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RC practice Passage with Explanation -6

Those who opine lose their impunity when the circumstances in which they pontificate are such that generate from their expression a positive instigation of some mischievous act. An opinion that corn dealers are starvers of the poor, or that owning private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard. Acts, of whatever kind, which without justifiable cause do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases are absolutely required to be, controlled by the unfavorable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in matters that concern them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in matters which concern himself he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost. As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so it is that there should be different experiments of living, that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others, and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when anyone thinks fit to try them. Where not the person's own character but the traditions and customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of individual and social progress.

It would be absurd to pretend that people ought to live as if nothing whatever had been known in the world before they came into it; as if experience had as yet done nothing toward showing that one mode of existence, or of conduct, is preferable to another. Nobody denies that people should be so taught and trained in youth as to know and benefit by the ascertained results of human experience. But it is the privilege and proper condition of a human being, arrived at the maturity of his faculties, to use and interpret experience in his own way. It is for him to find out what part of recorded experience is properly applicable to his own circumstances and character. The traditions and customs of other people are, to a certain extent, evidence of what their experience has taught them—presumptive evidence, and as such, have a claim to his deference—but, in the first place, their experience may be too narrow, or they may have not interpreted it rightly. Secondly, their interpretation of experience may be correct, but unsuited to him. Customs are made for customary circumstances and customary characters, and his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary. Thirdly, though the customs be both good as customs and suitable to him, yet to conform to custom merely as custom does not educate him or develop in him any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowments of a human being. He gains no practice either in discerning or desiring what is best.


Based on information in the passage, with which of the following statements about opinions would the author most likely NOT disagree?

[A] Different opinions exist because people are imperfect.
[B] An opinion can be relatively harmless in one context and dangerous in another.
[C] Opinions directed specifically against fellow human beings should be punished.
[D] All expressions of opinion should really be considered actions
Option: 2

Quickly review the author's opinions on opinions before hitting the answer choices, making sure they're clear in your map and your mind. Note that the question is a double negative—you're looking for something with which the author "does not disagree, " i.e. does agree. (B) summarizes the idea expressed in the first half of 1: opinions are harmless in some cases, deadly in others.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. This is tricky. The author says, "As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions... " . This doesn't mean, however, that different opinions exist because of imperfection, only that they're useful while imperfection exists.

(C): Opposite. The author's examples in paragraph 1 are meant to demonstrate that personal attacks should be tolerated as long as they cause no harm.

(D): Opposite. If this were true, the author's distinction between opinions and actions would be meaningless.


Implicit in the passage's discussion of the circumstances under which "those who opine lose their immunity " is the assumption that:

[A] ownership of private property discriminates against the poor.
[B] an excited mob is likely to attack someone expressing an unpopular opinion.
[C] corn dealers refuse to make charitable gifts of corn to the needy.
[D] opinions circulated through the press will not instigate mischievous acts.
Option: 4

Go back to review the relevant text in the passage.. When are opinions justified, and when should they be punished? The author argues that they should be punished when they cause direct harm to others, and left alone when they don't. Opinions published in papers are cited as an example of opinions that should be protected. If the author thinks that these should be protected opinions, he must assume that they won't cause harm, leading to choice (D).

Wrong answers:

(A): Out of Scope: The author doesn't address this.

(B): Opposite. The author assumes that the mob will attack the person the opinion is expressed against, not the person expressing the opinion.

(C): Faulty Use of Detail. A classic wrong answer choice confusing the example with the principle. Whether corn dealers are greedy or not, the subject of the author's example, has nothing to do with the author's main point.


Based on the information in the passage, of which of the following would the author NOT approve?

[A] Scolding a young boy for continually teasing a classmate
[B] Defending an accused murderer on the grounds that he acted in self—defense
[C] Taking cigarettes away from a teenager to prevent her from smoking
[D] Publishing an editorial that decries domestic violence
Option: 3

An application question. Quickly review the author's main ideas: Individual opinions are good unless harmful to others, and individuals should be allowed to experiment with them even if they're personally hurt by them. Scan down the answer choices for something that would run counter to these principles. (C) is an example of stifling an individual's right to personal judgment, which the author would certainly frown upon.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. If the teasing is causing the classmate harm, there's good reason to believe that the author would approve of the scolding.

(B): Out of Scope. There's nothing in the passage that would be impacted by this situation.

