This is an explanation for passage 3 of LSAT preptest 35, the October 2001 LSAT. The passage is about how some philosophers are more comfortable with physics than with biology.
This section has paragraph summaries and an analysis of the passage, links to the explanations for the questions are below.
- Philosophers are more comfortable with physics than with biology. Physics is more certain. Biology may depend on how history previously unfolded.
- Some biologists have tried to use universal laws. But other biologists say that may be no universal laws for biology, and that it may depend on randomness.
- Statement one: All planets move in ellipses. This statement is true of all planets that do or could exist. Everyone agrees on how to interpret this kind of statement.
- Statement two: every swan is white. The two camps disagree on this. The rigid thinkers believe this means every swan must be white, as a law of nature. The non-determinists think the swans could have been white due to historical accident. And maybe there are swans that aren’t white that we haven’t discovered yet.
It’s difficult to understand this passage without knowing what contingency means. That’s unusual, normally you can work around the meanings of difficult words in RC passages.
Contingency in this case means that the world is the way it is only because of the random events of history. If history had unfolded differently, biology would be different, but not physics.
The determinists would say swans are white because whiteness provided an evolutionary advantage. The laws of evolution determined their color.
The non-determinists believe that the color of the swans might be due to an accident of history. Some swans happened to be white, and also happened to be successful, for other reasons. Their children became white, and so all swans became white, because of a historical accident.
That’s what contingency means. One thing happens, which causes another. The second only happened because of the first, so it was sort of a coincidence that it happened at all. It’s happening was contingent on the first thing happening.
So, you growing up in your hometown was contingent on your parents moving there. It wasn’t necessarily due to the laws of the universe conspiring to have you grow up where you grew up. That would be the non-determinist argument, in any case.
Non-determinists also point out that all swans might not be white. Our only evidence is that every swan we’ve seen is white. But what about the swans we haven’t seen yet?
Incidentally, in Australia swans are black. The non-determinists win this argument.
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