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# Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one

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Updated on: 20 Dec 2018, 21:37
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39% (02:07) correct 61% (02:09) wrong based on 375 sessions

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Ethicist: The general principle --if one ought to do something then one can do it-- does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but -- because of an unforeseen traffic jam-- it is impossible to do so.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

[B] Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

LSAT

Originally posted by AshutoshB on 18 Sep 2018, 01:14.
Last edited by generis on 20 Dec 2018, 21:37, edited 2 times in total.
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18 Sep 2018, 04:02
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AshutoshB
I think that there is a mix up in Answer Choices B and C, can you please look into it ?
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18 Sep 2018, 05:36
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AshutoshB
I think that there is a mix up in Answer Choices B and C, can you please look into it ?

CORRECTED

THANKS for pointing out
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18 Sep 2018, 10:29
Can you please guide me through the specific rules for solving these kind of questions?
The answer option I chose is D.
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18 Sep 2018, 11:08
1

Thanks
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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18 Sep 2018, 23:19
Could anyone explain the answer choice for the question?
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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20 Dec 2018, 13:43
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The general principle-if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but-because of an unforeseen traffic jam-it is impossible to do so.

if you guys notice there are dashes so to understand the example i think we need to draw a parallel line between principle and example

The general principle - if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true.

Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but-because of an unforeseen traffic jam-it is impossible to do so.

if one ought to do something then one can do it < ---excuse cant justify the failure to fullfill it----> because of an unforeseen traffic

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

A If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

this is not an assumption, it is restatement of statement mentioned in the argument)

B Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise (cant assume this)

C If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing. ( this is kind of tricky, but it doesnt nececessarly to be true, because if person capable of doing something then, he/she ought not to do it )

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept. ( CORRECT this is in line with my reasoning above)

if one ought to do something then one can do it< ---excuse cant justify the failure to fulfill the promise if one ought to ----> because of an unforeseen traffic

E If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

(this is out of scope)

generis i wonder if my reasoning is correct and reasons for eliminating answer choices are correct never encountered such question
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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20 Dec 2018, 14:23
AshutoshB wrote:
Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but-because of an unforeseen traffic jam-it is impossible to do so.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

LSAT

Here's my reasoning on why D is correct.

Firstly, let's understand that the Ethicist's argument is given in only 1 line. "The general principle-if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true."

The rest of the information is merely an example which says that "a promise" is what one has "ought to do", and "unable to fulfil the promise" means that one "couldn't do what he ought to do".
With pre-thinking, we can say that the assumption is if one ought to do something, he can do it if it is possible, or, if it is NOT impossible. .

[b]Elimination:
A says that "ought to" = "promised to". Notice that this is parallel to the EXAMPLE stated in the argument. Hence, tempting choice. However, since this refers to the "example" and not the "conclusion" or "argument" itself, it is a weaker option. We should scan the rest.

B Clearly the ethicist gives "unforeseen traffic jam" as one out of many examples. So this cannot be the "only" thing as an assumption.

C This equates "ought to" with "capacity of a person". Irrelevant. because argument co-relates "ought to" with "couldn't due to impossible situations". This cannot be the assumption.

D This option uses complicated language. Upon simplification, we understand that in lay man's terms that "A promise IS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY."
Let's try to negate this using the same example in the argument. Negation means that "Promise can be taken lightly". In that case, If "One promised to meet the friend and ended up not being able to meet him, it is O.K". This destroys the entire purpose of example, because the ethicist wants to say that when a promise is made it need not mean it CAN be kept, BECAUSE of unexpected situations. In order for this connection to be established. If we made an assumption that "ought to (promise), doesn't really mean "SHOULD", then the example itself becomes a weak or an invalid example for the point that the ethicist is trying to make. Hence, this assumption is needed.