(D): Opposite. The author would surely approve of a published opinion designed to prevent rather than to cause harm.


In order to apply to specific situations the general view that "the liberty of the individual must be...[to a certain degree] limited, " (first paragraph) it would be most helpful to know:

[A] how to determine whether a harmful act was justifiable.
[B] how long criminals should be incarcerated.
[C] whether the author would want his own liberty to be limited.
[D] why the author felt compelled to write about the subject of individual liberty.
Option: 1

Research the relevant text. The author says a few lines above that harm cannot be allowed without justifiable cause, leading to the argument in the quote that liberty has to exist within this limitation. Where might this assertion run into problems when applying it to specific situations? Most likely with the vagueness of "justifiable cause. " (A) resolves the problem.

Wrong answers:

(B): Out of Scope. The length of punishment has nothing to do with whether people should be punished.

(C): Out of Scope. The author has already expressed his opinions in the passage. This answer choice smells a bit like an ad hominem attack that does nothing to answer the question.

(D): Out of Scope. Just like (C), the author's personal opinions have nothing to do with either the question or the passage.


Based on the arguments and opinions set forth in the passage, the author probably believes that acting in accordance with a custom observed by people in the past is:

[A] always good.
[B] always bad.
[C] sometimes good and sometimes bad.
[D] lacking in intrinsic value.
Option: 3

Where does the author discuss custom? Paragraph 2. Quickly paraphrase the main argument: Custom can be useful, but it's not necessary to always defer to it. With this paraphrase, choice (C) should jump out as the right answer.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. Sometimes, not always!

(B): Distortion. As above. Be wary of extremes.

(D): Distortion. The fact that customs aren't always to be honored doesn't mean that they lack value.


The author holds that one should not necessarily defer to the traditions and customs of other people. The author supports his position by arguing that:

[A] II only
[B] III only
[C] I and III only
[D] II and III only
Option: 2

Use your reasoning from the last question to help yourself with this one. Remember to eliminate answer choices as you either select or eliminate Roman numerals. RN III is in three choices, so look there first. The author argues that customs aren't always good, and therefore can stifle growth. RN III is correct. Eliminate (A). Next to RN II: it also contradicts the author's argument that customs can be useful. By default, the answer must be (B), but check RN I to be sure. The author defends the general usefulness of customs. While sometimes experiences are misinterpreted, there's nothing to indicate that the usually are, which knocks RN I out immediately. RN II.

Wrong answers:

(A): Distortion. This capitalizes on test—takers who overlooked the author's point that experience from the past can be useful for modern situations.

(C): Distortion. A trap for those who fell for the distortion discussed above in RN I.

(D): Distortion. Like (A), simply with RN III added.


The passage suggests that even customs based on correctly—interpreted experiences may not be helpful as guides for action because:

[A] customs cannot be applied to unusual situations or people.
[B] the number of possible experiences is nearly infinite.
[C] it is unlikely that the same experiences will be repeated.
[D] customs vary from one culture to the next.
Option: 1

Go back to the point in paragraph 2 that discusses this. Paraphrase the argument: customs are useful for characters that fit the norm, but not for characters that are out of the ordinary. Choice (A) states the same point.

Wrong answers:

(B): Out of Scope. While this may be true, it doesn't touch on the "normal " and abnormal characters at the crux of the argument.

(C): Out of Scope. As above. The author's argument doesn't depend on whether experiences vary.

(D): Out of Scope. This is certainly true, but doesn't answer the question of why customs might not always be helpful.


The existence of which of the following phenomena would most strongly challenge the author's argument about "conforming to custom merely as custom "?

[A] A class in morality taught at a parochial high school
[B] An important discovery made by a researcher who uses unconventional methods
[C] A culture in which it is traditional to let children make their own decisions
[D] A custom that involves celebrating a noteworthy historical event
Option: 3

Find the relevant text in the passage. The author is arguing that conforming to custom for custom's sake stifles development. We want to find an answer choice that challenges this, so look for an answer where custom is followed but development isn't stifled. Choice (C) is tailor—made for the occasion.

Wrong answers:

(A): Opposite. This would support the author's arguments that custom can trump personal judgment and growth.

(B): Out of Scope. This has no bearing on custom or development; chuck it.

(D): Out of Scope. The custom element we're looking for is mentioned, but there's nothing about development.

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