Elements of a Logical Reasoning Stimulus

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LR Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 2 Part III

So now that we have taken a closer look at how facts, opinions, decisions, principles and generalizations can all make up an LR argument, let’s look at how arguments are structured in the LR stimulus.

At the core of most LR stimuli will be an argument (I would say > 80% of all LR stimuli contain an argument). An argument will consist of premises and a conclusion, and if that’s the only information presented in a stimulus, our job would be so much easier.

But instead, most LR stimuli will also contain many peripheral elements.

When reading a LR stimulus, our job is to separate the core information (premise, intermediate conclusion, and main conclusion) from the peripheral information (background information, opposing viewpoints, and concessions).

Let’s look at each of these elements in detail: 

2.3.1 The Argument Core

MAIN CONCLUSION:

Hands down the most important part of any LR stimulus. It is the point the author is trying to get across. The conclusion is supported by premises and sometimes the intermediate conclusion. Every time we approach a question that is NOT a Must be True, Most Strongly Supported, Explain a Result, and Agree/Disagree questions, I’m always sifting through the stimulus and asking myself, what is the author’s conclusion?

PREMISE:

The premise directly supports the conclusion, the information presented in the premise/premises should make the conclusion more believable. An LR stimulus can contain a single premise or multiple premises. 

Premises also independently support the conclusion; it’s different from the intermediate conclusion. Many students confuse a multi-premise argument with one that has both premises and an intermediate conclusion. We will now look at this. 

INTERMEDIATE CONCLUSION:

The intermediate conclusion is a statement that is supported by the premise/premises, which in turn, supports the conclusion. It is a part of a chain of reasoning which starts with the premise and ends with the main conclusion. 

Let’s look at a few different examples and clear up any confusion: 

Electric vehicles are so much more enjoyable to drive than traditional cars, more and more people will buy electric cars in the future. 

Here we have a simple premise-conclusion format argument. EVs being more enjoyable to drive is a premise being used to support the conclusion that EV sales will grow in the future

Now let’s mix it up a little: 

Electric vehicles are so much more enjoyable to drive than traditional cars. The price of gas is going through the roof. More and more people will buy electric cars in the future. 

Here the argument consists of three statements, with two independent premises and a main conclusion. Note that each of the two premises independently supports the conclusion. There isn’t really any logical connection between statements 1 and 2. 

While in the above example, Premise 1 and Premise 2 are independent supporting statements for the conclusion, the LR stimulus has another trick up its sleeve, the intermediate conclusion:

Look at the following example: 

The price of gas is going through the roof, more and more people will buy electric cars, the internal combustion engine car is doomed. 

We have borrowed Premise 2 and the Conclusion from the previous example and added a new piece of information to the argument. 

Here, we have taken the logic chain a step further and come up with the main conclusion of internal combustion engine cars being doomed. How is this conclusion supported? By the statement more people will buy electric cars.

But wait, wasn’t this statement the conclusion itself in the previous example? If it is now used to support another conclusion, doesn’t this make it a premise as well?

Absolutely.

The intermediate conclusion serves a dual function in an argument: it is a premise used to support the main conclusion, while simultaneously being a conclusion that is supported by another premise. 

And that is how we distinguish an intermediate conclusion from a regular premise or main conclusion. We ask ourselves, does it sit in the middle of an argument’s logic chain in such a way that it is both a premise AND a conclusion? Does a piece of information support it, and is in turn used to support another piece of information? 

Let’s try a final variation of the previous example and see if you can identify the function of each statement:

Electric vehicles are so much more enjoyable to drive than traditional cars. The price of gas is going through the roof. More and more people will buy electric cars in the future. Governments across the world are increasingly restricting the sale of internal combustion engine cars, the ICE car is doomed. 

Here, we have a third premise, governments restricting ICE car sales, being used to support the main conclusion. It is an independent piece of information that supports only the main conclusion, and as a result, it is simply another premise. 

So in summary, the core of any LR stimulus is its argument. Three components of any argument are its premises, intermediate conclusion, and main conclusion. When we are reading through any Find the Conclusion Questions, we are essentially identifying the author’s argument, figuring out which statement is the premise, which is the intermediate conclusion, and which is the main conclusion.

2.3.2 Peripheral Information Found in a Stimulus
(Not Part of the Argument!)

Outside of the argument core, we must be aware of another three types of statements. They are opposing viewpoints, concessions, and background information. 

OPPOSING VIEWPOINTS: 

Often, the LR stimulus is structured so that the author is responding to another person’s claim, which may or may not be explicitly stated. Sometimes the author will agree with the other person’s view or claim, but more frequently, they will disagree. Let’s look at two quick examples:

William: The law school admissions process should take a more holistic approach and place less weight on standardized tests. 

Harry: I disagree. Standardized testing is the only way to ensure that candidates meet a high standard for facing the rigorous challenges of law school. 

Here, Harry disagrees with William’s viewpoint, and provides evidence to support his own perspective. Harry would conclude that Law schools should NOT place less weight on standardized tests; his premise is that standardized tests are the only way to ensure students are ready for law school. William’s view, in this example, would be the OPPOSING VIEWPOINT, and does not constitute a core part of the argument. (Note also that William only provides an opinion, and does not provide support for it, therefore William’s statement is not an argument in itself.)

