Before we continue with Part Nine of our examination of common flaws found in LR questions on the LSAT, let’s once again take a brief moment to review why it’s so important to understand these argumentative errors. Here’s how I began the first post in this series, where we looked at Source Arguments:
Considering the vast majority of LSAT Logical Reasoning questions will have an argument in their stimulus, and the vast majority of those arguments will contain some sort of flawed reasoning, I thought I would take a moment to address a variety of the flaws that tend to appear with some frequency. In a series of posts I’ll examine a number of common mistakes that authors on the test make, which should prove useful for both Flaw in the Reasoning questions (a type that accounts for about 15% of all LR questions), as well as other question types that require you to respond to argumentation.
With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to another Appeal Flaw (the last post was on Appeal to Authority) that every test taker has been subjected to at some point in his or her life, and probably attempted to utilize as well: Appeal to Emotion. Long story short, how someone feels, or how “unfair” some situation seems, or even what one believes might be moral or immoral, does not typically provide much weight for making an objective argument. In this type of error a speaker will use emotion or emotionally-charged language to attempt to persuade a reader/listener that a particular position or belief is correct, when the emotion described gives no tangible reasons (only emotional or ethically-based ones) to accept a conclusion.
Let’s take a look at an example:
“Professor, please, PLEASE reconsider my grade on the Final! I know I only answered 7% of the questions correctly, but I didn’t really deserve an F! In the past week I sprained my ankle, my dog ran away, and my kitchen caught on fire! I think it’s only fair I get a chance to retake the test!”
Granted, the student in this example has had a rough week, and from a causal standpoint it’s not hard to imagine that those events could have impacted test performance. But is it really accurate, or valid, to say that the student “didn’t deserve an F” after only getting 7% of the questions correct? This is a classic appeal to emotion, and while we (and even the professor) might certainly sympathize with this test taker, there’s no reason to accept the conclusion that the score was undeserved.
Here’s how this type of error would likely be represented in an answer choice:
“the argument appeals to emotion rather than to reason”
“attempts to persuade by making an emotional appeal”
A final point to consider regarding Appeal to Emotion errors: just because an author talks about the idea of emotion/feelings, or similarly the idea of morally right/wrong, regarding some course of action does not necessarily mean that that is the error. It’s only when the conclusion is based on the author’s feelings, or an attempt to persuade based on the feelings of someone else, that this error occurs. So don’t just automatically choose an answer about “uses emotions to persuade” or “bases a conclusion on moral concerns rather than…” because the author uses the words “moral,” “feeling,” “emotion,” “ethical,” etc. Instead, determine whether emotions/morals are the main basis for the argument, and select that type of answer only when they are.
Be sure to review the other posts addressing a wide variety of common flaws you are likely to encounter on test day. Commit them all to memory and you’ll find yourself well prepared to respond to nearly any argument you come across.