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#21 - Ethicist: On average, animals raised on grain must be

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In this question my prephrase was "the answer choice will show that eating meat will not necessarily be unacceptable", is there a better way to prephrase in this question? And could you explain how answer choice B weakens the conclusion? When it says "unsuitable for any other kind of farming" does it mean it will only be suitable for production of meat? If so, how did we infer that from the answer choice, is it because it says "raised to maturity = produce meat"?

Thank you for any clarification!
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Hi eober,

In terms of pre-phrasing, I would say: "the right answer choice will give us a reason why animals raised for meat can be fed, without using up food or resources that could more efficiently feed humans".

In answer choice B: if the pastureland is question cannot be used for any other farming, than it cannot be used to grow grain. Since it cannot be used to grow grain, it provides a way to feed the animals that doesn't use up grain that could more efficiently feed humans.

Hope this helps!
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I'm having trouble determining why D is wrong. When prephrasing, I was looking for an answer that would attack the gap found between animals raised on grain and meat consumption. Maybe meat could be produced without grain, such as lab grown meat. But D was appealing because it seems to cast doubt on one of the premises about grain production leveling off. If we could expand prime farmland, maybe grain could be more abundant and therefore we don't have to feel bad about using it for meat production. I'm a bit confused on what role the last sentence plays in the argument. Is it just an additional premise that doesn't even have to be true for the argument to still work?

Premise 1: Grain can more efficiently feed people than meat produced with grain

Premise 2: Additionally overall grain production is flattening and per capita grain levels might even be decreasing

Conclusion: Therefore meat consumption is inefficient and hence immoral.

Is D wrong because even if premise 2 is negated, we still have the issue with the grain/meat ratio?

Also I have a general question about weaken questions. Are there ever two or more answer choices that weaken an argument but one weakens more/the most. Or is there only that weakens and the other 4 do not weaken, or even strengthen?
Jonathan Evans
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Hi, JRC,

Good questions. I'll reply to your latter question first: Yes, there are sometimes two possible answers to Weaken (or Strengthen) questions that could conceivably weaken (or strengthen) the conclusion somewhat. However, note that the question asks you to find the answer that most weakens the argument. If there are multiple options that could weaken the conclusion, one of them will do a better job accomplishing this task.

With respect to your first question, your analysis is good. There is a gap between animals raised on grain and meat consumption. Additionally, there are gaps between meat consumption and morality, between adequate food consumption and nutritious food, and between loss of farmland, population growth, and meat consumption. I am probably missing a couple flaws here too! In other words, there are all kinds of issues with this argument. Sometimes we're faced with these kinds of deeply flawed arguments, especially for Weaken and Strengthen questions.

If an argument is so deeply flawed, why would it be difficult to weaken? As you noticed, you were looking for one way to weaken the argument, while other options were present. This situation creates cognitive difficulty akin to analysis paralysis or choice overload. Test-takers sometimes focus on one issue or flaw, which is indeed a flaw, without noticing other possible problems.

How can we overcome this difficulty?

  1. Notice while you're attacking the stimulus that it's a pretty weak argument. "Sure dude, meat-eating might be morally unacceptable, but there are many ways that it might not."
  2. Anticipate that Weaken and Strengthen questions will sometimes present multiple avenues for accomplishing the task.
  3. Consider a possible prephrase, but also be open to other ways to harm the conclusion. Don't get too hung up on just one way of weakening or strengthening the argument.
To wit, let's return to this argument. What do we know?

    Animals need to be fed a lot of grain to make one pound of meat.
    Meat is more nutritious than grain for people.
    More grain could feed more people than could the amount of meat such grain could produce.
    Grain yields are leveling off.
    Farmland is going out of production.
    Population is expanding.
    IN CONCLUSION, meat consumption will soon be morally unacceptable.
Now, what don't we know? All kinds of stuff. How could it be possible that even given all those facts, meat consumption might not be morally unacceptable?

    There might be alternate ways of generating meat than using grain.
    There might be alternate ways of generating grain than currently possible.
    The nutrition provided by meat might outweigh the benefit provided by feeding people grain, especially if alternate sources of food are available.
    While meat consumption might be morally acceptable some day, it won't be any time soon, because...

You need not come up with an exhaustive list of possibilities. Just be on the lookout for something that would directly harm the validity of the conclusion.

Here, we see that Answer Choice (B) provides an alternative way to produce the meat without consuming the requisite grain. Thus, we have a direct attack on one of the necessary links for the conclusion. This is a strong contender.

In contrast, notice the phrasing of Answer Choice (D). Here, we are presented with a possible way to mitigate farmland loss should we make a particular choice. Yes, (D) could conceivably weaken the conclusion, if we do some stuff the author recommends and if other factors don't aggravate the situation. However, notice with (D) that the path to weakening the argument is far more circuitous than it is with Answer Choice (B). Thus, (B) most weakens the conclusion.

