LSAT 94 – Section 2 – Question 13
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|PT94 S2 Q13||
Main conclusion or main point +MC
Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main conclusion of the argument above?
This is a Main Conclusion question.
The stimulus involves a complex argument structure that involves three conclusions (three!). But, if you’ve practiced Main Conclusion questions, you might notice a cookie cutter structure that can help you see quickly what the main conclusion is.
Santayana recommends that we study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.
We first get context – in particular, other people’s position. Santayana says that we should study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.
What do you expect to see most of the time after getting other people’s position? The author’s view, which is likely the main conclusion. And, just as you’d expect, the author says: But we should not follow his advice.
That’s a clear disagreement with Santayana, and we should be thinking that it’s likely the main conclusion. We’ll confirm that in a moment when we continue reading.
But first, we have to translate the referential language. What does it mean to say that we should not follow Santayana’s advice? It means the negation of what Santayana said: “We should not study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.” Don’t confuse this with “We should not study history.” The author’s claim here is simply that we should not study history for the particular purpose of avoiding the mistakes of history.
Why is that something we should not do? Well, the author supports that recommendation with reasoning:
For, since history consists of unique and unrepeatable accidents, none of the crises we now face are the same as those our ancestors faced.
The word “for,” which is introducing the entire sentence, tells us that the entire sentence is support for the previous statement, which was the author’s recommendation. So right now, we should be thinking that the author’s recommendation still seems to be the main conclusion.
You can break down the sentence after the word “for,” although it is probably not necessary for identifying the main conclusion. The “since” is introducing support, and the other half of the sentence is the part that’s being supported – it would be an intermediate conclusion.
Then we get to the final sentence, which begins with the word “Thus.” So we know the last sentence is some kind of conclusion:
Thus, studying history never enables one to avoid mistakes of the past.
The question is whether the last sentence is the main conclusion of the argument, or whether the statement that “[W]e should not follow Santayana’s advice” is the main conclusion. At this point, we can see which of those statements makes more sense as support for the other. Observe:
“Studying history never enables one to avoid mistakes of the past.”
Why should I believe that?
Because, “We should not study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
Hmm…does that make sense to you? Does the recommendation that we shouldn’t study history to avoid the mistakes of the past, help prove that studying history doesn’t enable you to avoid mistakes?
“We should not study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
Why should I believe that?
Because, “Studying history never enables one to avoid mistakes of the past.”
This makes more sense, because the claim that something doesn’t work helps support the idea that we shouldn’t do that thing. Don’t do X. Why? Because X doesn’t work.
Option #2 makes more sense, so that means the author’s recommendation not to follow Santayana’s advice is the main conclusion. The last sentence is an intermediate conclusion being supported by the second to last sentence, which itself contains a premise and intermediate conclusion.
Here’s the argument laid out in logical order:
Sub-sub-premise: History consists of unique and unrepeatable accidents.
Sub-sub-conclusion: None of the crises we now face are the same as those our ancestors faced.
Sub-conclusion: Studying history never enables one to avoid mistakes of the past.
Main conclusion: We should not study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Answer Choice (A) People should not study history, since doing so leads them to misunderstand the crises they now face.
This is wrong for two reasons. First, remember that the main conclusion is that we should not study history for the purpose of avoiding mistakes. But the author never said that we should not study history at all – maybe it’s OK to study history for entertainment, or to learn more about different cultures. This answer, however, flat out says “We should not study history[.]” Although the answer does give us a reason for not studying history, it’s still saying flat out, that we should not study history. The reason given for not studying history does not limit the scope of the claim, “We should not study history[.]”
The second reason (A) is wrong is that the reason it gives for not studying history is not actually supported by the author’s argument. The author says that the events of the past are different from the events of today, and that therefore studying the past events isn’t helpful for avoiding mistakes. But that does not imply that studying the past leads to misunderstandings of the present. It could simply be that studying the past leads to nothing helpful, and we won’t find anything useful in it.
Answer Choice (B) Every historical period is different from every other historical period.
This relates to something the premise says, but not to the conclusion. In addition, the idea of historical periods being different from each other is not the same as past events being unique and unrepeatable. Maybe history consists of unique events, but an overall historical period can still be similar to another period?
Answer Choice (C) Although the crises one generation faces may appear to be the same as those another generation face, they never are.
This sounds like the line “none of the crises we now face are the same as the ones our ancestors faced.” But that wasn’t the main conclusion, only an intermediate conclusion. Furthermore, the author’s argument never implied the first half of this answer – “the crises one generation faces may appear to be the same as those another generation faces.” The author simply said that the crises of the past aren’t like the ones of the present, without any comment on whether they might appear to be similar.
Answer Choice (D) Studying history is valuable, but not for the reason that Santayana suggests.
If you picked this, you’re probably bringing in your own personal opinion to this question. Did the author of the argument in the stimulus ever suggest that studying history is valuable? Not at all. The author did say that we shouldn’t study history for the particular purpose of avoiding mistakes. And that does leave open the possibility that they think we should study for a different reason. But we don’t know whether the author actually thinks that we should study history for a different reason.
“You shouldn’t throw a pie in someone’s face to play a practical joke on them.”
Does that statement mean that we should throw a pie in someone’s face for some other reason? No – it leaves open that possibility, but it doesn’t provide affirmative support for that statement.
Correct Answer Choice (E) One should not try to avoid repeating the mistakes of previous generations by studying history.
This is a great paraphrase of the author’s conclusion that we should not follow Santayana’s advice. Of course, the LSAT does throw a few tricks in to make the answer harder to pick. It changes the order of the concepts, and uses different words that still fairly capture the author’s meaning.
We were expecting something along the lines of this: “We should not study history to avoid the mistakes of the past.”
(E) gives us this: “One should not try to avoid repeating the mistakes of past generations by studying history.”
These both express the idea that one thing we shouldn’t try to do is study history for the purpose of avoiding the mistakes of the past.
The fact that the concepts are reordered doesn’t change the meaning. Consider: “I love my dog” and “My dog is something I love” are expressing the same idea. Similarly, “You should study hard for the purpose of getting a good LSAT score” expresses the same idea as “You should try to get a good LSAT score by studying hard.”
In addition, “Mistakes of past generations” are “mistakes of the past.” Given the human context of this argument, what else could “mistakes of the past” refer to besides those of past people – also known as past generations? (We’re not studying the mistakes of bears, dolphins, or llamas.)