MCAT Verbal : Application

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

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Example Questions

Example Question #31 : Application

Adapted from "Ringling Kids' Back Yard Show Grows into Mammoth Octopus." Fullerton, Hugh S. The day book. [Chicago, IL] 13 June 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Once upon a time (and that was only 33 years ago) there were five little boys who played circus in their back yards with a strip of rag carpet for a tent and a paper whale. They charged pins and then pennies.

Then they gave a real show in the barn, and then in the hall. And now they own elephants and camels and giraffes and hippopotamuses, and about forty eleven circuses.

When the bands blare and the horses “rare” and the big green and gold and silver wagons come past, and the clowns cut up such funny didoes, the chances are that you are seeing the men that the Ringling Brothers employ to amuse the boys and girls; yes, and the men and women of America during the summer.

For the circus business of America is the Ringling business.

They own the Ringling Brothers’ show, and Barnum’s, which was later Barnum and Bailey’s, the Forepaugh-Sells shows and what is left of the Hagenback’s and more of the dog and pony shows, and the remnants of Buffalo Bill’s and Pawnee Bill’s Wild West, and Ranch 101, and, oh, lots and lots of other shows.

And they are the boys who started in the barn loft at Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are the “Circus Trust” of America!

The chances are that the government never will complain because the Ringling boys (for they always will be boys, no matter how old they get) are a “trust.” They own lots and lots of circuses, but many of them they bought when they did not need or want them, out of sentiment when some of the competitors of the days when they rode in wagons were in hard luck.

Some they bought so that they might preserve the names of the famous old “shows.” Some they bought so that they might direct the routes, and send some circuses to some city or town their “big shows” could not reach. Some they wanted because from them they could get new acts and new performers for the “big shows,” and some they own because when the public has ceased to thrill over some famous “actor” in the big shows they can send him to the smaller ones where he may perform before those who never have felt the thrills.

There is too much sentiment in the circus business for it to be a destroyer or a menace. The Ringlings have bought shows, carried them, supplied them with acts and given the old owner full charge to buy them back and run them.

Just how many men and women, and horses and dogs these boys own now even they do not know exactly. Some idea of the vast expanse of creating and maintaining a great circus may be gained from the fact that the Ringling shows’ menagerie alone is valued and insured at more than $1,000,000; the forty performing elephants are worth $250,000. The robe worn by one elephant alone cost $12,000. The length of the Ringlings’ main tent is 580 feet, the largest ever erected; the menagerie contains 108 cages, and the parade is three miles long. The 4,500 costumes worn in the Solomon and the Queen of Sheba spectacle itself were produced at the cost of more than $1,000,000.

Double these latter figures—for the Barnum shows are about the same size, add one-third for the smaller shows controlled and you will have some idea of the magnitude of the “show” business.

A follow-up article is published by the same author to provide more background about the Ringling brothers. Which of the following pieces of information would most likely be found in this article?

Possible Answers:

The controversy around their treatment of animals

The name of the town where they grew up

The names of all the Ringling brothers' cousins

The cost of their first show

The number of costumes in Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Correct answer:

The cost of their first show

Explanation:

The question states that the follow-up article is written by the same author, so we can conclude that it will have the same focus as the article in the passage. This author is particularly interested in the financial growth of the Ringling brothers and their development into a "trust" or monopoly on the circus industry. As such, he would most likely include the cost of the brothers' first show in his follow-up article about their background.

The article gives no indication of the author's interest in the treatment of circus animals, and already includes the name of the town where the brothers grew up and the number of costumes in the Solomon and the Queen of Sheba performance. These facts would not necessarily be repeated in a second article.

Example Question #31 : Application

Adapted from "Ringling Kids' Back Yard Show Grows into Mammoth Octopus." Fullerton, Hugh S. The day book. [Chicago, IL] 13 June 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Once upon a time (and that was only 33 years ago) there were five little boys who played circus in their back yards with a strip of rag carpet for a tent and a paper whale. They charged pins and then pennies.

Then they gave a real show in the barn, and then in the hall. And now they own elephants and camels and giraffes and hippopotamuses, and about forty eleven circuses.

When the bands blare and the horses “rare” and the big green and gold and silver wagons come past, and the clowns cut up such funny didoes, the chances are that you are seeing the men that the Ringling Brothers employ to amuse the boys and girls; yes, and the men and women of America during the summer.