E The argument isn't about the moral decision of making or not making a promise. Eliminate

Hope this makes sense. It's difficult to explain the intricacies that make D the correct choice. In my case, a simple negation of statement D made the example very loose, and therefore argument kind of weak. Hence, conversely, the presence of D made more sense
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23 Dec 2018, 01:00
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AshutoshB wrote:
Ethicist: The general principle --if one ought to do something then one can do it-- does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but -- because of an unforeseen traffic jam-- it is impossible to do so.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

LSAT

dave13 , I am impressed with your reasoning. This question is hard.

I will address your post separately (and quickly -- not much is wrong with it).

• Find and unpack the conclusion
The ethicist says that a general principle does not always hold true.
That sentence is the conclusion.

Principle: if you OUGHT to do something, then you CAN do something
"Should do X means can do X."

Assess that.

My take: that statement is inane. It's dumb.
but I am stranded on a desert island.
How, exactly, does the fact that I should buy her a gift
Note that we are dealing with a bit of crazy here.

The ethicist's assessment (which is the conclusion) is different from mine.
He concludes: The conditional statement does not always hold true.

(In the back of my mind: How about NEVER holds true?
Should do X does not logically entail CAN do X,
except before the fact and only in the context of language!/end rant)

• Assess the premise

One premise for his conclusion (that the principle
does not always hold true) is the example.
In that case, another layer is added: promise.
A friend CANNOT keep a promise because of a traffic jam,
but nonetheless the ethicist considers the situation as
under the jurisdiction of the principle "SHOULD, therefore CAN."

Why doesn't he go all the way and say,
See? This very example proves that if you CANNOT do something,
then you are not obligated to do that something.

The ethicist does not go there. (I do. But I am tracking on him, too.)
He goes the other way.
How is it possible that I think that the principle is absurd
but the ethicist wants merely to prove that sometimes the principle
does not hold true?

I think that the example demolishes the logic of
If should, therefore can.
The ethicist thinks that the example simply shows
that sometimes the principle is not true.

• Anticipate what the assumption almost certainly must contain

Why is he insisting that the example falls under this fairly extreme rule?
Because he believes something fairly extreme.
Somehow, no matter what, OUGHT trumps CAN.

while I am stranded on a desert island . . .
but the example suggests that especially if I promised to buy my a gift,
even though I cannot do X, I still am not relieved of the obligation to do X.

He is arguing AGAINST the idea that the principle is absolute.
But that fact hides that he still assumes that the principle is basically sound.

I don't think that the principle is mostly sound.
I think it's mostly crazy.

He is arguing, somehow, FOR the idea that obligation is very important.

What must he be assuming in order both to defend a proposition
(the principle IS an ethical principle) and to qualify it, to weaken it?

• Obligation trumps all else.

Well, he must be assuming that obligation trumps all else.
Obligation may not always be possible (traffic jam, desert island),
but the obligation does not go away just because we CANNOT perform it.

The answer will have something to do with the primacy of obligation.
That's my guess.

The ethicist did not conclude from the example something such as,
"You could not keep your promise, therefore you are relieved of the moral obligation to keep your promise."

He concluded, rather, that the principle was a principle and
that sometimes it was not true (hence the example).

He presented the woman as having broken a promise, albeit unavoidably.

What is he assuming that keeps him from rejecting the principle outright?

Before I look at the choices, I force myself to think of what the answer MUST contain.

He does not reject the rule outright. He concludes that the rule is not absolute.
I think the rule is absurd.

He must think that obligation trumps just about everything.
The answer will stress the primacy of obligation.

This guy really believes in OUGHT. The assumption will make OUGHT all-important.
I am not fooled by the fact that the ethicist ALSO wants to say that the
principle is not absolute.

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.
It's not really an assumption, either.

It's a flawed conclusion that may seem to be the answer.

It isn't.
If I fail to do something that I should, then I have failed to do something that I promised to do.

That argument is beside the point and not sound.
Beside the point: The ethicist insists both that the conditional is not absolute
AND that it is still an ethical principal. WHY?

