of critical essays had before appeared, in England at least, on a collection of subjects and authors so diverse as the literary influence of academies, pagan and medieval religious sentiment, a Persian passion-play, the Du Guerins, Joubert, Heine, Spinoza, Marcus Aurelius. And the first two essays, in particular, struck a note of challenge to all the popular critics of the day. They proclaimed the appearance of a paladin bent, above everything, upon piercing the armor of self-sufficiency and “provinciality,” in which the average English “authority in matters of taste” had been accustomed to strut with much confidence. Here, for the first time, we come across verbal weapons to be repeatedly used with devastating effect in a lifelong campaign against the hosts of Philistia. The famous nickname “Philistine,” borrowed from Heine, makes its first appearance in this book. We now first hear, also, of “the provincial spirit,” “the best that is known and thought in the world,” “the free play of the mind,” “flexibility of intelligence”—afterwards to be identified with Plato’s “prose of the center,” “the modern spirit,” “criticism of life,” and other phrases destined, by iterated use, to become familiar. Although the author’s weapons were mainly of his own making, his way of using them, his adroit and dexterous methods of attack, had been learnt from France. French prose, for Matthew Arnold, was the “prose of the center,” the nearest modern equivalent to “Attic prose,” and the two contemporary critics he admired most were Sainte-Beuve and Renan. In purely literary criticism, Sainte-Beuve is his chief model; but his methods in other critical fields were largely the results of his reading of Renan. As early as 1859, he speaks of Renan as one “between whose line of endeavour and my own I imagine there is considerable resemblance.” The two resembled each other not least in the adoption of a style, lenis, minimeque pertinax—“sinuous, easy, unpolemical”—very unlike the “highly-charged, heavy-shotted articles” of English newspaper critics.

Arnold’s knowledge and appreciation of French prose were wide and peculiarly sensitive, and stand in curious contrast to his lack of enthusiasm for, if not indifference to, French poetry. France, “famed in all great arts, in none supreme,” appeared to him to have achieved her most signal triumphs in prose, but his partiality to French prose led him to some strange vagaries of judgment in his estimates of individual writers. Sainte-Beuve and Renan, no doubt, deserved the flattery he paid both by imitating them, but he has given an exaggerated importance to such writers as the Du Gueacuterins, Joubert and Amiel.

When we turn from these eccentric preferences to the main principles of his literary criticism, we find, in his definitions of them, at any rate, much that is incontrovertible and a little that is open to question. “Disinterestedness,” he tells us, is the first requisite in a literary critic—“a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world.” With this goes “knowledge”; and no English critic is adequately equipped who does not “possess one great literature, at least, besides his own.” Criticism in England was altogether too provincial. Nothing quite like this had been stated in English before, and no critic, in his practice, made so sedulous an effort as Arnold to convince his countrymen of their insularity, and to persuade them to acquire an European outlook in literature and art. When he becomes a little more particular in his definitions and says that “the end and aim of all literature” is “a criticism of life,” and, again, that “poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life,” he provokes a debate which, at one time, was pursued with considerable spirit and some acerbity—especially, as Sir Leslie Stephen has put it, by critics who were “unable to distinguish between an epigram and a philosophical dogma.”

Which of the following would be the best title for the passage?

Possible Answers:

Classical Provincialism: A British Counterpoint

The Life and Work of Matthew Arnold

A Critic’s Duties

Arnold’s French Leanings: A Philosophical Criticism

Arnold’s Oeuvre: Influences and Interests

Correct answer:

Arnold’s Oeuvre: Influences and Interests

Explanation:

“Oeuvre” refers to the collective sum of an author’s work, and the passage mainly discusses both the authors that inspired Arnold and his main aims as an author.

Example Question #207 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Friedrich Max Müller’s translation of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1896 ed.)

Translator’s Preface: Why I thought I might translate Kant’s Critique

"But how can you waste your time on a translation of Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft?" This question, which has been addressed to me by several friends, I think I shall best be able to answer in a preface to that translation itself. And I shall try to answer it point by point.

First, then, with regard to myself. Why should I waste my time on a translation of Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft? — that is, Were there not other persons more fitted for that task, or more specially called upon to undertake it?

