An Approach to Flaw Questions

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An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby Audio Technica Guy » Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:30 pm

Here is a technique I've come up with to approach flaw questions, wondering if you guys find it useful.

Some sources essentially treat flaw questions like you should find the flaw and then match it. I've generally found this to be problematic for two reasons:

1) Many times the argument has multiple flaws and the one you see first isn't an answer choice. Best case you have to go back and look for another flaw that is an answer choice, worst case you turn an incorrect answer into this flaw and get it wrong

2) It's kind of like saying "just do the question dummy". It isn't really an approach, its just doing the question, which is fine on easy questions, but some can be quite hard. Sometimes you read an argument and it more or less makes sense and picking out the flaw in advance is borderline impossible

So, what I cam up with is the following:

Read the argument and break it down into it's constituent premises and conclusion and then just go to the answer choices if you don't see a flaw right off. When you go to the AC's ask yourself "is this a necessary assumption flaw or something else?" If it's a necessary assumption flaw ask yourself "is this too strong or does it actually hurt the argument?" If no to both, that's likely your answer. If it's another type of flaw, a flaw has to do two things 1) it has to happen and 2) it has to negatively affect the conclusion (note that this approach would also technically work on necessary assumption flaws, but it's easier to just do the approach outlined above for those answer choices).

This may seem a bit hard to handle, so I will give an example

All men are mortal. Socrates was a man. Therefore, Socrates was mortal.

The argument above is flawed because:

A) It takes for granted that Socrates is dead.
B) The only proof provided assumes the conclusion is true.
C) It ignores other evidence which may verify its conclusion.
D) Presumes, without providing justification, that what is true of men currently was true of men in Socrates time.
E) Equivocates between two meanings of the word "mortal".

Answer choice A is a necessary assumption flaw. That is, if A was the answer it would be saying that this is a necessary assumption. However, while this would help the argument, it is far from necessary. Socrates could in fact still be alive and be mortal, just have lived a very long time. So it fails our necessary assumption test.

Answer choice B is an "everything else" flaw. That is it's not stating this is a necessary assumption, so we use the two part test outlined above. Part 1 says "does this happen?" Well no, the proof provided does not assume that Socrates was mortal.

Answer choice C is another "everything else" flaw. Part 1 ask does this happen? That is does it ignore other evidence that might support it's conclusion? Well, maybe, I'm not sure. BUt question 2 asks "does this hurt our conclusion?" No, having other good evidence that supports our conclusion isn't a negative for our conclusion. So it fails part 2.

Answer choice D is a necessary assumption flaw. So we ask is this too strong? Doesn't seem so. Seems pretty weak. It also seems to go in the right direction, that is it helps our argument if this is assumed. So then we ask "if this was false, would our argument fall apart?" If what is true of men today wasn't necessarily true of men in Socrates time, our argument seems to fall apart, as our premise is about what IS true of men, currently and our conclusion is about what WAS true of a man. This seems to be correct.

Answer choice E is an "everything else" flaw. Does it use two different meanings of the word "mortal"? Doesn't seem so.

Credited answer is D.

Hopefully that explained the approach and hopefully someone finds that approach helpful on particularly difficult flaw questions. Especially those in which you struggled finding the flaw when you read the argument.

Audio Technica Guy
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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby Audio Technica Guy » Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:37 pm

also, just to be clear, the question used above was entirely made up by me.

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quasi-stellar
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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby quasi-stellar » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:44 pm

Interestingly, I found the right answers to flaw questions to be extremely specific. They are actually closely related to their arguments. Hard to explain it without examples, though.

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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby Audio Technica Guy » Wed Jun 30, 2010 3:48 pm

quasi-stellar wrote:Interestingly, I found the right answers to flaw questions to be extremely specific. They are actually closely related to their arguments. Hard to explain it without examples, though.


Most of the time on easier questions they are. But there are quite a lot of examples where they are worded in much more general terms.

There are, for example, questions where the answer is "takes something that is sufficient to prove an event occurred as necessary to allow the event to occur."

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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby quasi-stellar » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:35 pm

Audio Technica Guy wrote:
quasi-stellar wrote:Interestingly, I found the right answers to flaw questions to be extremely specific. They are actually closely related to their arguments. Hard to explain it without examples, though.


Most of the time on easier questions they are. But there are quite a lot of examples where they are worded in much more general terms.

There are, for example, questions where the answer is "takes something that is sufficient to prove an event occurred as necessary to allow the event to occur."


True. But even those that are harder and more general become manageable with practice. At this point my accuracy on flaw and method questions is close to 100%. When I find the correct answer I just say to myself - there is absolutely no way this answer could be wrong. And it works.

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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby Audio Technica Guy » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:38 pm

quasi-stellar wrote:True. But even those that are harder and more general become manageable with practice. At this point my accuracy on flaw and method questions is close to 100%. When I find the correct answer I just say to myself - there is absolutely no way this answer could be wrong. And it works.


I get what you're saying, but you do realize that this isn't a method? You just "get" flaw questions.

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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby 3|ink » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:39 pm

It seems that the LSAC very rarely tests past and present tenses as this question does. I think the reason has to do with the fact that they don't want this to be a test of English. The verb 'to be' is especially peculiar in English. Other than that, this is a pretty good technique.

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Re: An Approach to Flaw Questions

Postby Audio Technica Guy » Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:40 pm

3|ink wrote:It seems that the LSAC very rarely tests past and present tenses as this question does. I think the reason has to do with the fact that they don't want this to be a test of English. The verb 'to be' is especially peculiar in English. Other than that, this is a pretty good technique.


yeah, they don't do this type of flaw a whole lot, though they have done it before. I mostly just wanted a simple, though tricky, argument to show the method.




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