Three: Purpose of a Sentence/Idea

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Let’s go another step further into the passage. We have looked at questions that asked us for the purpose of the entire passage and questions which asked us for the function/purpose of a paragraph. Now let’s look at questions that are asking us for the purpose behind a single sentence.

In these questions, we need to focus on the specific statement/idea the question is concerned with. We need to isolate it within the passage. From there, we need to read the paragraph in which this statement is located. Pay extra attention to the sentences immediately before and after the statement in question. Finally, we can think about the passage’s main point as a whole; and what, if any, connections exist between the sentence in question and the passage’s main point.

How we approach these questions is very similar to how we approach Role Question on the LR section. In my other book, LR Perfection, I discuss the approach to Role Questions in greater detail. You can also check my website for a free preview of that book as well as additional musings on the relationship between LR and RC.

So in short, do the following:

1. Identify and isolate the sentence within the passage. Understand its meaning.

2. Re-read the location (and before/after) where the sentence was found.

3. Quickly scan the paragraph from which the sentence was found and think about the relationship between the sentence and the main point of the paragraph.

4. If you can, think about the relationship between the sentence and the passage as a whole.

Let’s take a look at such a question:

PT25 S1 Q11 (PT25 Passage 2)

While a new surge of critical interest in the ancient Greek poems conventionally ascribed to Homer has taken place in the last twenty years or so, it was non-specialists rather than professional scholars who studied the poetic aspects of the Iliad and the Odyssey between, roughly, 1935 and 1970. During these years, while such non-academic intellectuals as Simone Weil and Erich Auerbach were trying to define the qualities that made these epic accounts of the Trojan War and its aftermath great poetry, the questions that occupied the specialists were directed elsewhere: “Did the Trojan War really happen?” “Does the bard preserve Indo- European folk memories?” “How did the poems get written down?” Something was driving scholars away from the actual works to peripheral issues. Scholars produced books about archaeology, and gift exchange in ancient societies, about the development of oral poetry, about virtually anything except the Iliad and the Odyssey themselves as unique reflections or distillations of life itself—as, in short, great poetry. The observations of the English poet Alexander Pope seemed as applicable in 1970 as they had been when he wrote them in 1715: according to Pope, the remarks of critics “are rather Philosophical, Historical, Geographical . . . or rather anything than Critical and Poetical.”

Ironically, the modern manifestation of this “nonpoetical” emphasis can be traced to the profoundly influential work of Milman Parry, who attempted to demonstrate in detail how the Homeric poems, believed to have been recorded nearly three thousand years ago, were the products of a long and highly developed tradition of oral poetry about the Trojan War. Parry proposed that this tradition built up its diction and its content by a process of constant accumulation and refinement over many generations of storytellers. But after Parry’s death in 1935, his legacy was taken up by scholars who, unlike Parry, forsook intensive analysis of the poetry itself and focused instead on only one element of Parry’s work: the creative limitations and possibilities of oral composition, concentrating on fixed elements and inflexibilities, focusing on the things that oral poetry allegedly can and cannot do. The dryness of this kind of study drove many of the more inventive scholars away from the poems into the rapidly developing field of Homer’s archaeological and historical background.

Appropriately, Milman Parry’s son Adam was among those scholars responsible for a renewed interest in Homer’s poetry as literary art. Building on his father’s work, the younger Parry argued that the Homeric poems exist both within and against a tradition. The Iliad and the Odyssey were, Adam Parry thought, the beneficiaries of an inherited store of diction, scenes, and concepts, and at the same time highly individual works that surpassed these conventions. Adam Parry helped prepare the ground for the recent Homeric revival by affirming his father’s belief in a strong inherited tradition, but also by emphasizing Homer’s unique contributions within that tradition.

The author of the passage most probably quotes Alexander Pope in order to

A. indicate that the Homeric poems have generally received poor treatment at the hands of English critics

B. prove that poets as well as critics have emphasized elements peripheral to the poems

C. illustrate that the nonpoetical emphasis also existed in an earlier century

D. emphasize the problems inherent in rendering classical Greek poetry into modern English

E. argue that poets and literary critics have seldom agreed about the interpretation of poet

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Let’s find where the author is quoting Alexander Pope.