Sometimes the opposing viewpoint is not explicitly stated, as seen in the example below:

Harry: Contrary to what many people believe, standardized testing should form an integral part of the law school admissions process. Standardized testing is an important indicator of whether a student is ready to face the rigorous challenges of law school. 

Here, the opposing viewpoint can be inferred from Harry’s argument, but it is not a core part of it. 

CONCESSION:

In an LR stimulus, the author will sometimes concede a point before defending their conclusion/main point. In a concession, the author’s voice is discernible, so sometimes students will mistake a concession for the argument’s conclusion. So remember that the author will often make a concession before bringing out their main point. 

Here is an example of what concessions look like:

While it may be true that pulling an all-nighter writing a paper will get you a pass with the least amount of time spent, the best way to write a paper for a class would be to start early, conduct meticulous research, and revise iterative drafts until the final version is completed.

In short, a concession is where the author seemingly takes a step back and acknowledges that the opposing view has some valid points.

But granting the opponent a valid point is not the same as admitting defeat. Quite the opposite: a concession is ALWAYS followed by the author’s actual viewpoint. So every time we sense that the author is conceding a point, be prepared for the author’s actual main point.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: 

Lastly, background information is any piece of information that appears in the stimulus to explain the importance, relevancy, or setting of the issue discussed in the argument. It could be used to define key terms that appear in the argument, or provide us with a better understanding of what is being argued. Background information usually appears as statements of fact and are always peripheral to the author’s argument. 

When we read through the stimulus of an LR question, a habit we must foster and turn into second nature is the ability to categorize. We must constantly be asking ourselves, what is the nature of the sentence I just read, and what’s its job in the author’s argument? There are six types of statements; three are crucial to the argument, and three are not. Which of them am I looking at now?

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Finally, let’s wrap up the theoretical section with the step-by-step construction of a detailed example. 

Step 1: Let’s start with the conclusion, the very heart and soul of any argument, and by extension, any LR question: 

The Industrial Revolution led to the turmoil of World War II. 

Step 2: Hmmm…that seems like a somewhat far-fetched idea, can we add in a premise to support our claim?

The Industrial Revolution led to the turmoil of World War II. As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. 

Step 3: There seems to be a gap between our premise and conclusion, how does popular support for demagogues lead to war? I think an intermediate conclusion is needed: 

The Industrial Revolution led to the turmoil of World War II. As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. As a result, wealth disparity caused people to embrace ideologies that espoused war and persecution of minorities as a means of solving their problems. 

Note here that the intermediate conclusion is the last sentence of the paragraph. It’s also preceded by the words “as a result.” The LSAT uses this common tactic to throw test-takers off balance. Too often, undiscerning test takers would assume this to be the main conclusion, when it is in fact only the intermediate conclusion. More on this later. 

Steps 1-3 conclude the argument phase of the stimulus. This is the core of any LR stimulus and what we should focus on when tackling the majority of LR questions. 

Step 4: Let’s add in some background information to explain the topic at hand better:

The Industrial Revolution, which spread from Britain across Europe during the nineteenth century, was a period of rapid change. The Industrial Revolution led to the turmoil of World War II. As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. As a result, wealth disparity caused people to embrace ideologies that espoused war and persecution of minorities as a means of solving their problems. 

Step 5: Let’s add in an opposing viewpoint to the mix: 

The Industrial Revolution, which spread from Britain across Europe during the nineteenth century, was a period of rapid change. Some historians have argued that the Industrial Revolution provided only benefits to humanity, bringing the world into modernity. The Industrial Revolution led to the turmoil of World War II. As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. As a result, wealth disparity caused people to embrace ideologies that espoused war and persecution of minorities as a means of solving their problems. 

Step 6: Finally, let’s include a concession from the author:

The Industrial Revolution, which spread from Britain across Europe during the nineteenth century, was a period of rapid change. Some historians have argued that the Industrial Revolution provided only benefits to humanity, bringing the world into modernity. Although it’s true that the rapid industrialization of Europe in the nineteenth century saw the introduction of many new technologies and improvements to life, it also indirectly led to the turmoil of World War II in the twentieth century.  As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. As a result, wealth disparity caused people to embrace ideologies that espoused war and persecution of minorities as a means of solving their problems. 

There you have it! The entire stimulus is complete with the argument (premise, intermediate conclusion, conclusion); and the peripheral information (background information, opposing viewpoint, concession). Read it over one more time and try to categorize every statement as it comes up:

The Industrial Revolution, which spread from Britain across Europe during the nineteenth century, was a period of rapid change. Some historians have argued that the Industrial Revolution provided only benefits to humanity, bringing the world into modernity. Although it’s true that the rapid industrialization of Europe in the nineteenth century saw the introduction of many new technologies and improvements to life, it also indirectly led to the turmoil of World War II in the twentieth century.  As gaps in income and living standards widened due to industrialization, many people flocked to demagogues who promised a better life through extreme means. As a result, wealth disparity caused people to embrace ideologies that espoused war and persecution of minorities as a means of solving their problems.