Isn’t it annoying when words seem to mean something different on the LSAT than they do in real life?
Starts to make you wonder about the last time an LSAT test-writer spoke with a live human being.
In this post, I clear up some of the differences between our normal understandings of common quantifiers (words that indicate the number of something) and the way the LSAT uses them.
The word “all” isn’t one of the confusion-causing words, but let’s cover it anyway.
Let’s suppose I’ve got 100 chocolate-chip cookies in a box, and, by the time I finish writing this blog post, I’ve eaten every single one of them (writing works up an appetite, don’t judge). Then, I can say with certainty, “ALL the cookies in that box were deliciously fattening.”
All = 100%
Most / Majority
Let’s suppose I’ve exercised a bit of restraint and only eaten 99 of them (I’ll eat the remaining one after the February 2011 LSAT.) I can then say with certainty, “Most of the cookies in that box were finger-lickin good.” I can say “most” because I’ve eaten a majority of them. However, until I eat the remaining one, I won’t be able to tell you whether all of them were good or not, because I haven’t thoroughly, ummm, “examined” each one.
As such, it’s entirely possible that all of them are good, so when I say that most of them are good, we still have to allow for the possibly that all of them will be good. This is why the word “most” allows for the possibility of all.
(The same would be true if I ate 50 cookies and then took just a tiny nibble of the 51st, because I’d then be over the halfway point. At that point, I can say that a majority are good, but it’s still possible that all are.)
In everyday speech, when we say things like “most of that movie was pretty good” and “most of that meal was delicious” there’s an implicit (assumed) meaning that not all of it was good.
If we wanted to speak literally all of the time, we’d say things like, “most, but not all, of that movie was good. I found the ending rather elementary, old chap” or “while the majority of my dinner was delectable, the crème brûlée was a bit overdone.”
However, we don’t always elaborate at the outset, because then I’d have to punch you in the face for speaking like Sherlock Holmes and complaining about your fancy crème brûlée. Instead, for purposes of simplicity, we usually just emphasize the words “most” and “majority,” and the other person usually asks us which parts we didn’t like.
If we wanted to take those everyday sentences, with their everyday meanings, but give them just a small dose of literalism, we’d say, “most, but not all, of that movie was pretty good” and “most, but not all, of that meal was delicious.”
Without the “but not all”, when I hear you say, “most of that movie was pretty good”, it’s possible that you’re simply just-over-halfway through the movie and think everything so far is good
Most / Majority = A range from 1/2 of total + 1 (or 1/2 plus the smallest possible unit that can be broken off, like a cookie crumb) – 100%
For purposes of simplicity, we might just think of it as 51% – 100%.
Several / Many
If I told you that I have a box of a 100 chocolate-chip cookies, I confirmed that several of them are tasty, you wouldn’t truly know how many I ate, or how many of them are actually tasty.
“Several” and “many” refer to some kind of sizable (and plural) number, so we know it’s more than one or two, but how many exactly? It’s impossible to say. This is an indeterminate number. Like most/majority, it allows the possibility of all.
Several / Many = a range of more than 2 – all the way up to 100%
For purposes of simplicity, we can think of it as 3 – 100% or 3 – all.
Let’s suppose I catch you stuffing your face with cookies from that 100-cookie box. I ask, “How many did you eat?” You reply, “”Some…”
Vague, right? Maybe you ate only 1, or maybe you had 5, 10, 49, 75, 99, or 100. Without more information, we don’t know just how many you ate.
Like the many/majority example, making a claim regarding “some” does not exclude the possibility that “all” have that characteristic, whether it’s with regard to how many of them were delicious or just how many were eaten.
In order to know that you hadn’t eaten all the cookies, you would’ve needed to specifically claim that you had eaten “some, but not all”, so I’ll know that there’s still at least 1 cookie remaining for me to eat.
Some = a range from 1 – all the way up to 100%
For purposes of simplicity, we can think of it as 1 – 100% or 1 – all.
The word “none” isn’t one of the confusion-causing words, but let’s cover it anyway.
Let’s suppose I’ve got a new box with 100 chocolate-chip cookies, but I now have a stomachache from eating all the cookies in the previous examples. I can’t even bear to look at this new box of cookies without thinking about how I’ll soon be another number in the oft-cited statistics about America’s obesity epidemic.
So, I take the box of cookies and donate it to the homeless guy on the street corner (a questionable donation, I know, but I didn’t think he’d want kale).
How many cookies did I eat from that box? None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. How many of the cookies in that box can I say are delicious with absolute certainty? I don’t know. Maybe they’re stale, and the homeless guy will get pissed at me.
None = 0%