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What can the New Zealand flag teach us about logical and critical thinking?

There’s a referendum taking place in New Zealand right now about the future of its flag. Prime Minister, John Key, wants to change the design, but his opponents are against the idea. In this post, Patrick Girard analyses Key’s argument. He’s an educator on The University of Auckland’s free online course, “Logical and Critial Thinking.”

Four alternative designs for the New Zealand flag
Four alternative designs for the New Zealand flag. Source:

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, supports changing the flag of New Zealand. Recently, he made his argument for changing the flag public via this YouTube Video:

Key uses a range of techniques to try to persuade us of his view:

  • Suggesting that one of the reasons for making the change is that the international community confuses the New Zealand and Australian flags in meetings and news reports.
  • Using some well-known argumentative moves, such as an argument from analogy, drawing a similarity with Canada deciding to change its flag in 1965.
  • Saying that the most important reason for changing the flag is to build overt signs of patriotism. Is that a good reason for a country to change its flag?
  • And spending a fair amount of time debunking arguments for the opposite view. Does that make his argument better?

The fallacy called Ad Hominem

If you reject the reasons Key advances because you’re not a supporter of his National Party, or because you don’t like him, then you’re committing the fallacy called Ad Hominem. This is a common error in reasoning, which leads people to reject arguments for the wrong motivation.

But how can you make a proper evaluation of the argument? How can you make sure that your evaluation of Key’s argument is effective? Could Key have given a better argument?

Evaluating an argument

These are the kind of questions we will address in our course, “Logical and Critical Thinking.”

By the end of it, you will be able to evaluate arguments; identify their logical strengths or weaknesses; and be in a better situation to make a wise decision on issues that are important to you.

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