Assumptions & Weakening/Strengthening the Arguments


By : Akshita Amit, Class of 2016 – NALSAR University of Law.

So… Here we are – at the very heart of critical reasoning. If you’re attending LST/IMS/any other ‘results guaranteed’ coaching institute, these shall be a major part of your mocks. In the end, these may also make or break your chances of getting into an NLU.

The biggest challenge you’ll find here is the speed you need. If you’re a normal human being with normal reading capabilities, it will seem impossible finishing these questions in the required ‘less than a minute’. The solution? READ! Read all that you can – including the long and boring stuff that doesn’t make time fly. Read wherever you can – during mealtimes, on the pot, in front of the television.. Read compulsively and obsessively. Not only will reading improve your speed tremendously, it will also refine your reasoning skills – in addition to building up your GK, of course.

Other things you must keep in mind are:

  • When faced with a question, read the entire passage carefully. Often, a single word will be your hint to the answer.
  • Read each option and only then make your final decision. It might cost you a few valuable seconds, but your accuracy is sure to improve.
  • Do not assume more than what is given. Your magnificent general knowledge is unfortunately of no use here. Moreover, it might actually lead you to mark the wrong option.
  • If you’re ever confused between two or more options, do not arbitrarily mark the one that looks better. Try reading the passage and the options again – more carefully this time. You might just find the key to the right answer.

Now stop. Drink some water. Take a deep breath. Continue.

We now start with the first type of problem that this article aims to look at. An argument shall be given to you, and you’ll be asked to choose either:

  • The assumption of the argument,
  • The statement that weakens the given argument the most, or
  • The statement that strengthens the given argument the most.

Now forget that, and imagine you’re building a house. Imagine digging into the ground and creating the foundation. Imagine erecting the walls. Imagine placing the roof. If you manage to remove the walls, the roof falls. If you remove the foundation somehow, the rest of the structure collapses.

That is, in essence, exactly how an argument is structured. At the very base, you have the fundamental assumption – the life of the argument. Along the assumption, you build the reasoning; and on the reasoning, you support your conclusion.

Since arguments, by themselves, are inherently horrible things to handle, it is a helpful analogy to keep in mind while solving ‘problems’.

We start by trying to find the assumptions to arguments. Your job here is simply finding the basis for a given argument.

Starting with a general example:

Example. Find the assumption in the given argument:

People often argue that there can be democracy only in a two party system. That would be correct if politics would have been cricket or football, but politics is not a sport.

The conclusion here is that a two-party system is not essential for a good democracy, and the (rather faulty) reasoning followed here is that politics isn’t like cricket or football, and hence having two teams cannot be a necessity. The assumption that the argument is based on is quite obviously that cricket and football only have two teams.

We’ll now move on to some option based examples:

Question: Last year, support for the social and behavioural sciences represented only about three percent of the government’s total budget for research funds in the United States. Thus the particularly sharp reductions imposed on such programmes this year seem to be dictated not by financial constraints but by social philosophy.

Which of the following is an assumption on which the conclusion of the above passage is based?

  1. A.      Government funding is the primary source for research money in the United States.
  2. B.      The social and behavioural sciences are as valuable as physical and biological sciences.
  3. C.      Three per cent is an insignificant portion of the government’s total budget for research funds.
  4. D.      The government funds allocated for research in the social and behavioural sciences are not sufficient for the work that needs to be done.

Answer: C

It’s a simple assumption question. The conclusion, quite clearly, is that the reduction is dictated not by financial concerns, but by social philosophy. The reasoning here is that since these fields are a mere three percent of the total money spent on research, it would be foolish to make drastic reductions purely for financial reasons. The basis of the reasoning is obviously that three percent of the money spent on research isn’t really a significant sum – which is what option C states.

While answering a question, you often find that many options seem extremely relevant to the given situation.  Remember then, your job is not to find what is relevant, but to deduce the basis of the argument.

Question: Some psychologists have concluded that one specific set of parental behaviours towards children always signifies acceptances and a second set always signifies rejection, for there is remarkable agreement among investigators about the maternal behavious designated as indicative of these personal attitudes.

The conclusion of psychologists mentioned above logically depends on the assumption that:

  1. A.      Most maternal behaviours have been interpreted as conveying either acceptance or rejection.
  2. B.      The maternal behaviours of indicating acceptance or rejection are exhibited by fathers as well.
  3. C.      The behaviours of fathers towards children have been studied as carefully as have the behaviours of mothers.
  4. D.      Acceptance and rejection are the easiest to recognise of all parental behaviours.

Answer: B

Quick confession – I fell asleep halfway through this question too.

Now, continuing with the logic we’ve used above – The conclusion is basically that parents show two distinct sets of behaviours towards children, accepting and rejecting – the reasoning being that mothers show such behaviours. The assumption here (which admittedly isn’t a very good one) has to be that fathers show the same sets of behaviour – which brings us to option B.

We shall now deal with statements that strengthen an argument. Unlike assumptions, which focus on the foundations of an argument, these deal with the conclusions of arguments. This reduces your job to merely seeing which argument supports the conclusion the most. Remember the house you were building? Imagine these as pillars to the roof.

Unfortunately, since this is inherently so easy and CLAT paper-setters can’t afford to give any free marks, (not with so many of the answers underlined, anyway) the options will be confusing, and you’ll just have to go with the one that seems best without being too sure of its correctness.

(To be continued..)


    • I think the option B was chosen because to specify on the maternal behaviour  showing such attributes, it must be compared with that of the paternal behaviour, only then one can jump to such a conclusion, i think thats how we assume it.

  1. couldn’t understand the parental behaviour question…also could you post a few more questions on assumption? it would really helpful as i keep messing ip those questions..thanks

  2. The assumption for the parental question wasn’t very clear, what i understood from it was that to know that maternal behaviour shows such personal attitudes it must be compared with that of the paternal behaviour, but i am not very certain about it.

  3. i guess they concluded what they did about parental attribute from the second line which says that the investigator agree about the maternal behavior indicative of it.they used “parents” in the first line so they assumed that maternal behavior would be like paternal behavior too.

    i guess.

  4. I took the clat 2014 after 1 month preparation post my board exams. i hv scored 105 in it. now i want to  prepare thoroughly for clat 2015 . please guide me about what to study , where to study and how to study as a beginner ….

  5. In the parental question the logic is simple

    They have given that the parental behaviour is of 2 types – accepting or rejecting
    Besides its been clearly given that maternal behaviour confirms this ( or the mothers behaviour,)
     So if maternal behaviour confirms it, the paternal ( father’s) behaviour should also sattisfy the given condition ( of rejectimg or accepting behaviour)

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