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#9 - Anyone believing that no individual can have an effect

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Complete Question Explanation

Strengthen—SN, CE. The correct answer choice is (D)

This question is perhaps the most difficult of the section. It combines causal reasoning with wordy conditional terms to create confusion and bog us down. However, by focusing on the nature of causal reasoning on the LSAT, we can cut through the clutter and focus on the heart of what is, in reality, a simple argument.

The stimulus begins with a conditional rule that has a causal relationship as its necessary condition. The sufficient condition of the relationship is the presence of “anyone believing that no individual can have an effect on society’s future.” The necessary condition is that such a belief will cause the person to “feel too helpless to act to change society for the better.” We can diagram this relationship as:

belief = belief that no individual can have an effect on society’s future
act = feel too helpless to act to change society for the better

..... ..... ..... Sufficient ..... ..... Necessary

..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... Cause ..... ..... Effect

..... ..... ..... belief ..... :arrow: ..... belief ..... :arrow: ..... act

While this relationship appears daunting, consider for a moment the way LSAC uses causal reasoning generally. We know that causality is taken to the extreme on the LSAT, with the assumption that if a cause is present, it will always produce a given effect, and that whenever we see that effect, we know what caused it. The premise diagrammed above is simply an explicit expression of the same distorted version of causality we see every time we come across a causal conclusion. It just so happens that, in this stimulus, the extreme causal relationship is made express, and is part of a premise rather than the conclusion. So, the best way to think about this premise, despite the explicit conditional indicators, is as a traditional causal relationship:

..... ..... ..... Cause ..... ..... Effect

..... ..... ..... belief ..... :arrow: ..... act

The premise described above is the only support offered for the conclusion that if you want to improve society, you “should reject the belief that its future will be determined entirely by vast historical forces that individuals are powerless to change.” While the description of the belief in the conclusion is a bit different than the wording of the belief in the premise, they are related. The belief in the conclusion is a more specific belief than was in the premise, that the reason no individual can have an effect on society’s future is that the “future will be determined entirely by vast historical forces that individuals are powerless to change.” Using the same belief term from the premise, but including this difference regarding the “vast historical forces” as a subscript (VHS), we can diagram this relationship as:

IS = want to improve society

..... ..... ..... Sufficient ..... ..... Necessary

..... ..... ..... IS ..... :arrow: ..... beliefVHS

This conclusion, by including the word “should,” implies the application of a principle to the premise. And, by viewing the premise as the causal relationship described above, we can see where the conclusion is coming from. If having such a belief prevents you from acting to change society for the better, then if you want to improve society, you have to reject that belief.

The question stem tells us that this is a Strengthen—Principle question. Our prephrase is that the correct answer choice will provide a principle that restates the reasoning from the paragraph immediately above: if you want to improve society, you have to reject the belief described in the premise and restated in the conclusion.

Answer choice (A): This answer choice is incorrect because it applies to a different situation, in which a person believes that individuals can have an effect on society’s future.

Answer choice (B): This answer choice begins improperly by using the rejection of the belief (belief) as the sufficient condition, rather than as the necessary condition. Also, a principle that could connect to the conclusion would involve a person who wants to improve society, a piece that is missing from this answer choice.

Answer choice (C): As with answer choice (B), to connect to the stimulus, the answer choice must have as the sufficient condition that the person wants to improve society.

Answer choice (D): This is the correct answer choice. Although worded in a way that is meant to be confusing, this answer choices provides a conditional rule that connects the premise to the conclusion. Restated for clarity, this answer choice says that if a person wants to improve society, then that person should not accept (i.e., should reject) any belief that makes him or her feel too helpless to act to change society for the better. We can diagram this relationship as:

..... ..... ..... IS ..... :arrow: ..... belief

The conclusion then applies this principle to the specific situation in which belief relates to the influence of “vast historical forces.”

Answer choice (E): Again, as with answer choices (B) and (C), the correct answer choice must have as the sufficient condition a person wanting to improve society. Here, the sufficient condition involves people feeling powerless in the face of vast historical forces.
cheyenne
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Thank you for your explanation! But even with your explanation, this question has me stumped. I approached the answer choices thinking that I was looking for something that would tie the two conditional statements together. My original diagram was a lot more complex than the one you made.

My diagram was:

BIESF --> HACSB
WIS --> FDEHF

BIESF = Belief that individual can have an effect on society's future
HACSB = helpless to act to change society for the better
WIS = wants to improve society
FDEHF = future will be determined entirely by vast historical forces

I then diagrammed answer D as:

WIS --> HACSB

So is the key here that the beliefs are essentially the same just said in slightly different ways? If so, then I see how (D) fits into the diagram as a connector. Also, I still don't understand the importance of should in a conditional statement? I didn't pay any attention to the word should in the stimulus because it didn't seem important.
Jonathan Evans
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Hi, Cheyenne,

Good question. A couple things to note here. First, if you choose to represent statements in an argument symbolically, be careful not to make such symbolizations overly recondite. Often, in situations with chain/multiple conditionals, there will be ideas or concepts that correspond to each other in multiple conditionals but will not be worded in exactly the same manner. Thus, if our variables become too detailed, we may miss essential connections between analogous concepts.

Otherwise, good job with the diagram. In keeping with your analysis, one might break down the stimulus as follows:

  • P1: Believe individuals cannot have an effect (B):arrow: Feel too helpless to act
  • Conclusion: Want to improve society :arrow: Believe individuals can have an effect (B)

The sufficient concept in the premise is analogous to the necessary concept in the conclusion. Why is this? This inference follows because it's apparent that to believe that a society's future is entirely controlled by forces individuals are powerless to change, it is necessary to believe that individuals cannot affect a society's future (i.e. change it for the better).

Thus, the gap or conceptual jump here exists between the necessary condition in the premise and the sufficient condition in the conclusion. Note that the assumption appears to involve the idea that feeling too helpless to act is incompatible with wanting to improve society. That is, if you want to improve society, you must not feel too helpless to act.

    Assumption: Want to improve society :arrow: Feel too helpless to act

It might be helpful here to reformulate the premise or conclusion of the argument in contrapositive form to illustrate this relationship:

  • P1: Believe individuals cannot have an effect (B) :arrow: Feel too helpless to act
  • P1 contrapositive: Feel too helpless to act :arrow: Believe individuals can have an effect (B)
  • Conclusion: Want to improve society :arrow: Believe individuals can have an effect (B)
  • Conclusion contrapositive: Believe individuals cannot have an effect (B) :arrow: Want to improve society

Note the manner in which the Assumption above combines with the contrapositive of P1 to make a bridge between the sufficient and necessary conditions in the conclusion.

    Want to improve society :arrow: Feel too helpless to act :arrow: Believe individuals can have an effect (B)

This is how answer choice (D) goes about strengthening the argument: it articulates as a principle the author's implicit belief or assumption.

As the explanation above notes, the use of the word "should" is a way to make explicit the applicability of the principle stated to the specific situation in the stimulus. Note also the heavy overlap between conditional reasoning and causality in this question.

I hope this helps!