Coupon Accepted Successfully!


Suppressed Premises

Most arguments depend on one or more unstated premises. Sometimes this indicates a weakness in the argument, an oversight by the writer. More often, however, certain premises are left tacit because they are too numerous, or the writer assumes that his audience is aware of the assumptions, or he wants the audience to fill in the premise themselves and therefore be more likely to believe the conclusion.



Conclusion: I knew he did it.
Premise: Only a guilty person would accept immunity from prosecution.

The suppressed premise is that he did, in fact, accept immunity. The speaker assumes that his audience is aware of this fact or at least is willing to believe it, so to state it would be redundant and ponderous. If the unstated premise were false (that is, he did not accept immunity), the argument would not technically be a lie; but it would be very deceptive. The unscrupulous writer may use this ploy if he thinks that he can get away with it. That is, his argument has the intended effect and the false premise, though implicit, is hard to find or ambiguous. Politicians are not at all above using this tactic.



Politician: A hawk should not be elected president because this country has seen too many wars.

The argument has two tacit premises—one obvious, the other subtle. Clearly, the politician has labeled his opponent a hawk, and he hopes the audience will accept that label. Furthermore, although he does not state it explicitly, the argument rests on the assumption that a hawk is likely to start a war. He hopes the audience will fill in that premise, thereby tainting his opponent as a war monger.


A common MCAT question asks you to find the suppressed premise of a passage. Finding the suppressed premise—or assumption—of an argument can be difficult. However, on the MCAT you have an advantage—the suppressed premise is listed as one of the five answer-choices. To test whether an answer-choice is a suppressed premise, ask yourself whether it would make the argument more plausible If so, then it is very likely a suppressed premise.

Example: (Mini-passage)

American attitudes tend to be rather insular, but there is much we can learn from other countries. In Japan, for example, workers set aside some time each day to exercise. And many of the corporations provide elaborate exercise facilities for their employees. Few American corporations have such exercise programs. Studies have shown that the Japanese worker is more productive and healthier than the American worker. It must be concluded that the productivity of American workers will lag behind their Japanese counterparts, until mandatory exercise programs are introduced.


The argument presented in the passage depends on the assumption that:

  1. even if exercise programs do not increase productivity, they will improve the American worker's health.
  2. the productivity of all workers can be increased by exercise.
  3. exercise is an essential factor in the Japanese worker's superior productivity.
  4. American workers can adapt to the longer Japanese workweek.

The unstated essence of the argument is that exercise is an integral part of productivity and that Japanese workers are more productive than American workers because they exercise more. The answer is (C).


Example: (Mini-passage)

Kirkland's theory of corporate structure can be represented by a truncated pyramid. There are workers, middle management, and executive management, but no head of the corporation. Instead, all major decisions are made by committee. As a consequence, in Kirkland's structure, risky, cutting-edge technologies cannot be developed.


Implicit in the passage is the assumption that:

  1. Cutting-edge technologies are typically developed by entrepreneurs, not by big corporations.
  2. Only single individuals make risky decisions.
  3. An individual is more likely to take a gamble on his own than in a group.
  4. All heads of corporations reached their positions by taking risks.

The link that allows the conclusion to be drawn is the assumption that only individuals make risky decisions. The answer is (B).


Both (A) and (C) are close second-best choices. Both are supported by the passage, but each understates the scope of the suppressed premise. The argument states that in Kirkland's model of corporate structure cutting edge-technologies cannot be developed, not that they are less likely to be developed.


Another common passage-question asks you to either strengthen or weaken an argument. Typically, to answer such questions, you need to show that a suppressed premised is true or that it is false.


Example: (Mini-passage)

The petrochemical industry claims that chemical waste dumps pose no threat to people living near them. If this is true, then why do they locate the plants in sparsely populated regions. By not locating the chemical dumps in densely populated areas the petrochemical industry tacitly admits that these chemicals are potentially dangerous to the people living nearby.


Which of the following, if true, would most weaken the author's argument?

  1. Funding through the environmental Super Fund to clean up poorly run waste dumps is reserved for rural areas only.
  2. Until chemical dumps are proven 100% safe, it would be imprudent to locate them were they could potentially do the most harm.
  3. Locating the dumps in sparsely populated areas is less expensive and involves less government red tape.
  4. The potential for chemicals to leach into the water table has in the past been underestimated.

The suppressed, false premise of the argument is that all things being equal there is no reason to prefer locating the sites in sparsely populated areas. To weaken the argument, we need to show it is not true that all things are equal. In other words, there are advantages other than safety in locating the sites in sparsely populated areas. Choice (C) gives two possible advantages—cost and ease. Hence (C) is the answer.


Note: To give the sentence that meaning reword it as "Not every republican is a conservative".

Test Your Skills Now!
Take a Quiz now
Reviewer Name