Did you hear about Congressman Weiner?
Okay, so if we were the New York Times, CNN, or David Letterman, we would be a little late on the Anthony Weiner sexting and tweeting scandal. We’re an LSAT test prep company. The fact that we’re making crotch jokes to illustrate real LSAT concepts deserves some sort of street cred from the blogosphere, doesn’t it? We know that before class begins, most students have a lot of anxiety, and very little accurate information about what the LSAT really tests. Make no mistake, it’s a difficult exam. It’s also a very learnable exam, and we firmly believe that the next three months don’t have to be a drag. Today, I will cover three of the most commonly tested logical fallacies on the LSAT, all within the context of a disgraced congressman’s bulging embarrassment.
Oftentimes, logical missteps will show up on the LSAT in what we call a FLAW question. The prompt will go something like this: The author’s reasoning is most vulnerable to criticism on which one of the following grounds? You will then select the answer choice that correctly identifies where the author went awry. Unless the LSAC completely loses their collective minds, you’ll never see any of these sophomoric, Weiner-related questions on an actual LSAT, but you are guaranteed to be tested on the concepts within them. Enjoy.
Concerned Tea Party Member: “Congressman Weiner undoubtedly misled everyone when he told the press, and the citizens of this great nation, that his Twitter account was hacked and that he was not responsible for the perverse photos in question. He is a lewd liar. A lewd liar I say! In light of this recent scandal it is clear that the United States Congress is a dishonest, lewd branch of government. Where is Ronald Regan when we need him most?”
Looks like somebody had to pay their taxes this morning. The concerned tea party citizen makes a classic composition fallacy here. His conclusion is that the United States Congress is dishonest and lewd. His premise (the argument’s “support”) is that Weiner, who is a member of Congress, is dishonest and lewd. In each LSAT stimulus, we have to accept the premises as true, and ignore any outside knowledge that we have. Therefore, we accept the fact that Congressman Weiner is a lewd liar. However, does this mean that the U.S. Congress is dishonest and lewd. Nope. Just because one part of something has a characteristic (in this case, being a pervy liar), we can not automatically determine that the whole has that characteristic. When an author does this, he or she is making a part-to-whole fallacy. We also can’t commit the reverse of this. For example, if we are told that the U.S. Congress has very low approval ratings, and that Big Bob is a U.S. Congressman, we cannot automatically conclude that Big Bob has low approval ratings. This would be committing a whole-to-part fallacy. In his district, everyone loves Big Bob. He’s not going anywhere.
If a member of the U.S. House of Representatives gets caught sexting, he or she will resign. The most recent example of this principle is Congressman Weiner. Congressman Weiner’s mentor, Congressman Johnson, recently resigned. We can safely conclude that like Weiner, someone caught Congressman Johnson sexting.
This faulty reasoning is called the fallacy of the converse, and it is one of the most common logical errors on the LSAT. When we are given an “If….then” statement like the first sentence of this argument, we can diagram it.
Caught Sexting –> Resign (VALID!)
We know that if a member of the house gets caught sexting, then they always resign. “Caught Sexting” is the sufficient term, and “Resign” is the necessary term. In other words, knowing that a member of the House got caught sexting is “sufficient” to know that he or she will resign. We can also flip and negate the diagram in what is known as the contrapositive. If a member of the House of Reps is not resigning, then he certainly did not get caught sexting.
NOT Resign –> NOT Caught Texting (VALID!)
Resign –> Caught Sexting (NOT VALID!)
Someone commits the fallacy of the converse when they flip the terms, but forget to negate. The argument above does this by concluding that Congressman Johnson’s resignation is a sufficient term to indicate that he is texting crotch shots. There are a million other reasons that Senator Johnson could have resigned, but since he is a private man I suppose we’ll never know.
Dr Droow: In my many years of psychoanalyzing the behavioral problems of famous people I have never met, some patterns are emerging. There have been many instances where a man will gain power and fame, and then he self-destructs in a sexual scandal. It can be concluded that the acquisition of power and fame causes these self destructive tendencies.
At first, it appears our psychologist to the stars has an airtight argument. A bunch of people gained power and fame, and then they self-destruct by cheating or sending photos of tented underwear to co-eds across the country. Again, the LSAC is never going to have a stimulus that contains the words “sexual scandal” (let alone “tented underwear”), but they will present several instances of correlation, and try to establish causation. Here’s some insight: this is virtually impossible. Can we really conclude that it was the power and fame that caused the self-destructive behavior? Despite Dr. Droow’s theory, there could be another cause. Just because two things tend to occur at the same time, doesn’t mean that one thing caused the other.
The classic example is the positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks. Does buying ice cream cause sharks to terrorize beach-goers? Of course not. There is an alternate cause that accounts for both trends. (The weather is warm. More ice cream. More swimmers in the water for sharks to mistake as dinner). When a stimulus on the LSAT establishes causation, you should automatically turn skeptical.
For those who are joining a Blueprint class this summer, we’ll see you soon!