Not sound: Many people for many reasons fail to do what they should, AND they never promised to do what they should.

A thief failed to do what the law said he should do: not steal. But he did not promise to follow the law.
HIS reason for not doing whatever he should is that he did not want to.

Option A tells us nothing about why this ethicist takes such a strange position, and
I need an answer that stresses the primacy of obligation.
Eliminate A

P.S. (A) is the trap answer at this point. More people chose (A) 37%, than (D) 34%
I don't get it.

[B] Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise.
Opposite at best. Off topic.
Opposite: EVEN an unforeseen traffic jam is not enough to make him dump a bad rule,
let alone consider an excuse.
Off topic: Excuse is never mentioned
This option is not the unstated assumption upon which the ethicist relies.

Eliminate B.

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.
Out of scope.
No one mentioned incapacity, and incapacity has nothing to do with the
importance of obligation.
Option (C) does not suggest that OUGHT trumps all.
Eliminate C.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.
Aha! No matter what, the obligation is an absolute!
The principle does not always hold true, but the obligation nonetheless remains.

The ethicist must be assuming that the woman who could not keep her promise to visit her friend was not relieved of the obligation to keep the promise.

-- he cited the example as support for the conclusion that the the conditional was
not always true , BUT

-- he also assumed that inability to keep a promise does not remove
the obligation to keep the promise, because he cites the example AS
an example of an instance in which the "obligation conditional" wobbles.

He believes in this crazy principle. He believes in this crazy principle even after
citing an example that should demonstrate to him that it's a crazy principle.
Why would you bring up the very example that devastates your logic?
Because you believed (D), because you believed that
the obligation created by a promise is absolute and is not relieved by the inability to keep the promise.

I will skim E, but I am sure that this is the answer.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

Off topic. Never mentioned.

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Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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23 Dec 2018, 01:01
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dave13 wrote:
The general principle-if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but-because of an unforeseen traffic jam-it is impossible to do so.

if you guys notice there are dashes so to understand the example i think we need to draw a parallel line between principle and example

The general principle - if one ought to do something then one can do it-does not always hold true.

Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but-because of an unforeseen traffic jam-it is impossible to do so.

if one ought to do something then one can do it < ---excuse cant justify the failure to fullfill it----> because of an unforeseen traffic

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

A If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

this is not an assumption, it is restatement of statement mentioned in the argument)

B Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise (cant assume this)

C If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing. ( this is kind of tricky, but it doesnt nececessarly to be true, because if person capable of doing something then, he/she ought not to do it )

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept. ( CORRECT this is in line with my reasoning above)

if one ought to do something then one can do it< ---excuse cant justify the failure to fulfill the promise if one ought to ----> because of an unforeseen traffic

E If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

(this is out of scope)

generis i wonder if my reasoning is correct and reasons for eliminating answer choices are correct never encountered such question

Great work, dave13 ! This question is really hard.

Your overall analysis is very good.

You captured the main gist well: obligation is not easily relieved.

I like the analysis of the answer choices, too.
The analysis in A could be stated a little more clearly.

I agree: (A) just makes explicit what we already know from
the inclusion of the example.

I don't understand your "analysis" of B.
You say that we cannot assume B.
Why not? (You're correct. We can't assume B because
its subject is never mentioned. )

Other than those two small suggestions, the work looks good.

In this problem, a non-mechanical approach like yours works better, I think.

A mechanical approach to a problem like this one
may make matters worse. Not sure.

At any rate, nice work! +1 Happy Holidays!
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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23 Dec 2018, 05:01
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generis thank you very much for such a great explanation All in all, all your posts are very helpful and insightful, not only for me but for others as too, I am sure most people take time to read/study your posts and take notes Happy Holidays you too !
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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31 Jan 2019, 10:37
AshutoshB wrote:
Ethicist: The general principle --if one ought to do something then one can do it-- does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but -- because of an unforeseen traffic jam-- it is impossible to do so.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

[B] Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

LSAT

MGMAT instructor's explanation-

PRINCIPLE:
If you eat cotton candy, you will be happy.