It would be the height of presumption on my part to imagine that there were not many scholars who could have performed such a task as well as myself, or far better. All I can say is, that for nearly thirty years I have been waiting for someone really qualified, who would be willing to execute such a task, and have waited in vain. What I feel convinced of is that an adequate translation of Kant must be the work of a German scholar. That conviction was deeply impressed on my mind when reading, now many years ago, Kant’s great work with a small class of young students at Oxford—among whom I may mention the names of Appleton, Nettleship, and Wallace. Kant’s style is careless and involved, and no wonder that it should be so, if we consider that he wrote down the whole of the Critique in not quite five months. Now, beside the thread of the argument itself, the safest thread through the mazes of his sentences must be looked for in his adverbs and particles. They, and they only, indicate clearly the true articulation of his thoughts, and they alone impart to his phrases that peculiar intonation which tells those who are accustomed to that bye-play of language, what the author has really in his mind, and what he wants to express, if only he could find the right way to do it.

When reading and critically interpreting Kant’s text, I sometimes compared other translations, particularly the English translations by Haywood and Meiklejohn, and excellent as, in most places, I found their renderings, particularly the latter, I generally observed that, when the thread was lost, it was owing to a neglect of particles and adverbs, though sometimes also to a want of appreciation of the real, and not simply the dictionary meaning, of German words. It is not my intention to write here a criticism of previous translations; on the contrary, I should prefer to express my obligation to them for several useful suggestions which I have received from them in the course of what I know to be a most arduous task. But in order to give an idea of what I mean by the danger arising from a neglect of adverbs and particles in German, I shall mention at least a few of the passages of which I am thinking.

Which of the following would be most likely to immediately follow this passage?

Possible Answers:

An example of previous translations, followed by an explanation of why the writer has chosen the Critik der reinen Vernunft

A diatribe against previous translations by eminent German scholars

A further discussion of particles and adverbs, followed by an analysis of Kant’s interpretation of the real

An explanation of why the writer has chosen the Critik der reinen Vernunft

A diatribe against previous translations by eminent German scholars, followed by several examples of those translations

Correct answer:

An example of previous translations, followed by an explanation of why the writer has chosen the Critik der reinen Vernunft

Explanation:

In this passage, the translator is discussing what he can add to the opus of Kant translations, and he does so first by pointing out weaknesses in existing translations and then by explaining why he’s chosen this particular work of Kant's. The author's tone doesn't contain sufficient anger to warrant a diatribe, and particles and adverbs, while important to the translator's point, are not the main focus of the passage.

Example Question #61 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Friedrich Max Müller’s translation of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1896 ed.)

Translator’s Preface: Why I thought I might translate Kant’s Critique

"But how can you waste your time on a translation of Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft?" This question, which has been addressed to me by several friends, I think I shall best be able to answer in a preface to that translation itself. And I shall try to answer it point by point.

First, then, with regard to myself. Why should I waste my time on a translation of Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft? — that is, Were there not other persons more fitted for that task, or more specially called upon to undertake it?

It would be the height of presumption on my part to imagine that there were not many scholars who could have performed such a task as well as myself, or far better. All I can say is, that for nearly thirty years I have been waiting for someone really qualified, who would be willing to execute such a task, and have waited in vain. What I feel convinced of is that an adequate translation of Kant must be the work of a German scholar. That conviction was deeply impressed on my mind when reading, now many years ago, Kant’s great work with a small class of young students at Oxford—among whom I may mention the names of Appleton, Nettleship, and Wallace. Kant’s style is careless and involved, and no wonder that it should be so, if we consider that he wrote down the whole of the Critique in not quite five months. Now, beside the thread of the argument itself, the safest thread through the mazes of his sentences must be looked for in his adverbs and particles. They, and they only, indicate clearly the true articulation of his thoughts, and they alone impart to his phrases that peculiar intonation which tells those who are accustomed to that bye-play of language, what the author has really in his mind, and what he wants to express, if only he could find the right way to do it.

