Studying for the LSAT, feeling pretty dumb. Help, or laugh at me for fun.

I'm studying for the LSAT... have been studying for it, and am getting destroyed on Logical Reasoning. I cannot for the life of me make it through six or seven problems in a row without a wrong answer. When I look up the explanations I find myself screaming at them. Here's an example for your collective amusement -

Philosopher: Every action must be judged according to its utility - an object or idea's property that produces some benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness. Additionally, the suffering involved with or caused by the object or idea must be deducted before determining the utility. Society would be in a much better place if people used utility in their decision-making.

The philosopher's conclusion follows logically if which of the following is assumed?
a. It is possible for all actions to have utility.
b. There can never be an action that will increase an individual's short-term utility but detracts from the long-term utility.
c. No action is neutral.
d. All decisions will have an option that increases utility.
e. Society does not currently base its collective decisions on utility.

This is the sort of question that is just eviscerating my score and I haven't found any cure as of yet. Anyone (Lawyers or anyone who's already tackled this beast) got any tips or tricks for me. Anyone care to venture a guess as to the answer?

EDIT: Answer provided below.

last edited by Topical_Island

The answer should be E as Matt said.

a. The argument doesn't really require all actions to have utility, only that actions should be judged according to their utility. Presumably an action could have no utility, and therefore be a bad action.

b. The argument does not really depend on exactly how utility should be deduced, and how time affects it.

c. Actions can still be neutral on utility. Presumably also negative, and positive.

d. See A. This is the is saying the same thing.

e. The last sentence is what is making this assumption. Without that sentence, this isn't really assumed either.

@vaughnbros @ChubbyRain I'll let a few other chime in before I confirm an answer. Have ya'll ever taken this thing?

@Topical_Island I'm a lawyer, though I would hate to be eviscerated (I'll borrow your word) by the entrance processes today. My mind tends to get stupider in my old age. I think the answer here is "a" since, despite being a horrible answer, it seems better than the others. "a" at least allows the philosopher to continue on with his other assumed baseless (and in my opinion, very faulty) premises. The others suggested candidates are not essential underlying propositions as he can still make evaluations with his system if their opposites happen to be true instead.

last edited by BazaarOfBaghdad

@BazaarOfBaghdad When did you apply to law school? (And no worries... it's not me being eviscerated, only my scores. I got guts for days.)

last edited by Topical_Island

@Topical_Island 2009, but I was a high school Spanish teacher for over a decade before that. I wish I had my 23-year-old brain. 🙂

@BazaarOfBaghdad holy crap... I am leaving my job as a high school Spanish teacher to go to law school! Are we the same person?

@Topical_Island Something with that area of the brain maybe clicks together. To that same theory, I've also noticed a higher percentage of chess players are high school male spanish teachers than the general population. I don't go to Magic tournaments, so can't speak to that, but it all seems interrelated.

@BazaarOfBaghdad I run chess at my high school right now.... this is truly odd... are you sure I'm not just talking to myself? This is... Bazaar.

last edited by Topical_Island

@Topical_Island said in Studying for the LSAT, feeling pretty dumb. Help, or laugh at me for fun.:

@vaughnbros @ChubbyRain I'll let a few other chime in before I confirm an answer. Have ya'll ever taken this thing?

I scored a 42 on the old MCAT, which had a Verbal Reasoning section. It sounds similar - it consisted of passages like your philosopher and asked questions about their positions, assumptions, etc. I didn't want to give explanations for my answers as I didn't want to bias subsequent posts (though I agree with @vaughnbros reasoning). I didn't want to give advice in case I was completely wrong.

Edit: Fine, I'll give advice 😛

I know some people ready the questions before the passages. I'm not sure you have to do that, but you should at some point identify what the question is asking. The question you have above is looking at the philosopher's conclusion and asking what assumption or premise is necessary. So the first step is identifying the philosopher's conclusion. Is it...

  1. Every action must be judged by its utility?
  2. The suffering caused by an action must be subtracted from the utility?
  3. Society would be a much better place if people used utility in decision-making?

I would argue that the philosopher's conclusion here is 3, with 1 and 2 as premises. Then look at the answers to identify which is an assumption. In my opinion, that is E, but the general caveat I would give you is not to get bogged down in the answers right away - they are generally designed to be traps. Like, "no action is neutral" might be true or false but that's irrelevant. It's not what the question is asking. So, yeah consider the passage, consider the question, identify the relevant part of the passage, then look at the answers.

last edited by Guest

@ChubbyRain Yeah, I wasn't trying to ad hominem you or anything, asking if you'd taken it. I am looking for any experiential advice I can get, so fire away. I also agree with your conclusion about the author's conclusion.

ANSWER: the book wanted B. Which pissed me off. In the explanation it claimed that E was irrelevant, which seems insane.

@Topical_Island At first glance, E looks reasonable as others have said, but the answer specifies society making collective decisions while the relevant part of the stimulus is talking about individual people making decisions.

When I read this, I eliminate A, C, D, and E because the philosopher could make an assumption of the negative of each and their conclusion would still be fine. B isn't strong, but I can't eliminate it immediately like I can the others so I keep it in mind as a candidate. After ruling out D and E, I take a second look at B. While B is not a great answer, the philosopher sounds like they are making an assumption about actions having a single utility, which would follow from the assumption of B. Being confident that the others are wrong and also being able to make a plausible case for B being right would be enough for me to choose B and move on.

