LSAT 90 – Section 4 – Question 22

You need a full course to see this video. Enroll now and get started in less than a minute.

Target time: 1:40

This is question data from the 7Sage LSAT Scorer. You can score your LSATs, track your results, and analyze your performance with pretty charts and vital statistics - all with a Free Account ← sign up in less than 10 seconds

Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT90 S4 Q22
Weaken +Weak
+Hardest 148.293 +SubsectionMedium

This is a Weakening question.

This is a very difficult question, to put it mildly. Look at the crazy analytics. But hopefully with a clear-eyed review, we can strip away the difficulties and see that at its core, this is a representative Weakening question where the correct answer choice challenges an assumption. In other words, it gets in the space between the premise and the conclusion.

The historian begins by talking about medieval epistemology. This question is already trying to scare you. Look at how many times this word or its cognate appears in the stimulus. You know the LSAT writers were smirking when they wrote this. But it turns out that it does not even matter what epistemology is. This word could have been anything: theology, biology, etc. The stimulus is just talking about how we determine whether something belongs in a particular set; it just so happens that the set has a scary name, "epistemology."

The historian says because medieval epistemology is a complex subject, intellectual historians have, until recently, failed to produce a definition that would help to determine what should and what should not be included in it. The historian then concludes that, clearly, the solution is to define medieval epistemology simply as “the epistemological beliefs of the medieval epistemologists.”

And why should we believe this? Here comes her premise. That way, if we want to know whether medieval epistemology includes some epistemological claim, we just ask whether any medieval epistemologists believed it. If any did, then it is a part of medieval epistemology; if any medieval epistemologist believed the opposite, then that opposite claim is part of medieval epistemology.

Say you are a medieval epistemologist. I am sure you have a bunch of beliefs about what you ate for lunch, whether your dog is a good dog, etc. But we only care about your beliefs about epistemology, of which you have four. So all four beliefs go into the set of epistemology. Let's examine another medieval epistemologist. This epistemologist has three beliefs about epistemology. So these three beliefs also go in the set. And we just keep doing this.

The historian then says that if one epistemologist had an epistemological belief, X, and if some other epistemologist believed not X, then both X and not X would be in the set. That's the end of the argument.

Immediately, we want to challenge this argument because we recognize that if we do what the historian says, the set could be internally inconsistent. That is, there could be two members (beliefs) that contradict each other in the set. And lo and behold, Answer Choice (D) is right there waiting for us. It says some medieval epistemologists had epistemological beliefs that contradicted the beliefs of other medieval epistemologists. This is exactly our concern above. (D) makes the hypothetical contradiction in the argument actual. So we've weakened the argument!

But have we really though? Nowhere in the argument was it stated that internal consistency was a goal, not by the other intellectual historians nor by our historian who offered the solution. You might be tempted to say that it is a common sense assumption that belief systems must be internally consistent, but no. Because that depends on the purpose of the belief system. If you are building rockets to go to Mars, then your belief system had better be internally consistent or you're going to explode. But these are just historians trying to figure out what counts as medieval epistemology.

Say I wanted to define medieval biology and our historian says to define it simply as the biological beliefs of medieval biologists. So what if some biologists believed frogs were reptiles and some believed frogs were not? This is a contradiction, but what would be the problem here? We are just trying to catalog what people believed. I would expect that in the aggregate of medieval biologists' beliefs, there were at least some internally inconsistent beliefs. Someone had a particular belief and other people disagreed with it, but both are a part of medieval biology. Progress will simply reveal who's right and who's wrong. This is true even today, with modern biologists.

So why would things be different for epistemology? For example, maybe some people thought knowledge is true belief while others thought knowledge is justified true belief. This is fine. Our historian is just trying to figure out what counts as medieval epistemology, and nothing in the conclusion says medieval epistemology has to be internally consistent. So what if internal inconsistency is a feature of medieval epistemology? As uncomfortable as that idea may feel, it is in fact what the historian explicitly says in the last sentence of the argument. Our discomfort arises from an unwillingness to accept that premise because we realize that the consequences of accepting that premise are that we might end up with an inconsistent set. But one more realization will dispel that discomfort: that a consistent set was never a requirement.

Correct Answer Choice (E) says there is much debate as to which medieval thinkers, if any, were epistemologists. This is a much better answer because this answer mined out an assumption the argument made. For our historian’s definition to work, it is presumed that we know who these epistemologists are. Otherwise, how would we know who to even examine out of all the medieval thinkers whose thoughts have survived?

And (E) calls out this assumption by saying it is not clear which thinkers were epistemologists. Now our historian’s solution is not a solution at all because it has just kicked the can down the road. Our original problem was that it was unclear which beliefs should or should not be included in the set of medieval epistemology. If (E) is true, then we still have the same problem because now it is unclear which thinkers should or should not be included in the set of medieval epistemologists.

By the way, it is no accident that (E) came after (D) had trapped a lot of people. But hopefully you see now that (D) latches onto a concern we had that was irrelevant to the evaluation of the argument, whereas (E) latches onto a concern we probably did not think of but, in fact, is highly relevant to the evaluation of the argument.

Answer Choice (A) says medieval epistemologists held some of the same epistemological beliefs as did ancient epistemologists. Great. So they believed the same things as the ancients like Plato. All (A) says is that some thoughts were not original. Maybe this overlap was coincidental, or maybe the plagiarizing medieval epistemologists took things straight from Plato and did not even give him credit.

(A) would have been a bit more relevant if our concern was about original thought or tracing the roots of these thoughts. And note that the historian’s definition still works even if (A) were true. Who cares where these beliefs came from? We are just trying to figure out what belongs in a set.

Answer Choice (B) says the epistemological beliefs of medieval epistemologists depended upon their beliefs about non-epistemological matters. Similar to (A), (B) is mapping out the relationship between epistemological beliefs and the scaffolding they stand upon. For example, in order to have biological beliefs, one first needs to have beliefs about chemistry, physics, and ultimately mathematics. Maybe (B) is hinting that the medieval epistemologists’ epistemological beliefs depended on their beliefs about theology. We are talking about medieval epistemologists, after all. But how does this affect our argument? The solution proposed by the historian still works whether (B) is true or not.

Answer Choice (C) says the writings of most medieval epistemologists include passages that are clearly not about epistemology. Of course they would. I am sure medieval biologists, theologists, or anyone else also wrote about other things. But remember we only care specifically about the epistemological beliefs of the epistemologists. It does not matter that they also wrote about
how the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter made them feel strong, confident, and sexy for the whole month. The historian’s solution ignores these non-epistemological (astrological) beliefs, so even if (C) is true, her proposed solution works as well as it ever did.

Take PrepTest

Review Results

Leave a Reply