When reading and critically interpreting Kant’s text, I sometimes compared other translations, particularly the English translations by Haywood and Meiklejohn, and excellent as, in most places, I found their renderings, particularly the latter, I generally observed that, when the thread was lost, it was owing to a neglect of particles and adverbs, though sometimes also to a want of appreciation of the real, and not simply the dictionary meaning, of German words. It is not my intention to write here a criticism of previous translations; on the contrary, I should prefer to express my obligation to them for several useful suggestions which I have received from them in the course of what I know to be a most arduous task. But in order to give an idea of what I mean by the danger arising from a neglect of adverbs and particles in German, I shall mention at least a few of the passages of which I am thinking.

According to the translator, which of the following types of writing might be most stylistically similar to Kant’s Critik der reinen Vernunft?

Possible Answers:

A linguistic primer for graduate students in philosophy

The German translation of an essay by an English philosopher

The rough draft of an abstruse political manifesto

A biography of Kant that uses extensive adverbs and participles to illustrate his unique intonation

roman a clef containing coded references to Kant’s contemporaries and other members of the German intellegentsia

Correct answer:

The rough draft of an abstruse political manifesto

Explanation:

In the second paragraph, the translator notes that the work is “careless and involved” and was written in slightly under five months. This sloppy, intricate, rushed document is therefore most likely to share similarities with the rough draft of a dense political manifesto.

Example Question #209 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Essays of Michel de Montaigne (trans. Charles Cotton, 1877)

So we see in the gift of eloquence, wherein some have such a facility and promptness, and that which we call a present wit so easy, that they are ever ready upon all occasions, and never to be surprised; and others more heavy and slow, never venture to utter anything but what they have long premeditated, and taken great care and pains to fit and prepare.

These two advantages of eloquence are those to which the lawyers and preachers of our age seem principally to pretend. If I were worthy to advise, the slow speaker, methinks, should be more proper for the pulpit, and the other for the bar: and that because the employment of the first does naturally allow him all the leisure he can desire to prepare himself, and besides, his career is performed in an even and unintermitted line, without stop or interruption; whereas the pleader's business and interest compels him to enter the lists upon all occasions, and the unexpected objections and replies of his adverse party jostle him out of his course, and put him, upon the instant, to pump for new and extempore answers and defenses. Yet, at the interview betwixt Pope Clement and King Francis at Marseilles, it happened, quite contrary, that Monsieur Poyet, a man bred up all his life at the bar, and in the highest repute for eloquence, having the charge of making the harangue to the Pope committed to him, and having so long meditated on it beforehand, as, so they said, to have brought it ready made along with him from Paris; the very day it was to have been pronounced, the Pope, fearing something might be said that might give offense to the other princes' ambassadors who were there attending on him, sent to acquaint the King with the argument which he conceived most suiting to the time and place, but, by chance, quite another thing to that Monsieur de Poyet had taken so much pains about: so that the fine speech he had prepared was of no use, and he was upon the instant to contrive another; which finding himself unable to do, Cardinal du Bellay was constrained to perform that office. The pleader's part is, doubtless, much harder than that of the preacher; and yet, in my opinion, we see more passable lawyers than preachers, at all events in France.

I know, experimentally, the disposition of nature so impatient of tedious and elaborate premeditation, that if it do not go frankly and gaily to work, it can perform nothing to purpose. We say of some compositions that they stink of oil and of the lamp, by reason of a certain rough harshness that laborious handling imprints upon those where it has been employed. But besides this, the solicitude of doing well, and a certain striving and contending of a mind too far strained and overbent upon its undertaking, breaks and hinders itself like water, that by force of its own pressing violence and abundance, cannot find a ready issue through the neck of a bottle or a narrow sluice. In this condition of nature, of which I am now speaking, there is this also, that it would not be disordered and stimulated with such passions as the fury of Cassius (for such a motion would be too violent and rude); it would not be jostled, but solicited; it would be roused and heated by unexpected, sudden, and accidental occasions. If it be left to itself, it flags and languishes; agitation only gives it grace and vigor. I am always worst in my own possession, and when wholly at my own disposition: accident has more title to anything that comes from me than I; occasion, company, and even the very rising and falling of my own voice, extract more from my fancy than I can find, when I sound and employ it by myself. By which means, the things I say are better than those I write, if either were to be preferred, where neither is worth anything. This, also, befalls me, that I do not find myself where I seek myself, and I light upon things more by chance than by any inquisition of my own judgment. I perhaps sometimes hit upon something when I write, that seems quaint and sprightly to me, though it will appear dull and heavy to another.—But let us leave these fine compliments; every one talks thus of himself according to his talent. But when I come to speak, I am already so lost that I know not what I was about to say, and in such cases a stranger often finds it out before me. If I should make erasure so often as this inconvenience befalls me, I should make clean work; occasion will, at some other time, lay it as visible to me as the light, and make me wonder what I should stick at.

The author would most likely agree with which of the following statements about the role of friends and strangers in the writing process?

Possible Answers:

They mislead and delay the author, although they are usually well intentioned.

They challenge the writer’s hasty first impressions, providing a much needed opportunity for contemplation.

They hinder the writing process by influencing the writer unjustly.

They contribute to the writing process by spurring the writer out of his or her solitary state.

They comprise the entirety of the process of artistic inspiration.

Correct answer:

They contribute to the writing process by spurring the writer out of his or her solitary state.

Explanation:

The author writes about his relationship with literary inspiration in the last paragraph, "I am always worst in my own possession, and when wholly at my own disposition: accident has more title to anything that comes from me than I; occasion, company, and even the very rising and falling of my own voice, extract more from my fancy than I can find, when I sound and employ it by myself.” In other words, the author believes that external stimulation is a key contribution to the writing process. (Although outsiders are certainly an important part of artistic inspiration, Montaigne certainly wouldn’t agree that they comprise the entirety of it.)

Example Question #61 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author’s point of view in this passage is primarily that __________.

Possible Answers:

The power of oral propaganda is on the decline as people become more and more resistant against the opinions of others.

It is naïve to place one’s faith in the power of oral propaganda when people are so apt to ignore what they hear.

Neither the written word nor oral propaganda can function independently of one another.

When trying to influence people’s perspectives and opinions the written word is a much more powerful tool than oral expression.

John Most is an exemplary figure in the propagandist movement, one whose influence the author cannot hope to match.

Correct answer:

When trying to influence people’s perspectives and opinions the written word is a much more powerful tool than oral expression.

Explanation:

This question is primarily aimed at determining whether you understand the author’s attitude, intentions, and thesis. Two of the answer choices have no evidence whatsoever to support them in the text; these are: “The power of oral propaganda is on the decline as people become more and more resistant against the opinions of others” and “Neither the written word nor oral propaganda can function independently of one another. “ Two of the answer choices summarize only a part of the author’s point of view and do not capture the primary thesis and intention of the text; these are: “It is naïve to place one’s faith in the power of oral propaganda when  people are so apt to ignore what they hear” and “John Most is an exemplary figure in the propagandist movement, one whose influence the author cannot hope to match.” The only answer choice that matches the thesis, the author’s attitude, and her intentions is “When trying to influence people’s perspectives and opinions the written word is a much more powerful tool than oral expression.” In answering questions about the author’s “primary point of view,” be careful not to pick an answer that only summarizes the author’s secondary or partial opinions.

Example Question #901 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

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

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

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

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

Which of these excerpts best summarizes the main point of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

“If, at any time, it comes into my head that a present is due from me to somebody, I am puzzled what to give until the opportunity is gone.”

“Nature does not cocker us: we are children, not pets: she is not fond: everything is dealt to us without fear or favor, after severe universal laws.”

“Men used to tell us that we love flattery, even though we are not deceived by it, because it shows that we are of importance enough to be courted.”

“Fruits are acceptable gifts because they are the flower of commodities, and admit of fantastic values being attached to them.”

“Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”

Correct answer:

“Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.”

Explanation:

In answering this question, it is necessary to consider the function of the first paragraph within the whole essay. The primary purpose of the whole essay is to advise on the best manner to go about giving and receiving gifts. The only one of these answer choices that reflects this purpose is “flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers, because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.” This is because this excerpt is our first introduction the author’s belief that beauty trumps utility when it comes to gift-giving, a point that remains part of the overall argument throughout the essay.

Example Question #902 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Passage adapted from Beethoven (1905) by George Alexander Fischer.

