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In one of my tests at school, there was this multiple choice question which asked students to choose answer having the same meaning with this sentence "Men hold no better positions in society than women do."

The answers were:
A. Women are in better positions in society than men are
B. Women and men hold the same positions in society
C. Men are not as good as women in society

The correct answer was A, but I'm confused between A and B, because I think "no better than" refers to "the same", not acts as a comparative adjective. Can someone explain why A is correct?

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    A is not correct. In fact, none of the answers is correct. To say that X (the positions men hold) is not better than Y (the positions that women hold) does not entail that Y is better than X. Y may be better than X (answer A) or X and Y may be equally good (answer B), but the not better than construction does not tell you which of these is true: it merely excludes the proposition that X is better than Y. . . . But this is a matter of logic, not linguistics. – StoneyB Apr 26 '17 at 12:01
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The question is flawed and impossible to answer

StoneyB is correct here, none of the answers are correct. The question, as it is currently asked, has no answer.


Let's think about this before we even address the question itself. When comparing two specific positions, there are only three possible outcomes:

  • M > W
  • M = W
  • M < W

I assume you see that I'm using M and W to refer to men and women.

Now, we introduce the statement (I will refer to this as "the statement" later on):

"Men hold no better positions in society than women do."

This tells us that (M > W) is not a possibility. This is the only conclusion we can draw from this statement.

Therefore, we are left with the following possibilities:

  • M = W
  • M < W

Men could have equal positions to women.
Men could have inferior positions to women.
It's also possible that some men hold equal positions to women, and some men hold inferior positions to women.


Now let's discuss why every answer is wrong

A. Women are in better positions in society than men are

Incorrect.

As I addressed before, we cannot know for certain if (M = W) or (M < W). Both could be possible (separately, or at the same time). "The statement" never confirmed that (M < W) is the only remaining option, and therefore we cannot conclude that answer A is conclusively correct.

We could say that it's possible, but not that it is definitively correct.

"The statement" and answer A do not have the same meaning. They could possibly both be correct at the same time; but that does not mean they mean the same thing!
Consider the following statements:

(1) The first name of the President of the United States is Donald.
(2) The last name of the President of the United States is Trump.

Are these statements both correct? Yes.
Do these statement have the same meaning? No.

B. Women and men hold the same positions in society

Incorrect.

The same argument is true here. We cannot know for certain if (M = W) or (M < W). Both could be possible (separately, or at the same time). "The statement" never confirmed that (M = W) is the only remaining option, and therefore we cannot conclude that answer B is conclusively correct.

We could say that it's possible, but not that it is definitively correct.

"The statement" and answer B do not have the same meaning. They could possibly both be correct at the same time; but that does not mean they mean the same thing!

C. Men are not as good as women in society

Incorrect.

This like comparing apples and oranges. Just because you can compare the position of men and women objectively, does not mean that you can apply those conclusions to the inherent worth of men and women.

Even if I state that shooting someone in the head is a better way to kill a man, compared to being kind to him; that does not inherently mean that I think shooting people in the head is better than being kind to people.


Regardless of whether the examinator made a mistake or not, A and B should always be considered equally correct or incorrect. Every argument you can make for A being (in)correct will automatically apply to B too, and vice versa.

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I think you may have misunderstood the question, either that or there was an error on your exam.

(1) Men hold no better positions in society than women do

is not synonymous with

(2) Women are in better positions in society than men are

Logically if (1) is true, (2) can still be true. But they do not mean the same thing.

Men can hold no better positions in society than women, and women could also be in better positions in society than men.

However (1) does not mean (2). (1) Merely allows for the possibility that (2) can be true.

(3) Women and men hold the same positions in society

is possible from (1) also. If both women and men hold the same position in society, then by definition men hold no better positions in society than women do.

(4) Men are not as good as women in society

Is saying something about the nature of men, not the nature of the positions they hold, so has no direct relation to (1).

So in summary. (1) is not synonymous with (2).

Logically (1) allows for the possibility of (2) or (3).

(4) is altogether different semantically. It doesn't matter if (1) is true or false, (4) can still be true. However if (1) is false then both (2) and (3) must also be false.

  • How can you change the answer so that it'll convey the meaning of the sentence in the question in a more concise manner? – Mai Ly Apr 26 '17 at 12:12

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