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In the next few RC posts, we continue to break down difficult, obscure passages and work through challenging questions accurately without necessarily being familiar with the content.

The passage below deals with moral and prudential reasoning. As you read, try to follow the argument and annotate accordingly to keep track of the logic flow.

Despite numerous studies on the topic, it is at this point far from clear whether Turiel’s distinction between the moral and the prudential domain of reasoning is tenable. First, and most importantly, there is no direct research on the type of events that typically elicit prudential reasoning. It may be, as some have pointed out, that an evolutionary explanation relying on precautionary reasoning could clarify this. However, in that case, the extent to which Turiel’s use of prudential reasoning coincides with precautionary reasoning in an evolutionary context would have to be clarified. Another pressing question about the domains of prudential and moral reasoning concerns the role and relevance of harm. While harm seems relevant to both, many now hold that it is not harm but the related violation of basic rights that is relevant to moral reasoning. A second problem for Turiel’s distinction is that it is only weakly supported by empirical findings. While there is strong evidence that people reason differently about prudential items and moral items, it cannot be ruled out that personal reasoning is responsible for (at least part of) this difference. This means that, at least until the effects of personal reasoning are controlled for in further studies, we should exercise caution in separating moral and prudential reasoning.


1. Which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?

A) The author argues that more research is needed before we should adopt or reject Turiel’s distinction.

B) The author argues that if prudential reasoning coincides with precautionary reasoning, then Turiel’s distinction is tenable.

C) This passage gives two main reasons to support its main claim, and one of these reasons consists of two further sub-reasons.

D) The author points out that further clarification of the term ‘harm’ is likely to clarify the distinction between the domains of moral and prudential reasoning.

Let’s first understand the structure of the passage by breaking it up into digestible bits and annotating it.

Despite numerous studies on the topic, it is at this point far from clear whether Turiel’s distinction between the moral and the prudential domain of reasoning is tenable. [ARGUMENT: IT IS UNCLEAR IF TURIEL’S DISTINCTION IS TENABLE.]

First, and most importantly, there is no direct research on the type of events that typically elicit prudential reasoning. [SUPPORTING POINT 1: NO DIRECT RESEARCH ON TYPE OF EVENTS THAT ELICIT PRUDENTIAL REASONING.]

It may be, as some have pointed out, that an evolutionary explanation relying on precautionary reasoning could clarify this. However, in that case, the extent to which Turiel’s use of prudential reasoning coincides with precautionary reasoning in an evolutionary context would have to be clarified. [EXPLANATION 1 FOR SUPPORTING POINT 1: AN EVOLUTIONARY EXPLANATION RELYING ON PRECAUTIONARY REASONING COULD CLARIFY THIS LACK OF RESEARCH, BUT THE DEGREE OF COINCIDENCE BETWEEN THE TWO SHOULD, IN TURN, BE CLARIFIED.]

Another pressing question about the domains of prudential and moral reasoning concerns the role and relevance of harm. While harm seems relevant to both, many now hold that it is not harm but the related violation of basic rights that is relevant to moral reasoning. [EXPLANATION 2 FOR SUPPORTING POINT 1: THE ROLE AND RELEVANCE OF HARM ON THE TWO TYPES OF REASONING ALSO NEEDS TO BE CLARIFIED.]

A second problem for Turiel’s distinction is that it is only weakly supported by empirical findings. [SUPPORTING POINT 2: THE DISTINCTION IS ONLY WEAKLY SUPPORTED BY EMPIRICAL FINDINGS.]

While there is strong evidence that people reason differently about prudential items and moral items, it cannot be ruled out that personal reasoning is responsible for (at least part of) this difference. This means that, at least until the effects of personal reasoning are controlled for in further studies, we should exercise caution in separating moral and prudential reasoning. [EXPLANATION 1 FOR SUPPORTING POINT 2: SINCE PERSONAL REASONING IS PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO TYPES OF REASONING, CLARIFYING THIS DIFFERENCE WOULD FIRST ENTAIL CONTROLLING THE EFFECTS OF PERSONAL REASONING.]


Breaking down the passage like this allows us to answer the question quite easily now. Let’s analyze the options:

A) The author argues that more research is needed before we should adopt or reject Turiel’s distinction.

Explanation: TRUE. This is clearly stated in supporting point 1.

B) The author argues that if prudential reasoning coincides with precautionary reasoning, then Turiel’s distinction is tenable.

Explanation: FALSE. The author states, under explanation 1 for supporting point 1, that precautionary reasoning could help in the clarification of prudential reasoning, but does not make the argumentative claim that the distinction would, therefore, be tenable.

C) This passage gives two main reasons to support its main claim, and one of these reasons consists of two further sub-reasons.

Explanation: TRUE. Refer to supporting point 1 (for which there are two explanation points) and supporting point 2.

D) The author points out that further clarification of the term ‘harm’ is likely to clarify the distinction between the domains of moral and prudential reasoning.

Explanation: FALSE. The author states, under explanation 2 for supporting point 1, that the role and relevance of harm needs to be clarified, especially since harm is seen to be less relevant to moral reasoning, and consequentially, less relevant to the distinction.

Answer: A and C only.

If you learnt something from breaking down this passage, why not attempt another question based on it in the next post?

What do you think about this article? Share your opinion with us

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