LSAT Reading : Recognizing Details of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Question #139 : Content Of Humanities Passages

"Ed Sullivan and all the rest" by William Floyd (2015)

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

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

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

As it is used in the final sentence of the passage, it can be inferred that "an Easter Island statue" is __________.

Possible Answers:

a modernist and revolutionary sculpture

a worshipped and revered talisman

a lively and significant piece of art

a serious and stern composed monument

a common and unremarkable object

Correct answer:

a serious and stern composed monument


"An Easter Island statue" is only mentioned at the very end of the passage with little explanation, but it is said that Sullivan, whose is previously described as boring and unappealing, had a similar personality to one. This indicates that they are both well known, making them a large monument, and come off as quite stern and serious to most people.

Example Question #140 : Content Of Humanities Passages

"Europe and the Black Death"

In a series of lectures published after his death, historian David Herlihy theorizes that the Black Death led to the transformation of Western Europe and shaped crucial aspects of modern thinking and behavior. Herlihy’s lectures, written in 1985, draw comparisons to social phenomena associated with more recent epidemics, such as the influenza outbreak of 1919 and the mysterious arrival of AIDS in his own time. However, Herlihy writes that what made the Black Death so historically significant, other than the shocking death toll it levied, was the transformative impact that the plague had on labor markets, agrarian practices, economic innovation, and medical theory.

Herlihy’s lectures take aim at Thomas Malthus’s Iron Law of Population as laid out in his 1798 book titled An Essay on the Principle of Population. The Iron Law states that that population growth is necessarily limited by the available means of subsistence and actual population will be ultimately kept equal to the means of subsistence through catastrophic events. The Black Death, which deprived erstwhile-overpopulated 14th Century Europe of more than 25 million of its residents, became a seminal historical example of a Malthusian population check.

However, Herlihy cautions against characterizing the Black Death as a response to overpopulation in medieval Europe. If that were the case, he asserts, the epidemic would have arrived at the beginning of the century when population growth slowed amidst escalating food prices. Herlihy writes, "The medieval experience shows us not a Malthusian crisis but a stalemate, in the sense that the community was maintaining at stable levels very large numbers over a lengthy period." He posits that the term population deadlock, rather than population crisis, should be used to describe Europe before the epidemics.

According to Herlihy, the arrival of the Black Death to Europe in 1347 broke this deadlock. As a result of crashing populations, trade guilds and landowners went from a labor glut to a labor shortage virtually overnight. The shortage led to innovations in both agriculture and the production of goods. For example, Herlihy theorizes that the invention of the printing press in 1440 occurred in part because the Black Death and successive plagues culled the ranks of scribes needed to transcribe manuscripts by hand. He also argues that the sudden public health crisis bridged the divide between medical theorists and those actually treating patients, resulting in more anatomical research and medical innovation.

Still more profound, Herlihy writes, was the effect the population crash had on longstanding medieval social structures. In addition to forcing agricultural innovation, the plague’s strengthening of the labor market reduced the peasant’s dependence on wealthy landowners. In fact, evidence shows that the labor ranks thinned even more during the outbreak from pessimistic workers who opted to spend their precious remaining time on earth in leisure. Those who continued to work enjoyed greater social mobility, which led to the passage of sumptuary laws by members of the elite desperate to maintain their caste superiority in a waning feudal economic system.

According to the passage, the Black Death led to advances in the field of medicine because ______________.

Possible Answers:

it sparked greater public investment in medical research

it offered the medical community an abundance of medical test subjects

it brought the medical community together and turned medical study from a philosophical pursuit to a problem-solving one

it created a scarcity of healers that drove up wages among those trained in medicine

it introduced a new career opportunity in medicine for upwardly-mobile peasants

Correct answer:

it brought the medical community together and turned medical study from a philosophical pursuit to a problem-solving one


Best answer: "It brought the medical community together and turned medical study from a philosophical pursuit to a problem-solving one" accurately paraphrases the point made at the end of Paragraph 4.

