June 2007 LSAT, III, #20

Section 3, #20 of the June 2007 LSAT starts out with a swear word. Well, it's not a swear according to your mom, but if you've been listening to me yell about the LSAT long enough, the word should go off like an effbomb every time you read it. Here's the argument... can you spot the dirty word? We should accept the proposal to demolish the old train station, because the local historical society, which vehemently opposes this, is dominated by people who have no commitment to long-term economic well-being. Preserving old buildings creates an impediment to new development, which is critical to economic health. 

Hint: The dirty word starts with "s."

To an LSAT expert, the word that jumps off the page in the above argument is the word should. Every time you read the word "should," I want you to immediately think "don't fucking tell me what I, or we, or anybody else 'should' do."

The word "should" almost always indicates the conclusion of an LSAT argument, and that argument is almost always bullshit. An aversion to the word "should" will help you criticize the argument. Being critical leads to understanding. Understanding leads to correct answers.

The argument tries to convince us that we should demolish the old train station. Since we're skeptical of being told what we "should" do, we're going to demand some reasons. If you're going to tell us what we "should" do, then you better explain why. So, what are the reasons that the argument provides? I see two reasons, one better than the other:

1) "The local historical society, which vehemently opposes this, is dominated by people who have no commitment to long-term economic well-being." This is an "ad hominem" attack against some people who disagree with the desired action, and this would never be acceptable on the LSAT. Even a broken clock is right twice a day! Simply saying "this clock is broken" doesn't prove that the clock isn't giving you the correct time. Let's see if the other reason is any better.

2) "Preserving old buildings creates an impediment to new development, which is critical to economic health." This is a better reason, but it assumes that we give a shit about "new development" and "economic health." What if we don't care about development and economic health? If we don't, then why wouldn't we preserve the old train station?

So the argument presents two reasons, one completely bogus and the other incomplete, in support of a conclusion telling us what we should do. We understand the argument! Now we can look at the question:

The flawed reasoning exhibited by the argument above is most similar to that exhibited by which one of the following arguments?

OK, this shouldn't be too tough. Let's look for an answer choice that presents two reasons in support of a conclusion that tells us what we should do. Ideally, the two reasons will be an ad hominem attack and a reason that requires an assumption. That's two flaws. A perfect answer would have both of them.

(A) Our country should attempt to safeguard works of art that it deems to possess national cultural significance. These works might not be recognized as such by all taxpayers, or even all critics. Nevertheless, our country ought to expend whatever money is needed to procure all such works as they become available.

This argument looks circular to me. "We should safeguard works of art... because we ought to." I don't see an ad hominem attack here. And I don't see a reason that requires an assumption. The argument is certainly flawed, but I don't think it's flawed in the same way as the given argument.

(B) Documents of importance to local heritage should be properly preserved and archived for the sake of future generations. For, if even one of these documents is damaged or lost, the integrity of the historical record as a whole will be damaged.

This argument doesn't have an ad hominem attack, but it does require the assumption that we care about "the integrity of the historical record as a whole." Let's look for something better.

(C) You should have your hair cut no more than once a month. After all, beauticians suggest that their customers have their hair cut twice a month, and they do this as a way of generating more business for themselves.

This argument does contain an ad hominem attack (those dirty beauticians are trying to rip you off!) and it further requires an assumption that you care about minimizing the amount of business you give to beauticians. I like it.

(D) The committee should endorse the plan to postpone construction of the new expressway. Many residents of the neighborhoods that would be affected are fervently opposed to that construction, and the committee is obligated to avoid alienating those residents.

Nah. There's no ad hominem attack here, and there's no assumption.

(E) One should not borrow even small amounts of money unless it is absolutely necessary. Once one borrows a few dollars, the interest starts to accumulate. The longer one takes to repay, the more one ends up owing, and eventually a small debt has become a large one.

There's no ad hominem attack here, but at least there's an assumption (that we care about avoiding large debts.)

Our answer is C, because it contains both of the flaws we were looking for.