I hope this helps!
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I selected the option E for this, as if a diet that consists solely of grain products is discouraged by nutritionists, it is unlikely it would be adopted in the near future.

Could you please elaborate on why that might be incorrect?

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Hi amina!

Welcome to the forum and thanks for the question. The short answer to your question is to focus on the conclusion here that meat consumption is "morally unacceptable." Note that the ethicist isn't concerned about the adequacy of the nutrition for the grain diet. He is only concerned with the morality of the future. So (E) is definitely attacking a premise about feeding people, but for so many Weakening-type questions, the best answer choice will attack the conclusion on the issue for which it is being offered. That's why (B) is the better answer choice. It's telling us that the ethicist's argument is a false dilemma of choosing between grain or cattle. And that's good news to me because I am not giving up Five Guys any time soon.

Thanks for the great question and let us know if this helped!
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For this problem, I need a lot of help and I have many questions, so please bear with me.

When I first worked on this question, I didn't fully understand what the stimulus was even saying. In layman's terms, is the argument basically saying, "A lot of grain is needed to produce just a little bit of meat. Even though meat is more nutritious in some cases, grain can feed a lot more people. With grain levels remaining constant, less food being produced in farms, and a growing population, meat consumption will become morally unacceptable"?

Why does the argument jump from the premises to suddenly concluding that meat consumption will become morally unacceptable? Is this due to the assumption that a massive amount of grain being used to produce just a little bit of meat will cause the growing human population to be starved and deprived of grain? Is the argument basically assuming that the grain could be better used to feed the growing human population than producing meat? If so, then how are we supposed to figure out that assumption, especially under timed conditions? I know that the LSAT doesn't require specialized knowledge from any field, but this question definitely makes me feel like I'm supposed to have special knowledge of farming and agriculture! When I first read this question, I was lost. I thought that the last sentence of the stimulus was basically telling us, "Grain levels are remaining constant and the farm animals are producing less food, so because the animals are in such a vulnerable state, we should let them have their grain. It would be morally unacceptable to take their grain and kill them for meat consumption." I can see now that this was an incorrect understanding of the stimulus.

So is answer choice A incorrect due to the fact that meat preference and willingness to pay for meat have nothing to do with meat consumption being morally unacceptable? Is answer choice C incorrect because "grain diet" isn't mentioned in the stimulus and because C would slightly strengthen the argument by showing us that meat consumption isn't necessary? Is answer choice E wrong because the stimulus never mentions "a diet composed solely of grain products"?

Furthermore, I can see that answer choice B weakens the argument by showing us that some farm animals can be raised being fed grass instead of grain. This would make it more likely for meat production to continue. But it also seems like answer choice D could weaken the argument too. Is D wrong because we have no way of knowing how big of an impact suburban development is having on farms? Is D also wrong because it recommends a future course of action which may or may not work, whereas B uses the word "often" to recommend a course of action which has worked before? Can you please explain to me why B is right and the other answer choices (especially D) are wrong? Lastly, are there any free articles and websites which you recommend for me to read in order to familiarize myself with the stimulus topics? I know that "The Atlantic" is one good website.

Thank you very much for your time and help. I greatly appreciate it.
Robert Carroll
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The argument relies on a comparison of the efficiency of grain and meat as food for humans. Although meat is more nutritious per pound, it takes a lot of grain to produce a little meat - so a lot of grain is being used SOMEWHERE in the food chain to produce meat. If a human ate the grain directly, instead of eating meat which comes from grain-fed animals, the nutritional value of the grain would have been maximized. The author then concludes it's morally unacceptable to consume meat when it involves such a waste of grain.

One issue here is whether meat requires grain - could the animals be raised on foods other than grain, thus preventing grain from being wasted on meat production? The argument assumes that meat always entails a waste of grain. This is a problem for the argument and is exactly what answer choice (B) exploits. If the animals are raised on land that couldn't have been used for grain farming anyway, then grain isn't "wasted" in raising them. They're not fed grain that could have been used elsewhere, nor are they raised on land that would have to be "set aside" for them instead of being used for grain farming. The answer says that the land couldn't have been used for grain farming anyway. So there's no harm to the grain supply, either actually (they aren't eating it) or potentially (the land couldn't have been used for grain farming anyway, so potential farmland isn't being reduced).

Answer choice (A) is wrong because people's preferences are not relevant to what's morally acceptable.

Answer choice (C) may strengthen the argument by showing how a non-meat diet could be nutritional. This does nothing to weaken the argument.

Answer choice (E) is indeed wrong because I have no idea if the author is suggesting a grain-only diet.

Answer choice (D) is wrong because I don't know how this would address the issue. Population is increasing and grain production is leveling off. Would halting the loss of farmland compensate for that? I have no idea.

Common suggestions for reading material to help you understand the general kind of argumentation on the test include The Economist and Scientific American. Note that you do not need background knowledge to do well on the test, so these reading materials are suggested to help you get used to the general way the test is written, not learn any specific facts.

Robert Carroll