Wrong answers: The passage never draws a link between the wages of medical professionals and innovation; An answer involving upwardly mobile peasants sounds like something Herlihy might argue, but the passage never draws a link between economic diversity in the medical field and innovation; The passage suggests that something other than a lack of funding was stymieing medical innovation; The passage never suggests that a shortage of test subjects limited medical research.

Example Question #61 : Recognizing Details Of Humanities Passages

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

Is the true method of ethics the method of science or that of philosophy? Our answer to this question must determine our general view of the ethical problem, and cannot fail to affect the solution which we reach. The characteristic tendency of our time to reduce all thought to the scientific form, and to draw the line sharply between natural or positive science, on the one hand, and metaphysics or philosophical speculation, on the other, has made itself felt in ethics, which is now defined as 'moral science' rather than as 'moral philosophy,' its older designation.

Yet, while we must recognise, in the view that the true method of ethics is scientific rather than philosophic, a return to the older and sounder tradition of ethical thought, it is necessary, in order to determine more precisely the place of ethics among the sciences, to distinguish carefully between two types or groups of sciences, both alike distinguishable from metaphysics or philosophy. The common task of all science is the rationalisation of our judgments, through their organisation into a system of thought: when thus systematised, our judgments are scientifically 'explained.'

But these judgments are of two kinds: judgments of fact and judgments of worth, or judgments of what is and judgments of what ought to be. There are, accordingly, two types of science: first, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the chaotic mass of our Is-judgments; secondly, the type which seeks to organise into a rational system the no less chaotic mass of our Ought-judgments. The former type of science we may call natural or descriptive; the latter, normative or appreciative. The purpose of the natural or descriptive sciences is the discovery, by reason, of the actual or phenomenal order—the order that characterises 'matters of fact;' the purpose of the normative or appreciative sciences is the discovery, by the same reason, of the ideal order which always transcends and rebukes the actual order.

To the former class—that of the natural or descriptive sciences—belong all the sciences of nature and of man as a natural being. Ethics, on the other hand, is, like logic and aesthetics, a normative or appreciative science–a science of value. These three sciences deal with our critical judgments, as distinguished from our factual judgments; they endeavour to systematise these judgments by deducing them from a common standard of value, a final criterion of appreciation. Our several judgments, so far as they are consistent with one another, about the value of thoughts, of feelings, and of actions, are reducible to a common denominator of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. The discovery of this common denominator of intellectual, of aesthetic, and of moral judgment, and the construction of the system of principles which these judgments, when made coherent and self - consistent, constitute, is the task of the three normative sciences, — logic, aesthetics, and ethics.

So long as the distinction between a natural and a normative science is clearly realised, there is no reason why we should not recognise both a natural science and a normative science of ethics. What we may call the natural history of morality, the genetic study of the moral life (and the moral consciousness), is the presupposition of an intelligent interpretation of its significance, the indispensable preliminary to its reduction to ethical system. The business of such a preliminary investigation is simply to discover the causation of morality, the uniformities of sequence which characterise moral antecedents and consequents as they characterise all other phenomena. But such an investigation of the moral facts, though it is well entitled to the name of science, is only the handmaid of ethics as a normative science, as the effort to determine the meaning or content of the facts.

Which of the following best characterizes the author's views on the relationship between the normative and natural science of ethics?

Possible Answers:

Without a normative investigation, one cannot determine the meaning or end of ethics as a whole.

While the natural science of ethics is important to understanding the nature of ethics, it is ancillary to the normative science.

As ethics is primarily a scientific pursuit, and the natural sciences are necessarily prior to the normative ones, the object of ethics is primarily natural with regard to its origin, normative with regard to its end.

While perhaps a useful preliminary, normative ethics is at best a subaltern science, and not properly part of the study of ethics strictly considered.

As ethics is primarily a scientific pursuit, and the natural sciences are prior to the normative ones, ethics is primarily a naturally scientific pursuit.

