LSAT 91 – Section 2 – Question 18

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Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT91 S2 Q18
Argument part +AP
+Harder 145.724 +SubsectionMedium

This is an AP question.

We’re asked to describe the role played by the statement that “you cannot travel back in time to spend a year abroad at Plato’s Academy.”

That’s interesting. Let’s take a look at the argument. The Classicist (author) begins with a conclusion: that our mastery of Latin and Ancient Greek is at best imperfect. I say this is a conclusion because I instinctively want to ask, “Why?” Convince me this is so. The author tries. She says that the best students of a modern language—okay, pause. Do you see the analogy? She’s trying to conclude something about Latin and Ancient Greek yet she’s using premises about modern languages. This is an argument by analogy. Whatever she’s going to say about modern languages, we have to at minimum assume that the ancient languages are similar to modern languages in this regard. So what does she say? She says that students can immerse themselves in, say, Italy, so as to attain nearly perfect knowledge of Italian. But we cannot travel back in time to spend a year abroad at Plato’s Academy. See? That’s why our mastery of Latin and Ancient Greek is at best imperfect.

Alright, this isn’t a Weaken or Strengthen question so let’s resist the urge to analyze the strength of the support. Instead, we’ve already done our job of labeling the various parts of this argument. The claim in question is a premise. Let’s turn now to the answers.

Answer Choice (A) says it’s the main conclusion. No, it’s not. The first sentence is the main conclusion.

Correct Answer Choice (B) says it points out by example a contrast from which the conclusion is drawn. Yes, that’s right. The example given in the middle of the argument is a student of a modern language traveling to the country to gain near perfect knowledge via immersion. That we cannot travel back in time to spend a year abroad at Plato’s Academy is the example that points out the contrast. Plato’s Academy is just an example. It could just as well have been Aristotle’s Lyceum. The point is to contrast what modern students of modern languages can do versus what modern students of ancient languages cannot do in order to support the conclusion that our knowledge of ancient languages is at best imperfect.

Answer Choice (C) says it’s a mere rhetorical flourish having no logical relation to the argument’s conclusion. It has a logical relation to the conclusion. It supports the conclusion. Here’s an example of a “mere rhetorical flourish.” Imagine editing the last claim, “But as much as it would disappoint Plato, we cannot travel back in time to study with him at his Academy.” That bit of language is a mere rhetorical flourish, dull as it may be, having no logical relation to the argument’s conclusion. Whether or not Plato would be disappointed has nothing to do with the argument.

Answer Choice (D) says it’s a premise. That’s good. But what follows isn’t. (D) says the truth of the argument’s conclusion is guaranteed. No, I’m afraid not. (D) claims that this argument is deductively valid. But arguments by analogy cannot be valid. At best, they can only be “very strong” because all analogies fall apart at some point. I think (D) may be attractive because we confuse the truth of a conclusion with the validity of its support. We all think it’s just true that our mastery of Ancient Greek is at best imperfect. That seems obviously true. No one really knows how Ancient Greek was spoken. We can only make educated guesses. That’s all fine and good. But that says nothing about whether this argument guarantees the truth of that claim. The argument we have is an argument by analogy. Arguments by analogy are inherently precluded from guaranteeing the truth of their conclusions. Imagine a different kind of argument:

If a language is no longer the native language of any community, then our mastery of it will at best be imperfect. Latin and Ancient Greek are not and haven’t been the native languages of any community for hundreds of years. Therefore, our mastery of Latin and Ancient Greek is at best imperfect.

Notice that the conclusion is exactly the same as that in the actual argument. But in this argument, the conclusion is deductively valid. That means the premises guarantee its truth.

Answer Choice (E) says it’s an ancillary conclusion drawn in the argument. Ancillary means sub or intermediate. But that’s right. There is no support given to this claim. It’s just a premise.

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