For the circus business of America is the Ringling business.

They own the Ringling Brothers’ show, and Barnum’s, which was later Barnum and Bailey’s, the Forepaugh-Sells shows and what is left of the Hagenback’s and more of the dog and pony shows, and the remnants of Buffalo Bill’s and Pawnee Bill’s Wild West, and Ranch 101, and, oh, lots and lots of other shows.

And they are the boys who started in the barn loft at Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are the “Circus Trust” of America!

The chances are that the government never will complain because the Ringling boys (for they always will be boys, no matter how old they get) are a “trust.” They own lots and lots of circuses, but many of them they bought when they did not need or want them, out of sentiment when some of the competitors of the days when they rode in wagons were in hard luck.

Some they bought so that they might preserve the names of the famous old “shows.” Some they bought so that they might direct the routes, and send some circuses to some city or town their “big shows” could not reach. Some they wanted because from them they could get new acts and new performers for the “big shows,” and some they own because when the public has ceased to thrill over some famous “actor” in the big shows they can send him to the smaller ones where he may perform before those who never have felt the thrills.

There is too much sentiment in the circus business for it to be a destroyer or a menace. The Ringlings have bought shows, carried them, supplied them with acts and given the old owner full charge to buy them back and run them.

Just how many men and women, and horses and dogs these boys own now even they do not know exactly. Some idea of the vast expanse of creating and maintaining a great circus may be gained from the fact that the Ringling shows’ menagerie alone is valued and insured at more than $1,000,000; the forty performing elephants are worth $250,000. The robe worn by one elephant alone cost $12,000. The length of the Ringlings’ main tent is 580 feet, the largest ever erected; the menagerie contains 108 cages, and the parade is three miles long. The 4,500 costumes worn in the Solomon and the Queen of Sheba spectacle itself were produced at the cost of more than $1,000,000.

Double these latter figures—for the Barnum shows are about the same size, add one-third for the smaller shows controlled and you will have some idea of the magnitude of the “show” business.

A follow-up article is published by the same author to provide more background about the Ringling brothers. Which of the following pieces of information would most likely be found in this article?

Possible Answers:

The controversy around their treatment of animals

The name of the town where they grew up

The names of all the Ringling brothers' cousins

The cost of their first show

The number of costumes in Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

Correct answer:

The cost of their first show

Explanation:

The question states that the follow-up article is written by the same author, so we can conclude that it will have the same focus as the article in the passage. This author is particularly interested in the financial growth of the Ringling brothers and their development into a "trust" or monopoly on the circus industry. As such, he would most likely include the cost of the brothers' first show in his follow-up article about their background.

The article gives no indication of the author's interest in the treatment of circus animals, and already includes the name of the town where the brothers grew up and the number of costumes in the Solomon and the Queen of Sheba performance. These facts would not necessarily be repeated in a second article.

Example Question #32 : Application

Adapted from "What is Noble?" in Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche (1886):

To be sure, one must not resign oneself to any humanitarian illusions about the history of the origin of an aristocratic society (that is to say, of the preliminary condition for the elevation of the type "man"): the truth is hard. Let us acknowledge unprejudicedly how every higher civilization hitherto has ORIGINATED! Men with a still natural nature, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey, still in possession of unbroken strength of will and desire for power, threw themselves upon weaker, more moral, more peaceful races (perhaps trading or cattle-rearing communities), or upon old mellow civilizations in which the final vital force was flickering out in brilliant fireworks of wit and depravity. At the commencement, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their superiority did not consist first of all in their physical, but in their psychical power—they were more COMPLETE men (which at every point also implies the same as "more complete beasts").

258. Corruption—as the indication that anarchy threatens to break out among the instincts, and that the foundation of the emotions, called "life," is convulsed—is something radically different according to the organization in which it manifests itself. When, for instance, an aristocracy like that of France at the beginning of the Revolution, flung away its privileges with sublime disgust and sacrificed itself to an excess of its moral sentiments, it was corruption:—it was really only the closing act of the corruption which had existed for centuries, by virtue of which that aristocracy had abdicated step by step its lordly prerogatives and lowered itself to a FUNCTION of royalty (in the end even to its decoration and parade-dress). The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should not regard itself as a function either of the kingship or the commonwealth, but as the SIGNIFICANCE and highest justification thereof—that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, FOR ITS SAKE, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher EXISTENCE: like those sun-seeking climbing plants in Java—they are called Sipo Matador,—which encircle an oak so long and so often with their arms, until at last, high above it, but supported by it, they can unfold their tops in the open light, and exhibit their happiness.