The author mentions Pope at the end of the first paragraph:

The observations of the English poet Alexander Pope seemed as applicable in 1970 as they had been when he wrote them in 1715: according to Pope, the remarks of critics “are rather Philosophical, Historical, Geographical . . . or rather anything than Critical and Poetical.”

So we know from this sentence that Pope made a comment about critics in 1715, which is hundreds of years before the passage’s discussion of Homer and Homerian critics. So Pope is probably talking about some other critics, perhaps his own.

According to Pope, these critics in the eighteenth century are focused on all these subjects, just not on the actual poetry itself.

What was the author’s issue with Homerian critics in the twentieth century? It’s the same problem Pope had with his critics two hundred years ago. The critics focused on all these topics and subjects, rather than on the actual merit of the poetry itself.

So consider both the statement about Pope and the author’s main point in the first paragraph, what is the relationship between the two?

Perhaps the author is drawing a parallel between what happened to Pope in the past, and what is happening to Homer in the present? Perhaps by showing that a great poet like Pope had faced a similar situation in the past, the author is adding legitimacy to their observation of the present state of Homeric criticism? These are all potential pre-phrased answers that we can come up with upon reading the question.

Let’s look at the answer choices:

A. indicate that the Homeric poems have generally received poor treatment at the hands of English critics

This answer deliberately mixes up the issues. Pope’s complaint wasn’t about critics of Homer. The author is complaining about the critics of Homer, how they are more concerned with peripheral topics rather than Homer’s poetry itself. Pope was complaining about another set of critics, but his criticism was the same as the author’s.

Having a clear grasp of the chronology (something we discussed in Chapter 4) would help us to avoid this answer choice. Pope lived in the 1700s. The Homeric critics being discussed are present in the 1900s. Two separate issues.

B. prove that poets as well as critics have emphasized elements peripheral to the poems

The comparison isn’t between poets and critics, but between critics of Pope in the past and critics of Homer in the present.

C. illustrate that the nonpoetical emphasis also existed in an earlier century

This answer is fairly basic and safe. It does take into account the temporal distinction between Pope and present-day Homeric critics. It still falls a little short of my anticipated answer, since I feel like quoting Pope is somewhat supportive of the author’s observations. But let’s keep it for now.

D. emphasize the problems inherent in rendering classical Greek poetry into modern English

“Rendering” here means to translate. So this answer is essentially saying that the author quoted Pope to show how hard it is to translate Homer into English.

This answer is out of scope.

E. argue that poets and literary critics have seldom agreed about the interpretation of poetry

I suppose this answer can be tempting. But if we look deeper, then it falls short on many aspects.

Pope claimed that the critics were not interested in the poetry itself; but rather, the philosophical, geographical, and historical backgrounds associated with the poems. In other words, the critics are not coming up with alternative interpretations of the poetry – they are not interested in the poems themselves to begin with.

Secondly, the word “seldom” sounds too aggressive to me. We know that Pope’s critics didn’t focus on his poetry; neither did Homer’s. Does that mean most critics of most poems chose not to focus on the poetry itself? We cannot know for sure.

The correct answer is C.

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Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

 

A. Draws a conclusion about the population in general based only on a sample of that population

 

What the test makers are describing here is a sampling bias fallacy. The previous question where the author concludes anyone fishing for trout based on how the best fishermen felt about the best selling bait would be such a flaw. Here, even though a survey and sampling are involved, we simply do not have enough information to know whether such a flaw is committed. On the real test, I would keep this answer and move on. 

 

B. Confuses a sufficient condition with a required condition

 

This is the flaw we are looking for, the conditional logic flaw. 

 

C. Is based on an ambiguity of one of its terms

 

The flaw this answer is talking about is called Equivocation, where one word has two meanings and the meaning of the word shifts through the argument. 

 

D. Draws a conclusion about a specific belief based on responses to queries about two different specific beliefs

 

This answer is tricky because it’s half wrong half right. The author drew a conclusion about two specific beliefs (more people believe Indicted → Resign than Convicted → Resign) based upon two specific beliefs, one of which is the same (Indicted → Resign), and one of which is different. (Resign → Convicted)

 

E.. Contains premises that cannot all be true

 

This is the Self Contradiction flaw, it does not appear here. 