Correct answer:

While the natural science of ethics is important to understanding the nature of ethics, it is ancillary to the normative science.


"An investigation of the moral facts, though it is well entitled to the name of science, is only the handmaid of ethics as a normative science, as the effort to determine the meaning or content of the facts." This concluding sentence best indicates the relationship the author views as proper between the natural science of ethics (which investigates moral facts) and the normative science (which determines the content of these facts). Other answers are either not supported by the passage, or do not fully capture the salient points of the author's view.

Example Question #1 : Other Author And Tone Questions

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 author’s thoughts about the nature of “protection”?

Possible Answers:

None of these

It is a concept that has been used by the state, but not by the church. 

It requires a degree of personal responsibility when it comes to whom you should trust to protect you.

It involves surrendering all responsibility for oneself to someone else, at the expense of personal liberty.

It is a necessary evil for women who wish to make their way in a world that has been so dominated by men.

Correct answer:

It involves surrendering all responsibility for oneself to someone else, at the expense of personal liberty.


This question involves simply reading closely, as the answer is clearly stated. In the middle of the second paragraph, the author declares that protection is “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.”

Example Question #62 : Recognizing Details Of Humanities Passages

Passage adapted from Shakespearean Playhouses (1917) by Joseph Quincy Adams.

Before the building of regular playhouses, the itinerant troupes of actors were accustomed, except when received into private homes, to give their performances in any place that chance provided, such as open street-squares, barns, town-halls, moot-courts, schoolhouses, churches, and—most frequently of all, perhaps—the yards of inns. These yards, especially those of carriers' inns, were admirably suited to dramatic representations, consisting as they did of a large open court surrounded by two or more galleries. Many examples of such inn-yards are still to be seen in various parts of England... In the yard a temporary platform—a few boards, it may be, set on barrel-heads—could be erected for a stage; in the adjacent stables a dressing-room could be provided for the actors; the rabble—always the larger and more enthusiastic part of the audience—could be accommodated with standing-room about the stage; while the more aristocratic members of the audience could be comfortably seated in the galleries overhead. Thus a ready-made and very serviceable theatre was always at the command of the players; and it seems to have been frequently made use of from the very beginning of professionalism in acting.

One of the earliest extant moralities, Mankind, acted by strollers in the latter half of the fifteenth century, gives us an interesting glimpse of an inn-yard performance. The opening speech makes distinct reference to the two classes of the audience described above as occupying the galleries and the yard:

"O ye sovereigns that sit, and ye brothers that stand right up."

The "brothers," indeed, seem to have stood up so closely about the stage that the actors had great difficulty in passing to and from their dressing-room. Thus, Nowadays leaves the stage with the request:

“Make space, sirs, let me go out!”

New Gyse enters with the threat:

“Out of my way, sirs, for dread of a beating!”

While Nought, with even less respect, shouts:

“Avaunt, knaves! Let me go by!”

Language such as this would hardly be appropriate if addressed to the "sovereigns" who sat in the galleries above; but, as addressed to the "brothers," it probably served to create a general feeling of good nature. And a feeling of good nature was desirable, for the actors were facing the difficult problem of inducing the audience to pay for its entertainment.

Based on the information in the passage, "moralities" were _______________.

Possible Answers:

actors who specialized in certain kinds of roles in fifteenth century performances

stories that focus more specifically on a particular ethical lesson

particular performance techniques that highlighted the interaction with the audience

performances which could only be held in inn yards

specific kinds of plays popular in the fifteenth century

Correct answer:

specific kinds of plays popular in the fifteenth century


The author mentions "moralities" exactly once, as a way of introducing the play he later quotes from, Mankind. While the author gives no plot summary and never explains directly what a "morality" entailed, it is clear from its use as a chief representative of the theater of the fifteenth century that "moralities" were a specific kind of play and that they had considerable popularity during that time period.

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