259. To refrain mutually from injury, from violence, from exploitation, and put one's will on a par with that of others: this may result in a certain rough sense in good conduct among individuals when the necessary conditions are given (namely, the actual similarity of the individuals in amount of force and degree of worth, and their co-relation within one organization). As soon, however, as one wished to take this principle more generally, and if possible even as the FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIETY, it would immediately disclose what it really is—namely, a Will to the DENIAL of life, a principle of dissolution and decay. Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation;—but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES, and because life IS precisely Will to Power. On no point, however, is the ordinary consciousness of Europeans more unwilling to be corrected than on this matter, people now rave everywhere, even under the guise of science, about coming conditions of society in which "the exploiting character" is to be absent—that sounds to my ears as if they promised to invent a mode of life which should refrain from all organic functions. "Exploitation" does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function, it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life.

With which of the following arguments would the author disagree?

Possible Answers:

Cellular life possesses Will to Power in the same way monkeys do.

There are natural relationships between organisms that involve no exploitation.

The same patterns of exploitation of weakness are found in both the animal kingdom and human society.

People can live in equality, but only if they have equal power in society, and only if the society acts to oppress the people into equality.

The symbiotic relationship between birds that clean elephants is an example of Will to Power, as the weaker bugs on the elephant are eaten by the stronger birds.

Correct answer:

There are natural relationships between organisms that involve no exploitation.

Explanation:

The author states that "life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation." The author would disagree with the argument that there are relationships of living creatures that do not involve exploitation.

Even symbiotic relationships between two species involve the eating of a third species, a "pest" creature, which the author would identify as exploitation of the pest.

All forms of life, from cellular and to monkeys, have the will to power; it is an inherent quality of organic life. Thus the same tendency of exploitation is found in both human society and the animal kingdom.

The author states that "even the organization within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy—not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it LIVES."

Example Question #33 : Application

Passage adapted from "The Modern Martyr" by G.K. Chesterton (1908)

The incident of the Suffragettes who chained themselves with iron chains to the railings of Downing Street is a good ironical allegory of most modern martyrdom. It generally consists of a man chaining himself up and then complaining that he is not free. Some say that such larks retard the cause of female suffrage, others say that such larks alone can advance it; as a matter of fact, I do not believe that they have the smallest effect one way or the other.

The modern notion of impressing the public by a mere demonstration of unpopularity, by being thrown out of meetings or thrown into jail is largely a mistake. It rests on a fallacy touching the true popular value of martyrdom. People look at human history and see that it has often happened that persecutions have not only advertised but even advanced a persecuted creed, and given to its validity the public and dreadful witness of dying men. The paradox was pictorially expressed in Christian art, in which saints were shown brandishing as weapons the very tools that had slain them. And because his martyrdom is thus a power to the martyr, modern people think that any one who makes himself slightly uncomfortable in public will immediately be uproariously popular. This element of inadequate martyrdom is not true only of the Suffragettes; it is true of many movements I respect and some that I agree with. It was true, for instance, of the Passive Resisters, who had pieces of their furniture sold up. The assumption is that if you show your ordinary sincerity (or even your political ambition) by being a nuisance to yourself as well as to other people, you will have the strength of the great saints who passed through the fire. Anyone who can be hustled in a hall for five minutes, or put in a cell for five days, has achieved what was meant by martyrdom, and has a halo in the Christian art of the future. Miss Pankhurst will be represented holding a policeman in each hand--the instruments of her martyrdom. The Passive Resister will be shown symbolically carrying the teapot that was torn from him by tyrannical auctioneers.