PT25 S1 Q15 (PT25 Passage 3)

Even in the midst of its resurgence as a vital tradition, many sociologists have viewed the current form of the powwow, a ceremonial gathering of native Americans, as a sign that tribal culture is in decline. Focusing on the dances and rituals that have recently come to be shared by most tribes, they suggest that an intertribal movement is now in ascension and claim the inevitable outcome of this tendency is the eventual dissolution of tribes and the complete assimilation of native Americans into Euro-American society. Proponents of this “Pan-Indian” theory point to the greater frequency of travel and communication between reservations, the greater urbanization of native Americans, and, most recently, their increasing politicization in response to common grievances as the chief causes of the shift toward inter-tribalism.

Indeed, the rapid diffusion of dance styles, outfits, and songs from one reservation to another offers compelling evidence that inter-tribalism has been increasing. However, these sociologists have failed to note the concurrent revitalization of many traditions unique to individual tribes. Among the Lakota, for instance, the Sun Dance was revived, after a forty-year hiatus, during the 1950’s. Similarly, the Black Legging Society of the Kiowa and the Hethuska Society of the Ponca—both traditional groups within their respective tribes—have gained new popularity. Obviously, a more complex societal shift is taking place than the theory of Pan-Indianism can account for.

An examination of the theory’s underpinnings may be critical at this point, especially given that native Americans themselves chafe most against the Pan- Indian classification. Like other assimilationist theories with which it is associated, the Pan-Indian view is predicated upon an a priori assumption about the nature of cultural contact: that upon contact minority societies immediately begin to succumb in every respect—biologically, linguistically, and culturally—to the majority society. However, there is no evidence that this is happening to native American groups.

Yet the fact remains that intertribal activities are a major facet of native American culture today. Certain dances at powwows, for instance, are announced as intertribal, other as traditional. Likewise, speeches given at the beginnings of powwows are often delivered in English, while the prayer that follows is usually spoken in a native language. Cultural borrowing is, of course, old news. What is important to note is the conscious distinction native Americans make between tribal and intertribal tendencies.

Tribalism, although greatly altered by modern history, remains a potent force among native Americans: It forms a basis for tribal identity, and aligns music and dance with other social and cultural activities important to individual tribes. Intertribal activities, on the other hand, reinforce native American identity along a broader front, where this identity is directly threatened by outside influences.

The author most likely states that “cultural borrowing is, of course, old news” primarily to

A. Acknowledge that in itself the existence of intertribal tendencies at powwows is unsurprising

B. Suggest that native Americans’ use of English in powwows should be accepted as unavoidable

C. Argue that the deliberate distinction of intertribal and traditional dances is not a recent development

D. Suggest that the recent increase in intertribal activity is the result of native Americans borrowing from non Native American cultures

E. Indicate that the powwow itself could have originated by combining practices drawn from both native and non-native American cultures

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Cultural borrowing is, of course, old news” appears at the end of Paragraph 4. Let’s take a look at that paragraph:

Yet the fact remains that intertribal activities are a major facet of native American culture today. Certain dances at powwows, for instance, are announced as intertribal, other as traditional. Likewise, speeches given at the beginnings of powwows are often delivered in English, while the prayer that follows is usually spoken in a native language. Cultural borrowing is, of course, old news. What is important to note is the conscious distinction native Americans make between tribal and intertribal tendencies.

In this paragraph, the author is continuing the discussion that began in the previous paragraph. Recall that the Pan-Indian theorists believe that inter-tribalism is hurting individual tribal identity. The author declared that the Pan-Indian Theory rests on a mistaken assumption.

In this paragraph, the author is talking about the peaceful coexistence of tribal and inter-tribal tendencies. Remember how the whole passage is really about how inter-tribalism is not hurting individual tribal identity? That’s the direction in which the author is taking this. The author is saying here that there are many instances of inter-tribal expressions, and that has been going on for a long time. But native Americans separate the two, and it would be unfair and overly simplistic to argue that inter-tribalism is weakening tribal identities.