During the period of his work on the Mass, and for some time before, Beethoven's thoughts were occupied more or less with that stupendous work, the Ninth Symphony, sketches for which began to appear already in 1813, shortly after his meeting with Goethe. That Beethoven looked up to Goethe ever after as to a spiritual mentor, studying his works, absorbing his thought, is plain. In projecting this symphony he may very well have designed it as a counterpart to Faust, as has been suggested. Actually begun in 1817, it had to be laid aside before much had been accomplished on it, in favor of the Mass in D. This gave him plenty of time to mature his conception of the work; and this ripening process, covering a period of ten years from its first inception, was one of the factors which helped him achieve his wondrous result. His work on the Mass was a good preparation for the psychological problems expounded in the Symphony.

Here is a work so interwoven into Beethoven's very life and spirit, that the mention of his name at once calls to mind the Ninth Symphony. It is the work of the seer approaching the end of his life-drama, giving with photographic clearness a résumé of it. Here are revelations of the inner nature of a man who had delved deeply into the mysteries surrounding life, learning this lesson in its fullest significance, that no great spiritual height is ever attained without renunciation. The world must be left behind. Asking and getting but little from it, giving it of his best, counting as nothing its material advantages, realizing always that contact with it had for him but little joy, the separation from it was nevertheless a hard task. This mystery constantly confronted Beethoven, that, even when obeying the finer behests of his nature, peace was not readily attained thereby; often there was instead, an accession of unhappiness for the time being. Paradoxically peace was made the occasion for a struggle; it had to be wrested from life. No victory is such unless well fought for and dearly bought.

This eternal struggle with fate, this conflict forever raging in the heart, runs through all the Symphonies, but nowhere is it so strongly depicted as in this, his last. We have here in new picturing, humanity at bay, as in the recently completed Kyrie of the grand mass. The apparently uneven battle of the individual with fate,—the plight of the human being who finds himself a denizen of a world with which he is entirely out of harmony, who, wrought up to despair, finds life impossible yet fears to die,—is here portrayed in dramatic language. To Wagner the first movement pictured to him "the idea of the world in its most terrible of lights," something to recoil from. "Beethoven in the Ninth Symphony," he says, "leads us through the torment of the world relentlessly until the ode to joy is reached."

Great souls have always taught that the only relief for this Weltschmerz is through the power of love; that universal love alone can transform and redeem the world. This is the central teaching of Jesus, of Buddha, of all who have the welfare of humanity at heart. It was Beethoven's solution of the problem of existence. Through this magic power, sorrows are transmuted into gifts of peace and happiness. Beethoven loved his kind. Love for humanity, pity for its misfortunes, hope for its final deliverance, largely occupied his mind. With scarcely an exception Beethoven's works end happily. Among the sketches of the last movement of the Mass in D, he makes the memorandum, "Stärke der Gesinnungen des innern Friedens. Über alles ... Sieg." (Strengthen the conviction of inward peace. Above all—Victory). The effect of the Choral Finale is that of an outburst of joy at deliverance, a celebration of victory. It is as if Beethoven, with prophetic eye, had been able to pierce the future and foresee a golden age for humanity, an age where altruism was to bring about cessation from strife, and where happiness was to be general. Such happiness as is here celebrated in the Ode to Joy, can indeed, only exist in the world through altruism. Pity, that sentiment which allies man to the divine, comes first. From this proceeds love, and through these and by these only is happiness possible. This was the gist of Beethoven's thought. He had occupied himself much with sociological questions all his life, always taking the part of the oppressed.

The author's main idea as expressed in the passage is best stated as __________.

Possible Answers:

Beethoven did not have as lasting an influence as would be expected due to his attempt at including philosophical ideas in the Ninth Symphony

Beethoven had a mastery of technical elements of music which allowed him to create memorable works of music like the Ninth Symphony

Beethoven's use of philosophical ideas and concepts in the Ninth Symphony negatively affected the overall quality of his work

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was a controversial work due to his use of emotional elements in the musical composition

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony had extraordinary power due to the way it captured elements of the human experience

Correct answer:

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony had extraordinary power due to the way it captured elements of the human experience

Explanation:

Overall, the passage is quite laudatory, calling the Ninth Symphony a "stupendous work," and utilizing an enthusiastic quote from Wagner. Notably, though, this tone is expressed through an appreciation of Beethoven's use of philosophical ideas and emotional experience. Primarily the author is concerned not with the technical elements of the music, but the various ways in which it captures the human experience.

