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Passage Discussion

Paragraph One:

The author begins this final passage of the section by pointing out that some types of risks are generally believed to call for government intervention, while others are not; the government should be involved in guaranteeing air safety, for example, while it is largely up to a mountain climber to look out for his or her own safety. The author says that the difference in perception between the two scenarios comes down to whether or not the risks were taken on voluntarily. This “voluntary” factor, the author asserts, might be the main point of distinction between laypeople, who are more focused on whether an act was taken on voluntarily, and experts, who tend to concentrate on the total number of lives put at risk. According to the author, however, the layperson’s focus on the voluntary vs. involuntary distinction is often confused or misguided, and in reality such judgments are often based on different underlying considerations, so this distinction is not particularly useful in the area of policy decisions.

Paragraph Two:

The author begins the second paragraph by pointing out that while a collision with an asteroid exemplifies an entirely involuntary act, in most situations the distinction between voluntary and involuntary is not quite so clear. The author provides the example of airline passengers, whose risks are generally considered involuntary based on their lack of control over the plane’s course, in spite of the fact that such passengers could choose safer airlines or other modes of travel, because the focus of such a characterization is not on the decisions of the passenger, but on the accident when it happens.

Paragraph Three:

Here the author points out that the characterization of an act as voluntary or involuntary can often involve other judgments as well, such as the degree of approval of an act that is undertaken; few would support significant government expenditures to protect skydivers, for example, but most would support such spending to protect firefighters, who, the author points out, also take on risks voluntarily. Since such factors can be the real reason for characterizations of risks as voluntary or involuntary, the author asserts that policies should be based on a clearer perspective regarding the bases for such judgments.

Paragraph Four:

In the concluding paragraph, the author says that as a general rule, the government should use whatever limited public and private resources are devoted to risk reduction in an effort to save as many lives as possible. Doing otherwise, the author asserts, should be justified not by questionable characterizations of risks as voluntary or involuntary, but by the actual, specific, underlying considerations that guide such judgments.


The only real Viewpoint presented here is that of the author, who discusses common misconceptions regarding the proper assignment of risk protection intervention.

The Structure of the passage is as follows:
  • Paragraph 1: ..... Introduce belief that government intervention in risk prevention is proper, as with safety ..... ..... ..... ..... standards, but that voluntary risk is often considered unworthy of government spending. Assert that ..... ..... ..... such distinctions are often based on value judgements rather than voluntariness.

    Paragraph 2: ..... Provide extreme example of involuntary risk (asteroid impact), to make the point that most
    ..... ..... ..... distinctions are not so simple—as with a plane crash, which is based on voluntary decisions
    ..... ..... ..... although most would consider this risk to have been taken on involuntarily.

    Paragraph 3: ..... Present another underlying basis for many who make such distinctions: approval of the purpose. ..... ..... ..... Give contrasting examples of risk prevention with regard to skydivers versus firefighters. Since the
    ..... ..... ..... distinction between voluntary and involuntary risk is actually based on underlying judgments, assert ..... ..... ..... that government risk prevention policy should be based on a better understanding of such factors.

    Paragraph 4: ..... Begin the closing paragraph with a general policy statement regarding government intervention in ..... ..... ..... risk prevention: Save as many lives as possible, given the resources devoted to this pursuit; assert
    ..... ..... ..... that any deviation from this policy should be based not on the illusory distinction between voluntary ..... ..... ..... and involuntary, but on the underlying judgments that are actually the basis of such distinctions.
The Tone of the passage is convicted and prescriptive, and seemingly well-reasoned.

The primary Argument presented in the stimulus is also the author’s Main Point: As a risk prevention policy, the government should save as many lives as possible with the limited resources it has, basing deviations from this policy on the value judgments that underlie supposed distinctions between voluntary and involuntary risk.

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