Critical Reasoning Question Types-Strengthen Or Weaken Questions

Determining an argument’s necessary assumption, as we’ve just seen, is required to answer and Assumption question.  But it also is required to answer another common type of question: Strengthen or Weaken the argument.

One way to weaken an argument is to  break down a central piece of evidence.  Another way is to attack the validity of any assumptions the author has made.  The answer to many Weaken the Argument questions is the one that reveals an author’s assumption to be unreasonable; conversely, the answer to many Strengthen the Argument questions provides additional support by affirming the truth of an assumption or by presenting more persuasive evidence.

Let’s use the same stimulus as before but in the context of these other question types:

Allyson plays volleyball for Central High School

Therefore, Allyson must be over 6 feet tall.

Remember the assumption holding this argument together?  It was that all volleyball players for Central High are over 6 feet tall.  That’s the assumption that makes or breaks the argument.  So, if you’re asked to weaken the argument, you’d want to attack that assumption:

Which one of the following, if true, would most weaken the argument?

Answer:  Not all volleyball players at Central High School are over 6 feet tall.

We’ve called into doubt the author’s basic assumption, thus damaging the argument.  But what about strengthening the argument?  Again, the key is the necessary assumption:

Which one of the following, if true, would most strengthen the argument?

Answer:  All volleyball players at Central High School are over 6 feet tall.

Here, by confirming the author’s assumption, we’ve in effect bolstered the argument.

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Critical Reasoning Question 3-Balaland Republic?

Critical Reasoning Question 3

An investigation must be launched into the operations of the private group that is training recruits to fight against the Balaland Republic. The U.S. Neutrality Act plainly forbids U.S. citizens from engaging in military campaigns against any nation with which we are not at war. Since no war has been declared between the United States and the Balaland Republic, we should bring charges against these fanatics, who are in open defiance of the law.

Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the argument above?

A. The Balaland Republic is currently engaged in a bloody and escalating civil war.

B. Diplomatic relations between the United States and the Balaland Republic were severed last year.

C. The recruits are being trained to fight only in the event the United States goes to war against the Balaland Republic.

D. The training of recruits is funded not by E.S. citizens, but rather by a consortium of individuals from abroad.

E. Charges cannot be brought against the private group that is training the recruits unless an investigation is first launched.

 

Correct answer: C

U.S. law forbids U.S. citizens from engaging in military campaigns against countries unless the United States is at war with those countries. Since no war has been declared between the United States and the Balaland Republic, the author concludes that the recruits being trained to fight against the Balaland Republic are defying U.S. law. But if, as (C) asserts, the recruits are being trained to fight only if a way is declared, then they’re not in defiance of U.S. law. Being prepared for battle is different from actually engaging in it.

(A)’s no weakener; we can’t assume that the country’s escalating civil war justifies military action against it. In (B), severing diplomatic ties doesn’t go far enough to show that training recruits is justifiable under U.S. law. As for (D), who funds the rebels was never mentioned by the author and is irrelevant. And as for (E), the author starts off calling for an investigation, so he doesn’t assert that charges should be brought without launching an investigation first.

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