But there is a fallacy in this analogy of martyrdom. The truth is that the special impressiveness which does come from being persecuted only happens in the case of extreme persecution. For the fact that the modern enthusiast will undergo some inconvenience for the creed he holds only proves that he does hold it, which no one ever doubted. No one doubts that the Nonconformist minister cares more for Nonconformity than he does for his teapot. No one doubts that Miss Pankhurst wants a vote more than she wants a quiet afternoon and an armchair. Pagans were not impressed by the torture of Christians merely because it showed that they honestly held their opinion; they knew that millions of people honestly held all sorts of opinions. The point of such extreme martyrdom is much more subtle. It is that it gives an appearance of a man having something quite specially strong to back him up, of his drawing upon some power. And this can only be proved when all his physical contentment is destroyed; when all the current of his bodily being is reversed and turned to pain. If a man is seen to be roaring with laughter all the time that he is skinned alive, it would not be unreasonable to deduce that somewhere in the recesses of his mind he had thought of a rather good joke. Similarly, if men smiled and sang (as they did) while they were being boiled or torn in pieces, the spectators felt the presence of something more than mere mental honesty: they felt the presence of some new and unintelligible kind of pleasure, which, presumably, came from somewhere. It might be a strength of madness, or a lying spirit from Hell; but it was something quite positive and extraordinary; as positive as brandy and as extraordinary as conjuring. The Pagan said to himself: "If Christianity makes a man happy while his legs are being eaten by a lion, might it not make me happy while my legs are still attached to me and walking down the street?"

Which of the following people would the author likely be impressed with as an effective martyr?

Possible Answers:

A woman faints after walking around her office during the summer with a heavy coat to protest company stances that are supposedly contributing to global warming

All these examples would likely be cited as equally effective by the author

A university student who goes on a hunger strike for two days in protest of racist university policies

A bank worker who allowed himself to be shot rather than open the safe for a corrupt coworker

Correct answer:

A bank worker who allowed himself to be shot rather than open the safe for a corrupt coworker

Explanation:

From the essay we know that the author is impressed by martyrs that face what he deems significant, even life-changing or life-ending consequences for upholding their beliefs. By allowing himself to be shot, the bank worker makes a significant sacrifice that would not be committed by someone simply to get attention. The hunger strike could be significant, but two days is not an extreme length of time. It is not necessarily life changing. The case of the woman subjecting herself to extreme heat is similar to the self-inflicted demonstrations of the Suffragettes, with whom the author was not impressed.

Example Question #31 : Application

Passage adapted from "Patriotism and Sport" by G.K Chesterton (1908)

I notice that some papers, especially papers that call themselves patriotic, have fallen into quite a panic over the fact that we have been twice beaten in the world of sport, that a Frenchman has beaten us at golf, and that Belgians have beaten us at rowing. I suppose that the incidents are important to any people who ever believed in the self-satisfied English legend on this subject. I suppose that there are men who vaguely believe that we could never be beaten by a Frenchman, despite the fact that we have often been beaten by Frenchmen, and once by a Frenchwoman. In the old pictures in Punch you will find a recurring piece of satire. The English caricaturists always assumed that a Frenchman could not ride to hounds or enjoy English hunting. It did not seem to occur to them that all the people who founded English hunting were Frenchmen. All the Kings and nobles who originally rode to hounds spoke French. Large numbers of those Englishmen who still ride to hounds have French names. I suppose that the thing is important to any one who is ignorant of such evident matters as these. I suppose that if a man has ever believed that we English have some sacred and separate right to be athletic, such reverses do appear quite enormous and shocking. They feel as if, while the proper sun was rising in the east, some other and unexpected sun had begun to rise in the north-north-west by north. For the benefit, the moral and intellectual benefit of such people, it may be worth while to point out that the Anglo-Saxon has in these cases been defeated precisely by those competitors whom he has always regarded as being out of the running; by Latins, and by Latins of the most easy and unstrenuous type; not only by Frenchman, but by Belgians. All this, I say, is worth telling to any intelligent person who believes in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. But, then, no intelligent person does believe in the haughty theory of Anglo-Saxon superiority. No quite genuine Englishman ever did believe in it. And the genuine Englishman these defeats will in no respect dismay.

The genuine English patriot will know that the strength of England has never depended upon any of these things; that the glory of England has never had anything to do with them, except in the opinion of a large section of the rich and a loose section of the poor which copies the idleness of the rich. These people will, of course, think too much of our failure, just as they thought too much of our success. The typical Jingoes who have admired their countrymen too much for being conquerors will, doubtless, despise their countrymen too much for being conquered. But the Englishman with any feeling for England will know that athletic failures do not prove that England is weak, any more than athletic successes proved that England was strong. The truth is that athletics, like all other things, especially modern, are insanely individualistic. The Englishmen who win sporting prizes are exceptional among Englishmen, for the simple reason that they are exceptional even among men. English athletes represent England just about as much as Mr. Barnum's freaks represent America. There are so few of such people in the whole world that it is almost a toss-up whether they are found in this or that country.

The author would likely agree that the strength of England relies upon _________________.

Possible Answers:

exceptional individuals who stand up to lead the country in times of crisis

the tradition of England’s ability to conquer

a common feeling of democratic equality for all men

the strength of the common Englishman

Correct answer:

the strength of the common Englishman

Explanation:

The author details how the strength of England does not lie with the exceptional athletes represented in athletic events. Instead, those are the exception, rather than the rule, because they represent a small minority of the whole. He would likely agree that England draws its true strength from a true representation of the common Englishman. He cites those who base their perception of English strength only upon its ability to conquer as foolish. Since he addresses these issues, we know that feelings of equality for all are not pervasive throughout the country.

Example Question #35 : Application

Passage adapted from "A Piece of Chalk," by G. K. Chesterton (1905)

I crossed one swell of living turf after another, looking for a place to sit down and draw. Do not, for heaven’s sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They are much better worth drawing than Nature; also they are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have drawn it; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of a cow; which I saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight; and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all beasts. But though I could not with a crayon get the best out of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape was not getting the best out of me. And this, I think, is the mistake that people make about the old poets who lived before Wordsworth, and were supposed not to care very much about Nature because they did not describe it much.

They preferred writing about great men to writing about great hills; but they sat on the great hills to write it. They gave out much less about Nature, but they drank in, perhaps, much more. They painted the white robes of their holy virgins with the blinding snow, at which they had stared all day… The greenness of a thousand green leaves clustered into the live green figure of Robin Hood. The blueness of a score of forgotten skies became the blue robes of the Virgin. The inspiration went in like sunbeams and came out like Apollo.

But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but he never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realised this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funereal dress of this pessimistic period. Which is not the case.

Which of the following is least likely to be a comment about the author’s drawing of the soul of a cow?

Possible Answers:

“Symbols of Greek mythology are well incorporated.”

“The inclusion of religious themes hints towards an overall spiritual significance.”

“The attention to detail in the drawing makes the picture extremely lifelike.”

“The drawing represents the freedom that cows have in the open pasture.”

Correct answer:

“The attention to detail in the drawing makes the picture extremely lifelike.”

Explanation:

The author makes it very clear that he is not a realist artist; his description of a seven-horned, purple and silver cow must be anything but lifelike. The author does mention several types of symbolism that easily could have been included in the drawing. He also mentions how great authors can incorporate feelings about nature into their work, so it is possible that he weaved a representation of the open pasture into his cow soul. 

Example Question #36 : Application

 Passage adapted from "A Piece of Chalk," by G. K. Chesterton (1905)

I crossed one swell of living turf after another, looking for a place to sit down and draw. Do not, for heaven’s sake, imagine I was going to sketch from Nature. I was going to draw devils and seraphim, and blind old gods that men worshipped before the dawn of right, and saints in robes of angry crimson, and seas of strange green, and all the sacred or monstrous symbols that look so well in bright colours on brown paper. They are much better worth drawing than Nature; also they are much easier to draw. When a cow came slouching by in the field next to me, a mere artist might have drawn it; but I always get wrong in the hind legs of quadrupeds. So I drew the soul of a cow; which I saw there plainly walking before me in the sunlight; and the soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all beasts. But though I could not with a crayon get the best out of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape was not getting the best out of me. And this, I think, is the mistake that people make about the old poets who lived before Wordsworth, and were supposed not to care very much about Nature because they did not describe it much.

They preferred writing about great men to writing about great hills; but they sat on the great hills to write it. They gave out much less about Nature, but they drank in, perhaps, much more. They painted the white robes of their holy virgins with the blinding snow, at which they had stared all day… The greenness of a thousand green leaves clustered into the live green figure of Robin Hood. The blueness of a score of forgotten skies became the blue robes of the Virgin. The inspiration went in like sunbeams and came out like Apollo.

But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel, or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but he never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realised this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funereal dress of this pessimistic period. Which is not the case.

Assume that the author doesn’t manage to find any white chalk. Which of the following is the least likely result?

Possible Answers:

The author instead writes an essay about white chalk

The author gives up on his drawing

The author finishes the drawing with satisfaction since he wasn’t planning on publishing it anyway.

The author uses a nearby white rock to add white accents to his drawing.

Correct answer:

The author finishes the drawing with satisfaction since he wasn’t planning on publishing it anyway.

Explanation:

“Those who are acquainted with all the philosophy…know that white is positive and essential.” If this is what the author believes, he would not be satisfied with a work devoid of white, no matter if he was planning on publishing it or not. He would find some way to bring white into the drawing, such as by using a nearby rock, or abandon the drawing all together. The author did end up writing an essay about white chalk, so that could not be the least likely result.

Example Question #1 : Solving A Problem With A Passage

Adapted from "Save the Redwoods" by John Muir in Sierra Club Bulletin Volume XI Number 1 (January 1920)

We are often told that the world is going from bad to worse, but this righteous uprising in defense of God's trees is telling a different story. The wrongs done to trees are done in the darkness of ignorance and unbelief, for when light comes the heart of the people is always right. Forty-seven years ago one of these Calaveras King Sequoias was laboriously cut down, that the stump might be had for a dancing-floor. Another, one of the finest in the grove, was skinned alive to a height of one hundred and sixteen feet and the bark sent to London to show how fine and big that Calaveras tree was—as sensible a scheme as skinning our great men would be to prove their greatness. Now some millmen want to cut all the Calaveras trees into lumber and money. No doubt these trees would make good lumber after passing through a sawmill, as George Washington after passing through the hands of a French cook would have made good food. But both for Washington and the tree that bears his name higher uses have been found.

In noble groves and forests south of the Calaveras Grove the axe and saw have long been busy, and thousands of the finest Sequoias have been felled, while fires have spread still wider and more lamentable ruin. In the course of my explorations twenty-five years ago, I found five sawmills on or near the lower margin of the Sequoia belt. One of the smallest of these in the 1874 season sawed two million feet of Sequoia lumber. Since that time, other mills have been built among the Sequoias. The destruction of these grand trees is still going on. 

On the other hand, the Calaveras Grove for forty years has been faithfully protected by Mr. Sperry, and with the exception of the two trees mentioned above is still in primeval beauty. Many groves have of late been partially protected by the Federal Government, while the well-known Mariposa Grove has long been guarded by the State.

For the thousands of acres of Sequoia forest outside of reservations and national parks, and in the hands of lumbermen, no help is in sight. Probably more than three times as many Sequoias as are contained in the whole Calaveras Grove have been cut into lumber every year for the last twenty-six years without let or hindrance, and with scarce a word of protest on the part of the public, while at the first whisper of bonding the Calaveras Grove to lumbermen most everybody rose in alarm. Californians’ righteous and lively indignation after their long period of deathlike apathy, in which they have witnessed the destruction of other groves unmoved, seems strange until the rapid growth that right public opinion has made during the last few years is considered and the peculiar interest that attaches to the Calaveras giants. They were the first discovered and are best known. Thousands of travelers from every country come to see them, their reputation is world-wide, and the names of great men have long been associated with them—Washington, Humboldt, Torrey and Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and others. These kings of the forest rightly belong to the world, but as they are in California, we cannot escape responsibility as their guardians. Fortunately the American people are equal to this trust, or any other that may arise, as soon as they see it and understand it.

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot defend themselves or run away. And few destroyers of trees ever plant any, nor can planting avail much toward restoring our grand aboriginal giants. It took more than three thousand years to make some of the oldest of the Sequoias, trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty. Through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand storms; but he cannot save them from sawmills and fools; this is left to the American people.The news from Washington is encouraging. The House has passed a bill providing for the Government acquisition of the Calaveras giants. The danger these Sequoias have been in will do good far beyond the boundaries of the Calaveras Grove, in saving other groves and forests and quickening interest in forest affairs in general. While the iron of public sentiment is hot let us strike hard. In particular, a reservation or national park of the only other species of Sequoia, the sempervirens, or redwood, hardly less wonderful than the gigantea, should be quickly secured. It will have to be acquired by gift or purchase, for the Government has sold every section of the redwood belt from the Oregon boundary to below Santa Cruz.

Say you wanted to preserve a particular mountainside that was threatened with strip-mining. Based on the passage, what do you think the author would say would be the best way to achieve this preservation?

Possible Answers:

Identifying key people in government positions who could act to preserve the mountaintop

Writing articles and engaging with the public about the general importance of preserving mountains unsullied by mining

Taking legal action against the logging companies

Raising the fame and renown of the mountaintop, driving tourists to it, and associating its name with great men

Convincing the state or federal government to act to make the mountaintop a National Park

Correct answer:

Convincing the state or federal government to act to make the mountaintop a National Park

Explanation:

Correct answer: Convincing the state or federal government to act to make the mountaintop a National Park.

