LSAT Kung Fu Blog / There Are Three R's in "Error," Too

There Are Three R's in "Error," Too

There Are Three R’s in “Error,” Too

Ah, yes, the American public education system. The sound of those syllables in proximity to one another is like the babbling of a peaceful brook, gurgling serenely along beside an open meadow in which fat cows munch lovingly at slender shoots of swaying succulents under a cloudless sky the color of your mother’s eyes. All is right with the world; we can be sure of it when we think even passingly upon the wonder we have wrought in This Great Nation in the name of education.

Yes, The American Public Education System (TAPES) provides us with the surest evidence yet of God’s love for us – after all, how else could such an elegantly-crafted, perfectly-executed methodology have sprung into existence to nourish the minds of The Children, save by Divine provenance?

Except, well… Look, I don’t mean to be a party-pooper. Really, I’d hate to rain on anyone’s parade, it’s just that… well… How do I say this? Er, OK. Our kids are getting stupider.

Ah. but you wanted to know what this has to do with your LSAT prep. OK:

TAPES is an almost-too-perfect example of a common flaw in reasoning that occurs within the Logical Reasoning sections of the LSAT. I refer to this flaw as the Prescriptive Error; it’s not a classic logical fallacy generally (like your Straw Man or Ad Hominem attacks, for instance), but it is an error that occurs with great regularity on this one test.

Here’s the flaw:

There is a problem with TAPES (our kids are getting stupider). The American solution has been to inundate schools with money. This presents us with a flaw in reasoning because there is no evidence that money is a viable solution to the problem(s) plaguing TAPES.

Look; it’s not a flaw to prescribe a solution to a problem. It’s not a flaw to spend money to fix a problem. It is a flaw, however, to propose a solution without any indication that the proposed solution might actually work. The argument carried out by TAPES is exactly the same in logical force as the following argument (which may help illustrate the gross error of this fallacious argumentation):

My air conditioning doesn’t seem to be working. I am, after all, hot and sweaty. Something must be done to remedy this situation! The lack of a functioning air conditioner is detrimental to the quality of my writing and thinking! But, lo, fear not – I have a solution: What I need now is a nice juicy wad o’ Hubba-Bubba® Brand chewing gum!

Uh, OK. Except, what the hell does Hubba-Bubba® have to do with a broken air conditioning? The answer, of course, is that Hubba-Bubba® has not the slightest relation to air conditioning, functioning or not. Or, alternately, the answer may be that the AC is broken only because the exhaust hose doesn’t properly adhere to its housing, and maybe all that’s required is some species of adherent, in which case a wad of Hubba-Bubba® might provide a perfect solution. The answer might be that, but it still wouldn’t help this argument unless it were introduced into evidence, and this is the Prescriptive Error in a nutshell; the flaw is in providing a “solution” without evidence that the solution works.

Knowing the guy was guilty isn’t going to help you win a conviction in court. Knowing that Hubba-Bubba® will fix your AC doesn’t prove to anyone that it will. Knowing that your solution works doesn’t mean you have a well-constructed argument. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you know – it matters what you can prove.

And without any evidence, TAPES has so far failed in its effort to show that spending more money is the solution to the problem of stupider children. Who knows? It’s so crazy it just might work. But without any evidence to indicate that it does, no one can argue that a financial solution is the best option.

Stay glued to your TV sets,


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