LSAT Reading : Other Effects of New Information in Comparative Reading Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Other Effects Of New Information In Comparative Reading Passages

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

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

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

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

Which of the following would best help to reconcile the views of the two authors regarding the purpose of moral philosophy?

Possible Answers:

Only a unified system of ethics, springing from axiomatic principles, can guide right action.

No right action can ever be accomplished without first analyzing it against a background of universalizable principles.

Prephilosophical, conventional forms of morality are useful for analyzing and example, but are useless for properly understanding ethics.

No right action can be taken without first understanding the theoretical basis for that action.

One must understand the meanings of key terms before one can begin to look into their natures.

Correct answer:

One must understand the meanings of key terms before one can begin to look into their natures.


Given that both authors concede that intuitive, conventional forms of morality can guide right action—even if the reasons why are unclear, not understood, or unsystematic—it is extremely unlikely that either, much less both, would believe that no right action could come from conventional or unanalyzed moral systems. Furthermore, only the second passage makes any mention of giving ethics unity; however, both passages discuss the need to understand certain key terms and concepts before delving into further philosophical analysis.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors