Flaw in the Reasoning—SN. The correct answer choice is (C)
This is an excellent separator question. If you track and identify the proper indicators, this question seems relatively easy. If you fail to note the indicators, this question can seem confusing and difficult.
The key to the problem is recognizing the sufficient condition indicator “if” in the second line. This indicator creates the following conditional relationship in the first sentence:
- S N
Punishment deters Punishment justified
The second sentence states that the data shows that punishment of crimes is not a deterrent, which can be represented as follows:
- Punishment deters
Using these two premises, the magazine article concludes in the last sentence that punishment is not justified:
- Punishment justified
When seen in relation to each other, the pieces of the argument appear as follows:
- Premise 1: Punishment deters Punishment justified
Premise 2 + Conclusion: Punishment deters Punishment justified
The article contains a classic Mistaken Reversal in this argument: just because the sufficient condition does not occur does not mean that you can conclude that the necessary condition does not occur. Upon recognizing this flaw, you should quickly accelerate into the questions, seeking an answer choice that addresses the condition nature of the mistake.
Answer choice (A): Students who fail to identify the conditional reasoning error in the argument often select this answer choice. But, the article works hard to show that the data was valid: “a great deal of carefully assembled and analyzed empirical data show clearly” (emphasis added). As there is no reason to suspect that the data may be biased, this answer choice is incorrect.
Answer choice (B): This answer choice describes the uncertain use of a term. However, the article is consistent in its use of the term “punishment.”
Answer choice (C): This is the correct answer choice. This answer describes the conditional error that underlies both Mistaken Negations and Mistaken Reversals, namely that these two errors are based on confusing a sufficient condition and a necessary condition.
Answer choice (D): Punishing the innocent is not a part of the argument, and the article is not obligated to address this issue. Thus, although the article does not address mistakenly punishing the innocent, this is not a flaw, and this answer choice is incorrect.
Answer choice (E): This answer choice describes a flaw that is the opposite of an overgeneralization, namely that instead of generalizing from limited data, the article draws a detailed conclusion from data that is too generalized. However, the conclusion is about punishment and whether it is justified, and the rest of the article is about topics that are not broader than this topic. Thus, the answer is not overly precise in drawing the conclusion.