Example Question #211 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Logic: Inductive and Deductive by William Minto (1915)

We cannot inquire far into the meaning of proverbs or traditional sayings without discovering that the common understanding of general and abstract names is loose and uncertain. Common speech is a quicksand.

Consider how we acquire our vocabulary, how we pick up the words that we use from our neighbors and from books, and why this is so soon becomes apparent. Theoretically, we know the full meaning of a name when we know all the attributes that it connotes, and we are not justified in extending it except to objects that possess all the attributes. This is the logical ideal, but between the ought to be of Logic and the is of practical life, there is a vast difference. How seldom do we conceive words in their full meaning! And who is to instruct us in the full meaning? It is not as in the exact sciences, where we start with knowledge of the full meaning. In Geometry, for example, we learn the definitions of the words used, "point," "line," "parallel," etc., before we proceed to use them. But in common speech, we hear the words applied to individual objects; we utter them in the same connection; we extend them to other objects that strike us as like without knowing the precise points of likeness that the convention of common speech includes. The more exact meaning we learn by gradual induction from individual cases. The individual's extension of the name proceeds upon what in the objects has most impressed him when he caught the word: this may differ in different individuals; the usage of neighbors corrects individual eccentricities. The child in arms shouts "Da" at the passing stranger who reminds him of his father; for him at first it is a general name applicable to every man; by degrees he learns that for him it is a singular name.

It is obvious that to avoid error and confusion, the meaning or connotation of names, the concepts, should somehow be fixed; names cannot otherwise have an identical reference in human intercourse. We may call this ideal fixed concept the Logical Concept. But in actual speech we have also the Personal Concept, which varies more or less with the individual user, and the Popular or Vernacular Concept, which, though roughly fixed, varies from social sect to social sect and from generation to generation.

When we come to words of which the logical concept is a complex relation, an obscure or intangible attribute, the defects of the popular conception and its tendencies to change and confusion are of the greatest practical importance. Take such words as "monarchy," "civil freedom," "landlord," “culture.” Not merely should we find it difficult to give an analytic definition of such words; we might be unable to do so, and yet flatter ourselves that we had a clear understanding of their meaning. 

It was with reference to this state of things that Hegel formulated his paradox that the true abstract thinker is the plain man who laughs at philosophy as what he calls abstract and unpractical. He holds decided opinions for or against this or the other abstraction, "freedom," "tyranny," "revolution," "reform," "socialism," but what these words mean and within what limits the things signified are desirable or undesirable, he is in too great a hurry to pause and consider.

The disadvantages of this kind of "abstract" thinking are obvious. The accumulated wisdom of mankind is stored in language. Until we have cleared our conceptions, and penetrated to the full meaning of words, that wisdom is a sealed book to us. Wise maxims are interpreted by us hastily in accordance with our own narrow conceptions. All the vocabulary of a language may be more or less familiar to us, and yet we may not have learnt it as an instrument of thought.

Which of these best summarizes the main point of the sixth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

None of these answers accurately summarizes the point of the sixth paragraph.

We acquire words through natural means and as such the meanings and definitions of those words will always differ greatly from person to person.

In order to fix the problems associated with “abstract” thinking we must collectively focus on deep thinking and a scientific classification of words and names.

Hegel’s “abstract” thinking is not applicable to the author’s argument because it ignores the preconceptions that blind each individual to the true meaning of words and names.

Our individual preconceptions blind us to the true meaning of words and prevent us from accurately penetrating the combined knowledge of humanity.

Correct answer:

Our individual preconceptions blind us to the true meaning of words and prevent us from accurately penetrating the combined knowledge of humanity.

Explanation:

The main point of the sixth paragraph is best captured in the following few sentences: “The accumulated wisdom of mankind is stored in language. Until we have cleared our conceptions, and penetrated to the full meaning of words, that wisdom is a sealed book to us. Wise maxims are interpreted by us hastily in accordance with our own narrow conceptions.” Here, the author discusses how people’s individual preconceptions blind them to the true meaning of words, and draws his conclusions on how this individual approach to definition and meaning prevents people from accessing to combined wisdom of humanity. The other answer choices either summarize the wrong paragraph, or else do not properly penetrate to the heart of the author’s argument in this paragraph.

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