Let’s Do Blind Review (PT 64.1.23)

The Question

23. Ethicist: Marital vows often contain the promise to love “until death do us part.” If love here refers to a feeling, then this promise makes no sense, for feelings are not within one’s control, and a promise to do something not within one’s control makes no sense. Thus no one–including those making marital vows–should take “love” in this context to be referring to feelings.

Question stem: The ethicist’s conclusion follows logically if which one of the following is assumed?

(A) None of our feelings are within our control.

(B) People should not make promises to do something that is not within their control.

(C) “Love” can legitimately be taken to refer to something other than feelings.

(D) Promises should not be interpreted in such a way that they make no sense.

(E) Promises that cannot be kept do not make any sense.

The Argument

Ok. So. Let’s take a minute to break down the ethicist’s argument:

  1. Marital vows contain the promise to love “until death do us part.”
  2. Feelings are not within one’s control.
  3. A promise to do something not within one’s control makes no sense.

  4. (therefore) If “love” in marital vows refers to a feeling, then the promise to love “until death do us part” makes no sense.


  5. (therefore) No one–including those making wedding vows– should take “love in this context to be referring to feelings.

What’s Going on Here?

The question stem asks which of the answer choices, if assumed, completes the argument. This means that there’s a gap in the argument–the argument needs another premise to be valid. Moreover, if that premise is assumed, the argument ‘works.’ This is known as a sufficient assumption question. What answer choice is is sufficient to complete the argument and make it work? But before we get to that, can you spot the argument’s gap?

The order in which the premises are presented in the stimulus makes this question appear more difficult than it actually is. Basically, we’re going from three premises to a deductively valid subconclusion (which also happens to be a conditional) and from that subconclusion to another conclusion. Fine. Easy. It’s just kind of hard to see that that’s what’s happening if we only read the stimulus once over and we only have five minutes left for the rest of the section and we don’t break the argument down and organize it formally. But that’s why we’re doing BR.

Important to note is that the main conclusion is a strong universal claim about morality–about what no person should do. The use of ‘no one’ indicates that the claim is a universal, and the use of ‘should’ indicates it’s a moral claim. And, I mean, if anyone is making a claim universal about morality, I guess it ought to be an ethicist?

Also important is that the argument’s subargument is valid; the first three premises deductively entail [4], the subconclusion. So we need to find a way to get from the subconclusion to the main conclusion. Our answer should bridge the gap from “if love refers to feeling, then promise of love makes no sense” to “no one should take love in this context to be referring to feelings.”

The Answer Choices

With all of that in mind, let’s examine the answer choices.

(A) None of our feelings are within our control.

Why incorrect: Simply put, this doesn’t get the job done. It may be a necessary assumption, although it’s not obvious to me that it is. In any case, it doesn’t bridge the gap between [4] and [5]

(B) People should not make promises to do something that is not within their control.

Why incorrect: Tempting (at least more so than answer choice A) because of the inclusion of the words “should not.” But the main conclusion doesn’t say that people should not make these kinds of promises; rather, it says that when these kinds of promises are made, people should not take a particular word in these promises in a particular context. Tempting, but can be confidently eliminated.

(C) Love can legitimately be taken to refer to something other than feelings.

Why incorrect: When I first read this AC I immediately crossed it off, and I’m comfortable doing the same now. It’s definitely not sufficient–it doesn’t bridge the gap to ‘should’– and it’s not clear to me that it’s even necessary. Who cares if love can legitimately be taken to refer to something other than feelings? What does that have to do with the ethicist’s argument?

(D) Promises should not be interpreted in such a way that they make no sense.

Why correct: Ah. This does the trick. If this statement is true, and if premise [4] is true, then it follows that no one should take “love” in marital vows to be referring to feelings.

We’ve already said that marital vows contain the promise to love “until death do us part.” And we’ve concluded from the other premises that the statement “If love in marital vows refers to a feeling, then the promise to love ‘until death do us part’ makes no sense” is true. So if it’s true that promises should not be interpreted in such a way that they make no sense, it’s also true that no one should take ‘love’ in the context of marital vows to be referring to feelings.

(E) Promises that cannot be kept do not make any sense.

Why incorrect: This was the other answer choice I was considering when first taking this section. For some reason it sounded good to me. Now, I’m not really sure why I was drawn to it–how the hell does it help us get to the main conclusion? In fact, I’m not sure it’s even a necessary assumption. A promise to do something not within control makes no sense, but is a promise to do something not within one’s control the same thing as a promise that cannot be kept? Maybe. I’m not sure. (E) is 100% not sufficient for our purposes.

Sweet, Sweet Victory

I originally chose (D) on this section, and it turns out (D) is the correct answer. But I had this question circled because I wasn’t 100% confident in my answer choice. By outlining the argument’s structure and analyzing the question thoroughly, I see that this question was not terribly difficult and I feel more confident about my reasoning. Hopefully you do, too.

Thanks for reading!

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