Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
- Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
- As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
- Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
- Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
- Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice
PassageI eschew the notion of racial kinship. I do so in order to be free to claim what the distinguished political theorist Michael Sandel labels “the unencumbered self.” The unencumbered self is free and independent, “unencumbered by aims and attachments it does not choose for itself,” Sandel writes. “Freed from the sanctions of custom and tradition and inherited status, unbound by moral ties antecedent to choice, the self is installed as sovereign, cast as the author of the only obligations that constrain.” Sandel believes that the unencumbered self is an illusion and that the yearning for it is a manifestation of a shallow liberalism that “cannot account for certain moral and political obligations that we commonly recognize, even prize”—“obligations of solidarity, religious duties, and other moral ties that may claim us for reasons unrelated to a choice,” which are “indispensable aspects of our moral and political experience.”
Sandel’s objection to those who, like me, seek the unencumbered self is that they fail to appreciate loyalties that should be accorded moral force partly because they influence our identity, such that living by these attachments “is inseparable from understanding ourselves as the particular persons we are—as members of this family or city or nation or people, as bearers of that history, as citizens of this republic.” There is an important virtue in this assertion of the value of black life. It combats something still eminently in need of challenge: the assumption that because of their race black people are stupid, ugly, and low, and that because of their race white people are smart, beautiful, and righteous. But within some of the forms that this assertiveness has taken are important vices—including the belief that because of racial kinship blacks ought to value blacks more highly than others.
I shun racial pride because of my conception of what should properly be the object of pride for an individual: something that he or she has accomplished. I cannot feel pride in some state of affairs that is independent of my contribution to it. The color of my skin, the width of my nose, the texture of my hair, and the various other signs that prompt people to label me black constitute such a state of affairs. I did not achieve my racial designation. It was something I inherited—like my creed and socio-economic starting place and sex—and therefore something I should not be credited with.
In taking this position I follow Frederick Douglass, the great nineteenth-century reformer, who declared that “the only excuse for pride in individuals is in the fact of their own achievements.” I admire Sandel’s work and have learned much from it. But a major weakness in it is a conflation of “is” and “ought.” Sandel privileges what exists and has existed so much that his deference to tradition lapses into historical determinism. He faults the model of the unencumbered self because, he says, it cannot account for feelings of solidarity and loyalty that most people have not chosen to impose upon themselves but that they cherish nonetheless. This represents a fault, however, only if we believe that the unchosen attachments Sandel celebrates should be accorded moral weight. I am not prepared to do that simply on the basis that such attachments exist, have long existed, and are passionately felt. Feelings of primordial attachment often represent mere prejudice or superstition, a hangover of the childhood socialization from which many people never recover.
Question: With an eye towards the passage as a whole, which of the following represents the author’s primary focus?
[A] Identity formation as self-definition according to family, history, and culture, or as self-definition according to independent accomplishment
[B] The individual, unencumbered self and the validity of Michael Sandel’s position on this type of identity
[C] Racial kinship and how its rejection results in accomplishment
[D] Individual versus group consciousness
Question: In the passage the author discusses the political theorist Michael Sandel. In doing so he proposes that Sandel treats individuals’ inherited interpersonal connections with which of the following?
[A] Too little weight
[B] An unjustifiable moral force
[C] An unquestioning reverence
[D] A cursory critical treatment
Question: Through his discussion of the works and beliefs of Michael Sandel, the author suggests all of the following characteristics of the encumbered self EXCEPT:
[A] it maintains many of the interpersonal connections established in childhood.
[B] it is influenced by history.
[C] it is the product of independent accomplishment.
[D] it is manifested in those who embrace racial kinship.
Question: The author’s indication that Sandel’s “deference to tradition lapses into historical determinism” (lines 51-52) suggests that:
[A] Sandel’s position undermines the belief that individuals forge their own lives and connections.
[B] historical events can often influence the actions of men in the present.
[C] respecting tradition is ultimately harmful.
[D] individuals should not expend energy paying homage to significant historical events or people.
Question: Which of the following might the author find antithetical to his stance on identity, racial kinship, and racial pride?
[A] The right of every student to equal treatment by professors and teachers
[B] The Million Man March, in which 500,000 African-American men gathered for a demonstration of racial solidarity in Washington, DC in 1995
[C] The stance of public municipal hospital emergency rooms to provide all citizens with healthcare regardless of whether or not they are indigent
[D] The recognition of Elijah Lovejoy, a white man murdered in the early nineteenth century for supporting the abolition of slavery
Question: The author’s attitude toward Sandel’s stance on the unencumbered self can best be described as:
[A] impersonal and academic in its consideration of both sides of the issue.
[B] one of strong, yet tempered disagreement.
[C] marginally hostile.
Question: The author states his definition of “what should properly be the object of pride for an individual” (lines 34-35) in order to:
[A] exhibit his support of Frederick Douglass’s opinion at the end of paragraph one.
[B] undermine what Sandel categorizes as “the unencumbered self.”
[C] lay the foundation for his argument against racial solidarity.
[D] ensure that readers do not perceive him as having the yearning that Michael Sandel calls a “manifestation of shallow liberalism”.