Let's say I see that principle and argue, "Hey, that doesn't always hold true!"

What am I saying? What sort of counterexample do I have in mind?

Anytime you're arguing that a conditional rule is not true (this is the same as when you're negating a conditional statement, if for some reason you needed/wanted to do that), you are saying:
it's possible to HAVE the left side, but NOT have the right side.

I think it's possible to
eat cotton candy, but NOT be happy.

This Ethicist says that there are counterexamples to the rule:
"If you ought to do X, then you can do X."

So she must think it's possible that
you ought to do X, but you CAN'T do X

In her counterexample, she establishes that the person
CAN'T do X (impossible to keep your promise to meet your friend)

but she never establishes that
you ought to do X (you ought to keep your promise to meet your friend)

So that's all we're looking for in the answer choices:
This author is assuming that the person in traffic SHOULD keep their promise to meet their friend on time.

Or as (D) miserably puts it, the author assumes that "the promise is NOT invalidated by traffic jam" ... it's still binding.
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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13 Feb 2019, 02:04
A can be discarded, as it is just a restatement of the statement in the argument. B can also be discarded as this comparison to an “unforeseen traffic jam” is too specific. C is very tricky but it is also wrong. It is irrelevant as it equates what a person out to do with their capacity for doing it, when the argument equates what the person out to do with their inability to do so due to impossible circumstances. E is irrelevant to the argument, the argument is about the morality of not keeping a promise, due to impossible circumstances not whether or not the promise should ever have been made.

So D is the right answer, by PoE. Also, if we negate D it dismisses the original argument.
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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one  [#permalink]

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13 Feb 2019, 03:47
AshutoshB wrote:
Ethicist: The general principle --if one ought to do something then one can do it-- does not always hold true. This may be seen by considering an example. Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but -- because of an unforeseen traffic jam-- it is impossible to do so.

Which one of the following is an assumption required by the ethicist's argument?

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

[B] Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

LSAT

It's a tricky question.

Principle: If one should do something, then one can do it (possibility, ability is present)
This is not true.
e.g.
Suppose someone promises to meet a friend at a certain time, but -- because of an unforeseen traffic jam-- it is impossible to do so.

Notice the disconnect here - "one should do something" and "someone promises..."
The example does not say that "one should meet..."

The argument depends on the example. That it may become impossible to keep a promise. The argument makes the assumption of linking "promise" to "should do".

[A] If a person failed to do something she or he ought to have done, then that person failed to do something that she or he promised to do.

There is a reverse relation. It says "should have done" implies "promise". Actually the argument is assuming that "promise" implies "should have done".

[B] Only an event like an unforeseen traffic jam could excuse a person from the obligation to keep a promise

Not necessary. An unforeseen circumstance is just an example of why one may not be able to keep an obligation.

[C] If there is something that a person ought not do, then it is something that that person is capable of not doing.

We know nothing about any such principle "if ... should not do".
Our argument is just trying to say why the given principle may not hold.

[D] The obligation created by a promise is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept.

This option tells us exactly what we need to know, though in a twisted way. It says that "a promise" creates an "obligation" (what one should do) and that obligation is not relieved by the fact that the promise cannot be kept. The argument assumes that the example displays the situation in which the principle does not hold by assuming that a promise's obligation stays intact even if the promise cannot be kept. So what one should do, one cannot do in this case.

[E] If an event like an unforeseen traffic jam interferes with someone's keeping a promise, then that person should not have made the promise, to begin with.

Just talks about promise. Whether one should make a promise or not is not a part of our argument.

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Re: Ethicist: The general principle-if one ought to do something then one   [#permalink] 13 Feb 2019, 03:47
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