An “extract the principle” question is one that asks you to determine what principle underlies an argument. The question stem for an extract the principle question might read:
- The information above conforms most closely to which of the following principles?
- The situation above most clearly illustrates which of the following propositions?
- Which of the following most accurately expresses the principle illustrated above?
We solve these questions by following three steps:
- Identify the argument’s conclusion.
- Identify how the conclusion is supported.
- Choose the answer that contains a principle that precisely matches the reasoning on the argument.
Let’s take a look at each step.
Identify the Conclusion
The main conclusion of the argument is supported by everything else in the argument; it’s what the rest of the argument is attempting to convince you is true. If you struggle with identifying conclusions, take a look at the Identify the Conclusion Questions lesson.
Identify How the Conclusion is Supported
Make a note of the premises. What supports the conclusion? Why does the author think we should believe the conclusion? Silently paraphrase the support to yourself, trying to understand why the author finds the premises to be so convincing.
Choose the Answer
You need to choose the answer that matches the scope of the argument’s reasoning. Consider the following argument:
Government agencies ought never attempt to expand their authority, for expanding authority is sometimes indicative of unchecked power.
The reasoning above conforms most closely to which of the following principles? A. If a government agency expands its authority, its power will be unchecked. B. Governments should never have unchecked power. C. Governments agencies ought never betray the trust of that government's citizens. D. Any government that attempts an action indicative of unchecked power is expanding its authority. E. Government agencies out never attempt an action that is ever indicative of unchecked power.
This reasoning in this argument conforms to an unstated principle; it makes an assumption about what ought to be done in particular situations. So our task is to choose the principle that our argument conforms to. Let’s consider each answer choice.
A. If a government agency expands its authority, its power will be unchecked.
This answer choice makes a claim about the results of government expansion, but this is outside of our argument’s scope. The argument makes no claims about what will happen if an agency expands its authority; the argument only claims agencies should attempt to expand their authority. In other words, answer A deals with claims not claimed by or implied the argument. Thus, answer A does not match the argument.
B. Governments should never have unchecked power.
This answer is closer than answer A, but it still falls short. Our argument states that government agencies should never even attempt to do an action that might indicate unchecked power. Our argument is much stricter than answer B, which only rules out cases of actual unchecked power. We need an answer that rules out even attempting an action that could indicate that power.
C. Governments agencies ought never betray the trust of that government’s citizens.
The argument never talks about or implies anything about trust or citizens. This answer is clearly out of scope.
D. Any government that attempts an action indicative of unchecked power is expanding its authority.
This answer choice includes some of the same language as the argument, but its scope is entirely different. The argument in no way implies that every government that attempts some kind of action that indicates unchecked power is also expanding its authority. The argument leaves open the possibility that there are many actions that may indicate unchecked power, some of which may not involve expanding authority at all.
E. Government agencies out never attempt to engage in an action that is ever indicative of unchecked power.
Correct! This answer matches our argument completely.
Notice from the example above that we pay close attention to scope in these questions. You need to understand exactly what the arguments imply in order to consistently match principles to those argument.