So by suggesting that “cultural borrowing is old news,” the author is supporting the idea that inter-tribal activities and foreign influences should not be automatically considered damaging to a tribe’s identity.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices:

A. Acknowledge that in itself the existence of intertribal tendencies at powwows is unsurprising

This answer seems like another safe choice. If something is “old news,” then it has happened for a long time, and it shouldn’t be surprising. Furthermore, the passage is talking about the presence of inter-tribal activities in tribal life and in activities at powwows.

An analysis of the text of the answer choice doesn’t reveal any glaring issues. Let’s keep it for now.

B. Suggest that native Americans’ use of English in powwows should be accepted as unavoidable

This is a tempting choice, but there are two things that I am not so sure about.

First of all, the word “unavoidable” sounds too strong for my taste. If cultural borrowing is old news, perhaps a more reasonable thought would be that the use of English should be accepted as “unsurprising?”

Saying something is “unavoidable” gives it a sense of necessity or finality, and I’m not sure if something has happened in the past makes it “unavoidable.”

Secondly, while the sentence immediately preceding the quoted statement is talking about the use of English at powwows, the paragraph as a whole is about something more general. So if I were to guess, I’d want to connect the statement about cultural borrowing being old news to the topic of the paragraph as a whole, which is about inter-tribalism.

C. Argue that the deliberate distinction of intertribal and traditional dances is not a recent development

This is the opposite of what we want. The author is suggesting that the intermingling of inter-tribal and tribal practices is not a recent development.

D. Suggest that the recent increase in intertribal activity is the result of native Americans borrowing from non Native American cultures

Another untenable extrapolation. The author suggests that cultural borrowing has occurred in the past, and that inter-tribal activities are increasing. These are two separate issues. But did cultural borrowing cause an increase in inter-tribal activity? This was never something the author hinted at.

E. Indicate that the powwow itself could have originated by combining practices drawn from both native and non-native American cultures

The paragraph is telling us that the powwow contains intertribal and English elements and that cultural borrowing has occurred in the past. But to suggest that the powwow originated as a fusion of indigenous and European cultures is too much of a stretch.

Answer choice A is the correct answer.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

 

A. Draws a conclusion about the population in general based only on a sample of that population

 

What the test makers are describing here is a sampling bias fallacy. The previous question where the author concludes anyone fishing for trout based on how the best fishermen felt about the best selling bait would be such a flaw. Here, even though a survey and sampling are involved, we simply do not have enough information to know whether such a flaw is committed. On the real test, I would keep this answer and move on. 

 

B. Confuses a sufficient condition with a required condition

 

This is the flaw we are looking for, the conditional logic flaw. 

 

C. Is based on an ambiguity of one of its terms

 

The flaw this answer is talking about is called Equivocation, where one word has two meanings and the meaning of the word shifts through the argument. 

 

D. Draws a conclusion about a specific belief based on responses to queries about two different specific beliefs

 

This answer is tricky because it’s half wrong half right. The author drew a conclusion about two specific beliefs (more people believe Indicted → Resign than Convicted → Resign) based upon two specific beliefs, one of which is the same (Indicted → Resign), and one of which is different. (Resign → Convicted)

 

E.. Contains premises that cannot all be true

 

This is the Self Contradiction flaw, it does not appear here. 

LR Role Questions

We mentioned at the very beginning of the book that LR skills carry over into RC. This is especially true when we examine “According to the Passage” and “Inference” question types; It’s also true when we go into detail on the process of answer choice elimination.

But for Purpose Questions, especially questions asking us what the purpose of a sentence is, our understanding of LR can be immensely helpful too. In fact, how we approach Role questions can provide a lot of inspiration when it comes to these RC Purpose questions.

As we know from the chapter on Role Questions from LR Perfection, the three steps to approaching a Role question are to isolate the statement in question; find the main conclusion; and ask yourself what the relationship is between the statement in question and the main conclusion of the argument. This is very similar to how we approach these “local” purpose questions. We identify the statement, we find what the paragraph/passage is talking about, and we ask ourselves what is the relationship between the two.

Another thing that we can learn from Role questions is the ability to dissect vague and abstract answer choices. In LR Perfection we practiced the art of extracting keywords from unclear answer choices and matching them up with the stimulus. This is something that we should try to do for RC answer choices as well. Think about whether the AC is describing something that truly happened in the passage, before asking yourself whether it’s indeed the purpose of the sentence/statement.