A Guide to the GRE/Argument Basics

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Argument Basics[edit]

Overview[edit]

Identifying structures of arguments[edit]

“Nilo-Saharan” is a proposed language family for a group of dialects concentrated predominantly in Sudan, as well as in many other isolated regions. The languages, however, are not a “family” - a group of tongues with a common linguistic ancestor - at all. The proposed evidence for a common ancestor of these languages is the overlapping of many common words and phrases. However, this does not establish their similar roots. For instance, while English and Russian both contain many words derived from Latin, neither is in any way a descendant of this language. Likewise, while the various empires and the historic Kingdom of Nubia may have proliferated many terms into common parlance, the presence of these common words does not establish a common “family” among these diverse languages.

The portions marked in bold play which of the following roles in the argument?

(A) The first is a premise on which the main conclusion of the argument is based; the second is a statement of the implications of this conclusion. (B) The first is the main conclusion of the argument; the second is the general principle which is applied to reach this conclusion. (C) The first is a premise of the argument; the second is the argument's main conclusion. (D) The first is a subconclusion of the argument; the second is an application of the principle of this subconclusion. (E) The first is the main conclusion of the argument; the second is an analogy used to explain the rationale for this conclusion.

As will be explained, a “conclusion” is the main point of an argument, while the “premise” is the stated reason which leads to it. Choice (E) correctly identifies the first bolded sentence as the main conclusion, and the second as an “analogy”, or an example using a similar situation. 4.00 Short Passages

Explaining circumstances[edit]

These questions give a circumstance and ask to explain it.

Researchers studied the work patterns of computer programmers and applet designers and compared their rates of performance on various instruments. With the workers' knowledge and consent, software was installed on their computers which monitored their rates of progress throughout the study. As expected, the programmers and designers worked more quickly and more efficiently when given high quality, top-of-the line computers on which to do their work. However, curiously, even when the programmers and designers were given low-quality, antiquated equipment by the researchers on which to work, their rate of performance still outpaced normal work rates at their positions using normal equipment.

Which one of the following most explains why the computer programmers' rates of productivity increased when they were given antiquated, low-quality equipment?

(A) Even the lowest quality equipment available in contemporary times is still superior to equipment once available to computer programmers. (B) The equipment used by the programmers utilized different operating systems and command prompts with which they were equally familiar. (C) Individuals who are aware that they are being studied tend to become more self-conscious and to work more quickly and efficiently. (D) Software programming has encountered few changes in basic programming language since the 1970s. (E) The low-quality, antiquated equipment was still able to run all of the necessary programs just as normal and high-quality equipment could.

In this case, the circumstance is that programmers tended to work better with antiquated equipment. Answer (C) helps explain this because, even though the programmers had inferior equipment, they worked faster because they were more self-conscious due to the fact they were being studied.

On questions like these, identify the circumstance, answer by answer, asking what explains it, and why.

4.01 Argument Basics[edit]

An argument is a claim that something must be true or false, or that must be done or not done, based on statements asserted.

There will be about four argument questions on each GRE verbal section, consisting of short passages such as this one:

“Claims that increased spending on education will increase literacy are unwarranted. The correlations between literacy and educational spending are in fact because literate peoples spend more on education, not because the latter is conducive to the existence of the former.”

In this passage, the author makes a claim - that spending money on education won't increase literacy. The author's rationale for saying this is that, while apparently there is a documented link between spending money on education and literacy, the author asserts that the spending money on education is because of a literate population, not the other way around.

Every logically sound argument consists of a rule, a fact, and a conclusion.

Consider the following argument.

“If LSU lost the football game, Meredith will be sad. Therefore, it appears that Meredith will be sad, since LSU lost the football game last night.”

Rule: If LSU lost the football game, Meredith will be sad. Fact: LSU lost the football game. Conclusion: Meredith will be sad.

A logical gap occurs in an argument when either the rule or the fact is missing, or their conjunction is incomplete.

“Meredith is a huge fan of LSU football. Therefore, it appears that Meredith will be sad, since LSU lost the football game last night.”