This is the correct answer because it is something that was achieved for the Calaveras Grove and what the author wants to be achieved for other such stands of redwood trees.

 

Raising the fame and renown of the mountaintop, driving tourists to it, and associating its name with great men.

This is incorrect because although these would help, they would only help to drive public sentiment to do something. Actually making the area into a preserve would be a better choice.

 

Taking legal action against the logging companies.

Legal action is not mentioned in the passage.

 

Writing articles and engaging with the public about the general importance of preserving mountains unsullied by mining.

Any effect from this would be to motivate further action, so the action of preserving the mountaintop by the government would be a better answer.

 

Identifying key people in government positions who could act to preserve the mountaintop.

This might work as a temporary solution, but establishing a permanent reservation or park would be a better solution.

Example Question #2 : Solving A Problem With A Passage

Adapted from On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals by William Harvey (1628) in The Harvard Classics, Vol. XXXVIII, Part 3 (trans. 1909-1914)

When I first gave my mind to vivisections as a means of discovering the motions and uses of the heart, and sought to discover these from actual inspection and not from the writings of others, I found the task so truly arduous, so full of difficulties, that I was almost tempted to think, with Fracastorius, that the motion of the heart was only to be comprehended by God. For I could neither rightly perceive at first when the systole and when the diastole took place, nor when and where dilatation and contraction occurred, by reason of the rapidity of the motion, which in many animals is accomplished in the twinkling of an eye, coming and going like a flash of lightning; so that the systole presented itself to me now from this point, now from that; the diastole the same; and then everything was reversed, the motions occurring, as it seemed, variously and confusedly together. My mind was therefore greatly unsettled, nor did I know what I should myself conclude, nor what believe from others. I was not surprised that Andreas Laurentius should have written that the motion of the heart was as perplexing as the flux and reflux of Euripus had appeared to Aristotle.

At length, by using greater and daily diligence and investigation, making frequent inspection of many and various animals, and collating numerous observations, I thought that I had attained to the truth, that I should extricate myself and escape from this labyrinth, and that I had discovered what I so much desired, both the motion and the use of the heart and arteries. From that time I have not hesitated to expose my views upon these subjects, not only in private to my friends, but also in public, in my anatomical lectures, after the manner of the Academy of old.

These views as usual, pleased some more, others less; some chid and calumniated me, and laid it to me as a crime that I had dared to depart from the precepts and opinions of all anatomists; others desired further explanations of the novelties, which they said were both worthy of consideration, and might perchance be found of signal use. At length, yielding to the requests of my friends, that all might be made participators in my labors, and partly moved by the envy of others, who, receiving my views with uncandid minds and understanding them indifferently, have essayed to traduce me publicly, I have moved to commit these things to the press, in order that all may be enabled to form an opinion both of me and my labors. This step I take all the more willingly, seeing that Hieronymus Fabricius of Aquapendente, although he has accurately and learnedly delineated almost every one of the several parts of animals in a special work, has left the heart alone untouched.

What fact, if true, would most support Harvey's claims about the difficulty of determining the function of the heart?

Possible Answers:

Some of Harvey's contemporaries found his work slipshod and his attention to detail lacking.

Harvey lacked adquate laboratory space and equipment and often had to scavange for materials.

There has been a religious taboo against vivisection of the heart in particular, more so than other body parts.

Two other authors disagree that the heart is difficult to understand, claiming that they have figured it out entirely.

Modern medicine has a complete understanding of the working of the heart.

Correct answer:

There has been a religious taboo against vivisection of the heart in particular, more so than other body parts.

Explanation:

Correct answer: There has been a religious taboo against vivisection of the heart in particular, more so than other body parts.

This is correct because Harvey cites other authors to show that they've avoided writing about the heart because of its difficulty or have stated how difficult the heart is to figure out. 


Two other authors disagree that the heart is difficult to understand, claiming that they have figured it out entirely.

That the authors simply claim that wouldn't be any evidence of anything at all except their opinion.

Modern medicine has a complete understanding of the working of the heart.

This doesn't have bearing on Harvey's contemporary understanding or efforts.

Some of Harvey's contemporaries found his work slipshod and his attention to detail lacking.