I would recommend (if you're not already) using old tests themselves rather than stuff third-party publishers write as practice tests. Sometimes books have jank, and while the tests also sometimes have jank, at least it's authentic jank.

last edited by wappla

@wappla I don't see how if Society is currently basing it's collective decisions on utility, Society would really be in a much better place if people used utility in their decision-making. This seems like an absurd proposition. Are we really to infer a substantial distinction between "people's decision-making" and the way "collective decisions" are made by society? Is that really the hair we need to split? This seems pretty sophomoric. (I'm sensing that this book is pretty low quality actually. I've since put it aside and gone on to some of the official test prep, which is tricky, but much less ambiguous and more carefully constructed.)

I also fail to see how B is correct at all. It seems very easy to just estimate the utility of the long and short term using the summation that the philosopher proposes. For example, using heroin seems to have a lot of short term utility, but probably rates negative in the long run. I don't see how the existence of heroin disproves utilitarian philosophy at all... I also don't see how the argument assumes that sort of thing doesn't exist anyway. If anything it fails to consider it. B seems like a complete non sequitur, one might as well say that the argument assumes that there is not a talking omniscient giraffe in the kitchen who's six volume memoirs refute the philosopher's proposal.

last edited by Topical_Island

The key to understanding formal logic is that it's entirely an internal system. E is most reasonable if you understanding logic as a system of common sense that is actually relevant to the real world. It's not.

Logic is entirely a formal system for parsing arguments.

The philosopher articulates the philosophy of utilitarianism (developed by Benthem/Mill, and others).

E is completely irrelevant, from a logical perspective, because it does not have any bearing on the internal logic of utilitarianism as a policy principle (which is the argument presented).

On the other hand, if B is true, then the entire logic of utilitarianism, as a system of application, would be thrown into doubt. You could never know exactly whether a decision or policy conforms or not to the utilitarian principle. So, B has to be the answer.

Although I took the LSAT over 15 years ago, Kaplan offered me to teach their course, and I could give you some tips and pointers. For example, do you understand how the test is scored and created? The actual exam itself is created from the experimental sections from the previous testing period, and scaled to that cohort's performance. For that reason, the best time to take the test, in my opinion, is the February test, where the weighting will be lighter.

Good luck!

last edited by Smmenen

@Smmenen That is an interesting tip. The February one. I'm not sure it's possible.

In other news, I happen to have a few friends who are lawyers. (One is the lead counsel for the Mayor of a major U.S. city.) I showed him this question and his first response was, where are you getting this question? I told him and his response was... don't use that. Use the official stuff.

I don't doubt your expertise. I do doubt whether you could generate a high score on this practice test, since the questions seem very open to interpretation. They seem more designed to support supposed heuristics for the test, rather than to mimic the thing itself. I've begun showing this one to people I know got good scores, and gotten many different answers, all well defended and explained. Another question hinged entirely on the interpretation of the word "depend" as in, on what does the argument depend. (Does that mean the argument depends on an assumption for it's validity? Or is it asking what fact will swing the argument one way or the other, as in what is the key variable?) In any case, if the purpose of this material is to improve my score, it is bad. I should try the Kaplan, perhaps, which this is not.

Tell me more about internal system and why E is irrelevant?

I explained why. The argument (which is defined by the conclusion in formal logic) is that "Society would be better off if people adopted utilitarianism in decision-making."

It helps to diagram the argument:

😄 Society would be better off if people adopted utilitarianism (utility-maximizing actions/decisions)

Now, you have to identify the premises. In a formal logic class, you'd number / list them. This is called Standard Form. It looks like this:

P1: things that make people happy increase utility
P2: things that make people unhappy reduce utility

Any unstated premise that is necessary for the conclusion to follow is an assumption.

If there is a decision that would increase short-term utility but reduce long-term utility, then the conclusion cannot follow. Therefore, it must be the answer.

The reason E is irrelevant is because whether it is true or false, it does not affect the conclusion. Look at the diagram above to see why. The conclusion is about what people should do in a purely philosophical sense, not whether it already happens or not.

It might be a better use of your time to actually read a book on formal logic or symbolic logic to understand this better before attacking the practice tests.

last edited by Smmenen

I think I'm reading "a" differently from you guys. I was reading it to mean that you can assign a utility value to any action - be it net positive or net negative utility. It sounds like the book reads "a" to mean infer the words "net positive" in front of the word "utility." Poorly written, if that's the case. "b," too, while being worded in a convoluted manner, doesn't seem to prove the "conclusion" which I suppose we are to label as the third sentence (or is it the first clause of the first sentence?). Why can we not imagine putting a premium on short-term utility that is not valued highly in the long run? Sounds illogical to us, but no more than his other baseless assumptions (utility reasoning can be very circular since you have to assign utility to the values you pick to indicate utility).

@Smmenen So just to be totally clear here. And I'm not trying to be pushy or challenging or anything. If I propose that humans would be happier than they already are if they breathed oxygen, from the perspective of formal logic, finding out that they already do breath oxygen would be irrelevant to the proposal that they could be made more happy if they breathed oxygen? Do I have this right?


Again, if you diagram the argument in Standard Form, it is easier to see why.

last edited by Smmenen
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