June 2007 LSAT, III, #16

Section 3, Question 16 of the June 2007 LSAT contains an incomplete argument: Philosopher:  Nations are not literally persons; they have no thoughts or feelings, and, literally speaking, they perform no actions. Thus they have no moral rights or responsibilities. But no nation can survive unless many of its citizens attribute such rights and responsibilities to it, for nothing else could prompt people to make the sacrifices national citizenship demands. Obviously, then, a nation _______.

It's not an easy argument to swallow, so I'll do my best to nibble at it piece by piece. The first two sentences seem to contain an assumption. Evidence: Nations are not literally persons. Conclusion: Nations have no moral rights or responsibilities. Assumption: If you aren't literally a person, then you have no moral rights or responsibilities. OK, I'm following along so far.

The third sentence also seems to contain an assumption. Evidence: If citizens don't attribute moral rights and responsibilities to their nation, they won't make sacrifices national citizenship demands. Conclusion: No nation can survive unless citizens attribute moral rights and responsibilities to their nation. Assumption: Citizen sacrifice is necessary for a nation to survive.

I'm not exactly thrilled to be reading this argument--actually, I'd rather be getting kicked repeatedly in the nuts--but I think I have a handle on the evidence (and missing evidence) so far.

The question says,

Which one of the following most logically completes the philosopher's argument?

So it's our job to fill in the end of the argument. "Obviously, then, a nation _______."

If I were to summarize the argument so far, I'd say something like "Nations have no moral rights or responsibilities," and "Nations can't survive unless citizens believe nations have moral rights or responsibilities.' That seems to indicate a problem for nations, doesn't it? If citizens realize that their nations don't have rights, they'll stop making sacrifices and their nations will fail to survive? So I'm thinking it's logical to conclude something like "Nations can't survive unless their citizens are misinformed about whether nations have moral rights or responsibilities." Let's look at the answer choices.

(A) [Obviously, then, a nation] cannot continue to exist unless something other than the false belief that the nation has moral rights motivates its citizens to make sacrifices.

Nope. Nations don't need citizens to believe in "something other than" the false belief that the nation has moral rights. Nations can only survive if citizens believe that particular false belief. A substitute won't do.

(B) [Obviously, then, a nation] cannot survive unless many of its citizens have some beliefs that are literally false.

Exactly. Remember that the word "some" just means "one or more." So all we need is one example of a false belief that needs to be held by citizens in order for nations to survive. And we have it... if citizens don't believe the falsehood that their nations have moral rights, then nations will fail to survive. This is logical, conservatively stated completion of the argument.

(C) [Obviously, then, a nation] can never be a target of moral praise or blame.

Praise and blame were never mentioned in the given facts. Since we're looking for something that's supported by the given facts, we can't possibly choose this answer.

(D) [Obviously, then, a nation] is not worth the sacrifices that its citizens make on its behalf.

We can dismiss this one just as easily as C. The facts simply weren't about anything being "worth" making sacrifices. The facts did mention sacrifices, but only that they wouldn't be made in certain circumstances... there was no mention of whether or not making sacrifices is "worth" anything.

(E) [Obviously, then, a nation] should always be thought of in metaphorical rather than literal terms.

They saved the worst answer for last on this one. These Complete the Argument questions are super-similar to Must Be True questions... ideally, we're going to pick an answer that has been proven by the given facts. "Metaphorical" and "literal" isn't even in the same ballpark as the facts we were presented. Terrible answer.

The argument was difficult, but the correct answer was actually pretty easy to pick. Patience really pays off here. Make sure you're taking plenty of time with the argument, before you waste time looking at the answer choices. If you don't know what's in the argument, the question is going to be impossible anyway. If you slow down, you'll find yourself getting many more questions right, and you'll also go faster in the long run.