Again, this is the opinion of critics, and not evidence itself.

Harvey lacked adquate laboratory space and equipment and often had to scavange for materials.

This is a strong second contender, but we don't know the conditions with which other anatomists have worked.

Example Question #3 : Solving A Problem With A Passage

Adapted from Utilitarianism by John Stewart Mill (1863)

Only while the world is in a very imperfect state can it happen that anyone’s best chance of serving the happiness of others is through the absolute sacrifice of his own happiness; but while the world is in that imperfect state, I fully admit that the readiness to make such a sacrifice is the highest virtue that can be found in man. I would add something that may seem paradoxical: namely that in this present imperfect condition of the world, the conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of bringing about such happiness as is attainable. For nothing except that consciousness can raise a person above the chances of life by making him feel that fate and fortune—let them do their worst!—have no power to subdue him. Once he feels that, it frees him from excessive anxiety about the evils of life and lets him (like many a stoic in the worst times of the Roman empire) calmly develop the sources of satisfaction that are available to him, not concerning himself with the uncertainty regarding how long they will last or the certainty that they will end.

Meanwhile, let utilitarians never cease to claim that they have as much right as the stoic or the transcendentalist to maintain the morality of devotion to a cause as something that belongs to them. The utilitarian morality does recognize that human beings can sacrifice their own greatest good for the good of others; it merely refuses to admit that the sacrifice is itself a good. It regards as wasted any sacrifice that doesn’t increase, or tend to increase, the sum total of happiness. The only self-renunciation that it applauds is devotion to the happiness, or to some of the means to happiness, of others. . . . I must again repeat something that the opponents of utilitarianism are seldom fair enough to admit, namely that the happiness that forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct is not the agent’s own happiness but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be as strictly impartial as a disinterested and benevolent spectator. In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth we read the complete spirit of the ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.

As the practical way to get as close as possible to this ideal, the ethics of utility would command two things. (1) First, laws and social arrangements should place the happiness (or what for practical purposes we may call the interest) of every individual as much as possible in harmony with the interest of the whole. (2) Education and opinion, which have such a vast power over human character, should use that power to establish in the mind of every individual an unbreakable link between his own happiness and the good of the whole; especially between his own happiness and the kinds of conduct (whether doing or allowing) that are conducive to universal happiness. If (2) is done properly, it will tend to have two results: (2a) The individual won’t be able to conceive the possibility of being personally happy while acting in ways opposed to the general good. (2b) In each individual a direct impulse to promote the general good will be one of the habitual motives of action, and the feelings connected with it will fill a large and prominent place in his sentient existence. This is the true character of the utilitarian morality. If those who attack utilitarianism see it as being like this, I don’t know what good features of some other moralities they could possibly say that utilitarianism lacks, what more beautiful or more elevated developments of human nature any other ethical systems can be supposed to encourage, or what motivations for action that aren’t available to the utilitarian those other systems rely on for giving effect to their mandates.

If one were to adhere to the moral framework outlined in the passage, what would be the most moral action if one were presented with a situation in which one was given the option to choose whether a confessed murderer would be set free from prison or an old, sick man would be put to death?

Possible Answers:

One would have to weigh the options in terms of their logical viability, and choose the option that was most reasonable.

One would have to allow the old man to die, since allowing the murderer to go free would be a sin against God and would violate the golden rule.

Under this moral system one should not take aggressive action against others, so in this situation one would be compelled to sacrifice one's own life rather than do harm to others.

One would have to let the murderer free, since under this moral system it is always wrong to kill or do harm to other people.

One would have to weigh the options in terms of their ability to increase or decrease the total sum of happiness in the world, and then choose the option that most increased, or least decreased, that sum.

Correct answer:

One would have to weigh the options in terms of their ability to increase or decrease the total sum of happiness in the world, and then choose the option that most increased, or least decreased, that sum.

Explanation:

In the moral system described in the excerpt, the most ethical  course of action in any moral situation is to weigh one's actions in terms of their contribution to the overall store of happiness in the world, and then choose the course of action that gives the most happiness, or deprives the least happiness. 

The system described is not a religious ethic, nor a strictly rationalist one; rather, it is utilitarian in nature.

Since this system does not ethically value actions for their instrinsic moral value, but only for their contribution to the overall store of happiness, what is important is making the calculation of the potential actions contribution to the happiness of the world, rather than the specific action taken.

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