Diagramming Questions

June 2007 LSAT, II, #23

I don't like to diagram a question unless I absolutely have to. But when I see "if" in the first premise, and then "if and only if" in the second premise, with "The philosopher's conclusion follows logically if which one of the following is assumed" as the question, then I sharpen my pencil and get to diagramming. Welcome to Section 2, #23, of the June 2007 LSAT. (Note: This is a Sufficient Assumption question. I really want to teach you about Sufficient Assumption questions--they're very learnable! Unfortunately, this particular Sufficient Assumption question is very difficult. If you're relatively new to the LSAT, you might benefit from trying some other questions of this type before tackling this one. Start with the ones that occur earlier in their section.)

The first premise says "an action is morally right if it would be reasonably expected to increase the aggregate well-being of the people affected by it."  My diagram of this premise looks like this:

Reasonably expected to increase aggregate well-being --> morally right

Contrapositive:

NOT morally right --> NOT reasonably expected to increase aggregate well-being

The second premise says "an action is morally wrong if and only if it would be reasonably expected to reduce the aggregate well-being of the people affected by it." My diagram of this premise looks like this:

Morally wrong <--> Reasonably expected to reduce aggregate well-being

Contrapositive:

NOT morally wrong <--> NOT reasonably expected to reduce aggregate well-being

Note that on the second premise, the arrows go both ways since it says "if and only if." (That's one of the rare things you need to memorize in your LSAT preparation.)

The conclusion of the argument says "Actions that would be reasonably expected to leave unchanged the aggregate well-being of the people affected by them are also right." The question asks us to make this conclusion "follow logically" from the premises. This is a Sufficient Assumption question. On this type of question, we're trying to find one additional premise that, when combined with the evidence we already have, will prove our conclusion. Another way of thinking about this is that we need to build a bridge from the premises that exist to the conclusion we are trying to prove.

Usually on a Sufficient Assumption question, I can predict the correct answer with near certainty. But on this one, I'm stumped. The only premise we have about things that are "morally right" is the first premise: If something increases well-being, then it's right. Our conclusion, unfortunately, is about things that do NOT change well-being. I don't think it would make sense to say "anything that is not expected to change well-being is expected to increase well-being." Technically, if that were true it would prove our conclusion. However, that makes no sense, so I doubt it will be our answer. I have no choice here but to proceed to the answer choices, hoping to find an answer that, if true, would prove our conclusion.

A)  I don't see how this is relevant, since we need to link in the idea of "actions that are reasonably expected to leave unchanged the aggregate well-being of the people affected."

B) Hmm. Again, I don't see how this is relevant. How would this connect in the idea of neutral actions? All this answer choice proves is that there isn't any overlap between right and wrong.

C) I can make a case for this one. This answer says there is no middle ground--every action has to be either right or wrong. Since we already know that EVERY morally wrong action MUST be expected to reduce the well-being of the people affected by it (because the "if and only if" arrow goes both ways), then we know that an action that is not expected to change the well-being of those affected by it cannot be a morally wrong action. Okay, and if C is true, anything that isn't wrong has to be right. So I'm pretty sure that C proves our case. I'm going to be pretty happy with C as long as I can get rid of D and E.

D)  Who cares? It doesn't matter whether these actions actually exist. What matters is whether these actions, if they exist, are right or wrong. This isn't it.

E)  Consequences are entirely irrelevant. C is the only answer that provides a bridge between actions that are expected to leave aggregate well-being unchanged and those actions being "morally right." So our answer is C.

June 2007 LSAT, II, #6

Take a look at Section 2, Question 6 of the June 2007 LSAT.  Don't bother reading the answer choices.  The answer, as usual, is to be found in the argument itself.  Read carefully.  Read slowly.  Read it twice if you have to.  Go ahead, I'll be here when you come back.

You could probably diagram this question, but I think you'd be foolish if you did.  The problem with diagramming is that you add a level of abstraction to your thinking, making it easy to misunderstand the argument and introduce silly mistakes.  I end up doing a diagram for maybe one or two questions per test.  (Basically, only when I'm in trouble and can't think of any other way to do it.)  This isn't one of those times, because I already know why the argument is bullshit.  The argument is bullshit because it has assumed (rather than stated) that the position of Executive Administrator is on the executive board.

When I say "assumed," what I mean is that the argument has left out a key piece of evidence.  Here, the argument never specifically says that the position of Executive Administrator is an executive board position.  Sure, it may sound like a board position.  But that's not enough.  The speaker here needs to specifically state that fact.  If it's true, then I think the logic is pretty tight.  There's a premise (i.e., stated evidence) that says nobody with a felony conviction can serve on the board.  There's a premise that says Murray has a felony conviction.  If it's also true that the Executive Administrator is on the executive board, then I would be forced to conclude that Murray can't be on the board.

I haven't even looked at the question yet, let alone the answer choices.  But since I know what the argument is missing, I'm already 90% of the way to answering whatever the question may be.

The question here says "The argument's conclusion follows logically if which one of the following is assumed?"  This is what's known as a Sufficient Assumption question.  What it really means is "which one of the following would prove the conclusion of the argument?"  ("Follows logically" simply means "is proven" on the LSAT.)

I love Sufficient Assumption questions, because the answers are really easy to predict.  To prove the argument's conclusion, the correct answer simply must cover up the hole in the argument that I have discussed above.  The correct answer must somehow connect the position of Executive Administrator to the executive board.  Here are a few predictions for what the correct answer might be:

1)  "The Executive Administrator is on the executive board."  (clean and simple.)

2)  "Any job Murray would apply for would be on the executive board." (backdoor, but it would work.)

3)  "All jobs in the world are on the executive board." (overkill, but definitely sufficient.)

I think the correct answer is probably going to be something very similar to #1.  But I'm not afraid of answers like #2 or #3 here, even though they might seem too strong.  Some questions on the LSAT prefer strongly-stated answers.  Sufficient Assumption questions fall into this category.  It's okay if the correct answer goes overboard here, as long as it proves that Murray can't get the job.  Let's look at the answer choices:

A)  We were asked to prove that Murray is not eligible for the board.  This answer choice could not be used to prove that Murray is eligible for the board, but that's not the same thing as proving that he is not eligible.  Furthermore this answer doesn't connect the Executive Administrator position to the board.  Let's keep looking.

B)  Okay, this one would do it.  It's not exactly what I predicted, but if this is true then Murray isn't eligible for the job, and that's what we need to prove.  We know he is ineligible for the board because of the felony conviction.  If the Executive Administrator position has the same requirements as the board, then Murray is out of luck.  Mission accomplished.  I am 99.9% certain this will be the correct answer.  Still, I'll always quickly read the rest of the answer choices just in case.

C)  This answer, if true, only makes it easier to get the job, not harder.  We want to prove that Murray can't get the job.  (Furthermore it is entirely irrelevant to Murray because he does have a bachelor's degree.)  This answer is bad.  Very bad.

D)  Sure, and if your grandma had balls, she'd be your grandpa.  Murray does have a felony conviction, so this answer is useless.  (Furthermore, we wanted to prove that Murray can't get the job, and this answer choice could only be used to prove that he could get the job... If he didn't have the conviction, which he does.)  This is a comedically bad answer, just like C.

E)  No.  The "duties" of the position are irrelevant.  I suppose this answer choice strengthens the case that Murray shouldn't get the job.  (If Murray was convicted of embezzlement, and this is an accounting position, then that would seem to be a strike against him.)  But answer B proves that Murray can't get the job.  We want to prove our case, not just strengthen it.  So our answer is B.