LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Quick Hit: Syllogisms and Lust

Quick Hit: Syllogisms and Lust

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Quick Hit: Syllogisms and Lust

69.1.25

You know what a syllogism is?

Don't worry; it's only maybe 30% as filthy as it sounds (you know, as I think about it, it's possibly even less than that).

A syllogism is a particular form of argument comprising three parts:

  1. A major premise. This is a rule. It's a broad, sweeping statement covering all cases.
  2. A minor premise. This is the fact at hand; it tells us about an instance in front of us.
  3. A conclusion. This combines the major and minor premise into a claim about the fact at hand.

​Let's take a look at an example.

Every orgy leads to feelings of self-loathing and recriminations in its participants the morning after. Since Mildred is known to have been involved in the "Swingin' Senior" orgy organized by the Final Rest Nursing home last night, she must be feeling self-hatred this morning.

Here, the first sentence is our Major Premise; it gives a rule that applies to all orgy-goers. The first half of the second sentence is our Minor Premise; it tells us that Mildred belongs to the universe of orgy participants. The last half of that sentence combines the two premises into the properly-supported conclusion that Mildred must be feeling bad today.

Here's why that's useful to your LSAT prep; a huge number of Sufficient Assumption questions operate by presenting you an argument that offers two-thirds of a syllogism (usually the minor premise and the conclusion) and then asking you to add evidence to prove the conclusion. So you know what you're going to add: the missing Major Premise!

If our argument above had appeared on the LSAT, we'd expect it to have taken a form something like this:

Mildred must be feeling some self-hatred this morning. After all, she's known to have the sexual appetites of a woman a quarter her age, having done the horizontal mambo with Stanley, been rumored to have made the beast with two backs with Fred, bumped uglies with Eunice, and coitused Melvin on at least two occasions, so it came as no surprise to find that she was involved in the "Swingin' Senior" orgy organized by the Final Rest Nursing home last night.

See how we've still got our conclusion, only now it's at the beginning, and then a bunch of noise (to be expected) before we get to our only real evidence; that Minor Premise. If this argument came with a Sufficient Assumption question, we could expect the correct answer to supply the missing Major Premise, like this:

(A) Every orgy leads to feelings of self-loathing and recriminations in its participants the morning after.

And if we recognize this pattern, our work becomes faster and more-efficient overall.

Consider question 25. Notice that it conforms pretty neatly to this paradigm.

The argument tells us a bunch of crap leading to the Minor Premise that folktales provide insight into a culture's wisdom. This evidence is offered in support of the claim that folktales do have deep meaning.

And we've been asked to prove that conclusion is true. Can you see how we'll do it by providing the missing Major Premise? We can expect an answer that says something like "Everything that provides insight into a culture has deep meaning" - just like in the Mildred example above.

And sure enough, (B) says exactly that—in almost those words precisely.

Awesome, huh?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some mental images I need desperately to unsee.