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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsWe're seeing that arguments are ways to provide reasons for beliefs. In a way, they are also ways to gather new information. But sometimes people will give you information without giving you an argument, and it can be quite difficult in some cases to know if you have an argument or not. To illustrate this, today we'll use a case study. And it's a story that happened here in Auckland. It involves Auckland transport, Auckland residents, and these Pohutukawa trees. Now, you're probably wondering, what's so special about Pohutukawa trees? The Pohutukawa tree is a native New Zealand tree. In summertime, it produces a magnificent crimson flower. Basically, the Pohutukawa tree is an iconic tree in New Zealand that people love.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 secondsAnd when there are plans to cut down Pohutukawas to make place for concrete, well, people get upset. A two kilometre long section of the motorway will be widened from three to four lanes, in each direction. There will also be improvements to the motorway ramps in the Saint Luke's Road, Great North Road intersection, while the over bridge spanning the motorway will be widened to benefit drivers, walkers, and cyclists. Why did they want to cut down the trees? Firstly, to make way for the interchange upgrade. As you can see, the trees are in the way. Secondly, 54 submissions were discounted due to a technical error. The one that was selected involved cutting down the trees.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsThis answers the question by giving an explanation, not an argument. Explanations are also groups of statements. But unlike arguments, they're not given to establish a point. Explanations are given to try and make you understand something. They tell you why or how something is the case. They're not given to make you believe it. So when Auckland Transport explained why the trees needed cutting down, they weren't making a point that the trees deserved the axe. They were only explaining that a submission had been chosen in which the trees needed to be cut down, because they were in the way. The local community was not happy with the council's decision, and they decided to contest it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsIn manifesting their opposition to cutting down the trees, not everybody expressed their views by providing arguments. I'm off to see a local cafe owner and seasoned protester. Hi, Lisa. It's a really cool little cafe you got here. We're talking about the difference between arguments and non-arguments, and we thought we'd use your article to illustrate it. Would you like to read it for us? Sure. Again, the Auckland Council has failed in its statutory duty to represent the public, and protect our natural heritage. A secret meeting was held by Auckland Transport to tell the public, who were not invited, that they had the right to fell six 80-year-old Pohutukawa trees, on Great North Road.

Skip to 3 minutes and 0 secondsIt may be true that they had the duties to protect the trees, but it doesn't mean that they have to protect those trees. Yes, it does. The thing about the council, is it is controlled by law. And the thing is, the council do not believe they are controlled by the law. They believe they make the law. But they have a statutory legal duty for any tree over a certain age. And certainly, these Pohutukawa trees, at 80 years old, fall into protected trees. See, you've just given me an argument to make me believe that they did fail in their duty. So I'd like to ask you, what was the intention behind that piece?

Skip to 3 minutes and 36 secondsWere you trying to provide reasons, or how were you trying to convey the information? I was trying to basically do what I normally do, which is cause controversy. Because I'm a little bit like a catalyst. I like to run in, light the torch to the firecracker, and then run out. There is a rhetorical way that you're using those statements to give the information, and perhaps to get us to believe it. Yes. Well, I'm telling my truth. I'm trying to give people background information. I'm not trying to get them to believe me.

Skip to 4 minutes and 5 secondsI'm trying to say, here's a whole lot of little bits of information you might not know that will fill in your reason for stopping them cutting down the trees. It's quite interesting to see that Lisa actually chose to give the information without providing reasons as arguments, but she did have the arguments. And perhaps that was the right thing to do, within the context of the letter to the editor in this journal. Other professors voiced their views by using arguments. In response to residents' concerns, Auckland Council ultimately decided not to cut down the trees, and changed their plans to preserve them. The lesson I'd like you to learn from all this is that it's not always easy to identify arguments.

Skip to 4 minutes and 49 secondsSometimes people express their views, and they fail to give arguments. Sometimes an explanation is all that's required to express your view. In this class, though, from now on we will focus on arguments, because they provide us with the patterns of reasoning which we can identify as being good or bad.

Pohutukawa tree case study

This video was inspired by a letter to the Editor that Lisa Prager published in The Ponsonby News, in February 15, 2015:

Again the Auckland Council has failed in its statutory duty to represent the public and protect our natural heritage. A secret meeting was held last month by Auckland Transport to tell the public (who were not invited) that they had the right to fell six 80-year-old pohutukawa trees on Great North Road, opposite MOTAT, in order to widen the road for increased car use projected in 2026. Meanwhile the chainsaw gangs gag to be let loose as they were in Western Springs Stadium and in behind the zoo, and the local community board wrings its hands powerless to stop this CCO (Council Un-controlled Organisation)! Contrary to Auckland becoming the world’s most livable city, the build and natural environment struggles to survive while greedy developers enjoy corporate welfare at the public’s expense. A Widespread Auckland rates revolt is one way to get our councilors to listen to us.

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This video is from the free online course:

Logical and Critical Thinking

The University of Auckland

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Availability heuristic
    Availability heuristic

    We tend to judge the probability of an event by seeing how readily examples come to mind, rather than by working out the real probabilities.

  • Arguments for and against the existence of God
    Arguments for and against the existence of God

    John Bishop and Patrick Girard from the University of Auckland discuss deductive and non-deductive arguments for and against the existence of God.

  • Science and falsification
    Science and falsification

    Why falsifiability matters.

  • Going Vegan
    Going Vegan

    A pretty wild exchange for and against becoming vegan. We'll use it to see how the skills you've learned during the course can be put into action.