Advanced: Context v. Argument Indicators

Instructor: JY

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(Thanks for pointing out the "empolyees" typo! It's on our to-do list to fix.)

It’s very important to be able to tell when context ends and when argument begins. Often, in Logical Reasoning questions, the passage will throw a lot of fluff at you.  I call it "fluff" because it just situates you before the author delivers his argument.

For example, we’re talking about environmental issues as it pertains to the auto industry. Okay, got it.  So, what's your argument?  That electric cars will save us?  Or is it that mass transportation is really the only solution for metropolitan areas of the future?

Sometimes, the "fluff" will be other people’s argument.  The author first reports to you that most auto industry experts believe that electric cars are the future.  But, the author will tell you in his argument that he disagrees.  He's going to offer a response to the other people’s argument.  You have to be able to tell the two apart.

So, context can be background information or other people’s argument.  Let’s look at these two types of context in turn and the words or phrases that indicate their presence.

"But," "although," "however"

These words typically indicate a turn away from context - we’re now switching from contextual information, background information - into argument.

Consider this example.

All Jedi are powerful.  However, Tom, who is not a Jedi, is powerful.  Therefore, one does not have to be a Jedi to be powerful.

"However" is introducing the turn. “All Jedi are powerful.” Okay, so what? It’s just context.  The author doesn’t actually care if you believe it.  He just wants you to believe his conclusion that you don’t have to be a Jedi to be powerful.  And why should you believe him?  Well, because look at Tom.  He is not a Jedi, but he is powerful.

So what does “All Jedi are powerful” have to do with the argument?  Nothing really.  How strongly the premise supports the conclusion has nothing to do with this contextual statement.  Sure, it shares the same words, “Jedi” and “powerful,” but it’s got nothing to do with the argument.  It’s just context.

"But," "although," "however" indicate a turn.  It’s the author saying “Now, listen up.  Now, I'm going to say something important.  Now, this is what I care about persuading you of. "

"Some people say"

This phrase (and its variations) are a common way for Logical Reasoning passages to begin. This phrase always introduces someone else’s argument.

Consider this example.

Some managers believe that the best way to incentivize employees to work harder is to intimidate them.  But, employees who are intimidated cannot concentrate on their work.  Therefore, there is probably a better way to incentivize employees to work harder.

In this example, the variation we see on the phrase "some people say" is "some managers believe." What do the managers believe?  That "the best way to incentivize employees to work harder is to intimidate them."  Okay, but that's simply the author reporting to you what some people believe. This is not a part of the author’s argument. The author’s argument begins with “but.”  With that word, he's signaling to us that now he wants us to pay attention to what he has to say.

First, he wants us to believe that employees who are intimidated cannot concentrate on their work.  From that, he really wants us to believe that there is probably a better way to incentivize employees to work harder.  That’s his argument. The stuff above is just context, someone else's position.

Remember to ask yourself where the background information ends.  Where does other people’s argument end?  Where does our argument begin?

Highlighted student discussion

7Sager RaeD4512 asked, "I know that especially in LR it is important to have a good grasp of the argument, but does that mean you can put the context out of your mind?"

7Sager Accounts Playable responded, "I’d say no. The LSAC writers are very particular with their language when they write questions, so literally every word on the exam has been picked apart by the test writers. Sure, sometimes the context doesn’t end up mattering, but I think it is impossible for a test taker to know if the context actually matters until after the question has been answered, which makes it a moot point. Also, some questions don’t contain arguments (this is the case for many most strongly supported questions and must be true/false questions), so context is the entire passage, meaning that the correct answer is context dependent. Lastly, the questions that do have arguments often use referential phrasing to refer back to things that were originally context (this is especially more common on the more recent exams). In these situations, context is essential for fully understanding the argument as a whole."

7Sager GSU Hopeful added, "A lot of time, the premise, conclusion and esp the answer choices will reference the context. I would notate what it is and just keep it in the back of your mind."

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