Rule: Meredith is a huge fan of LSU football. Fact: LSU lost the football game. Conclusion: Meredith will be sad.

This argument is not logically sound. The fact that Meredith is a huge LSU football fan does not necessarily mean that she will be sad if the team loses. While in the real world, this would not be an unreasonable conclusion, from a logical standpoint based on what it states, it does not necessarily follow. 4.01 Argument Basics

Practice[edit]

Identify the rule, fact, and conclusion in each of the following arguments, and determine whether they are logically sound.

1. All bears like honey. Andy is a bear. Therefore, Andy likes honey.

2. Republicans invariably like money. Wes is a Republican, so it must be the case that Wes likes money.

3. Eating seafood makes Allyson sick. Thus, it looks like Allyson will be sick, since Allyson ate a large plate of the Ocean Spaghetti at Seaside Restaurant.

4. Bankers always have superior morals to lawyers. It must be the case that Charlie's morals are far below Julie's, since Julie is a banker, and Charlie is a lawyer.

5. Every German likes sauerkraut. Margot loves sauerkraut. Therefore, Margot must be German.

6. All of Salvador Dali's paintings can be classified as “surrealism.” Since this painting is a Salvador Dali painting, this painting can be classified as surrealism.

7. The neighbors own a '67 Shelby Mustang. Anyone who owns a classic muscle car is cool. Therefore, the neighbors are cool.

8. Humpback whales are typically much smaller than gray whales. Therefore, the humpback whale sighted in the inlet was inevitably much smaller than the gray whale spotted in the same inlet.

Comments[edit]

Answers to Practice Questions[edit]

1.

Rule: All bears like honey. Fact: Andy is a bear. Conclusion: Andy likes honey.

This argument follows logically. The fact comports with the rule and triggers its necessary conclusion.

2.

Rule: All Republicans like money. Fact: Wes is a Republican. Conclusion: Wes likes money.

This argument logically follows. Again, the fact comports with the rule and triggers its necessary conclusion.

3.

Rule: Eating seafood makes Allyson sick. Fact: Allyson ate Ocean Spaghetti Conclusion: Allyson will be sick.

This argument does not follow logically. The fact does not establish that Allyson ate seafood. It states that she ate “Ocean Spaghetti”, whatever that is. While the name of the food she ate and the restaurant strongly suggest the presence of seafood, the fact doesn't conclusively establish this; thus, the argument does not logically follow.

4.

Rule: Bankers have superior morals to lawyers. Fact: Julie is a banker and Charlie is a lawyer. Conclusion: Charlie's morals are superior to Julie's.

This argument follows logically. The facts comport with the rule and establish what the rule sets out for things which comport with these facts.


4.01 Argument Basics

 Answers to Practice Questions

5.

Rule: All Germans like sauerkraut. Fact: Margot likes sauerkraut. Conclusion: Margot is German.

This argument does not follow logically. The rule is that all Germans like sauerkraut, not that anyone who likes sauerkraut must be German. (Margot could be Polish and like sauerkraut too) The argument is thus backwards.

6.

Rule: All Dali paintings can be classified as “surrealism.” Fact: This painting is a Dali painting. Conclusion: This painting can be classified as “surrealism.”

This argument follows logically. The facts are consistent with the requirements of the rule, and therefore trigger what the rule states about these facts.

7.

Rule: Anyone who owns a classic muscle car is cool. Fact: The neighbors own a '67 Shelby Mustang. Conclusion: The neighbors are cool.

This argument does not follow logically. The rule is that anyone who owns a classic muscle car is cool. The fact doesn't state that the neighbors own a classic muscle car. One must assume that a '67 Shelby Mustang is a classic muscle car - perhaps not an unreasonable assumption, but an assumption nonetheless.

8.

Rule: Humpback whales are typically much smaller than gray whales. Fact: These whales are a humpback and a gray whale, respectively. Conclusion: The first whale is smaller than the second.

This argument does not follow logically. The rule is that Humpback whales are typically much smaller, not that every humpback is smaller than every gray. Always read the “rules” of arguments carefully.