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: www.govt.nz.

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.

Category Learning

Comments (19)


  • Heghine Isahakyan

    The argument concerning the change of New Zealand’s flag made by John Key is quite compelling on several points. Firstly, national flag should hav e its individuality. While it is similar to Australian flag as well as other flags of the Commonwealth republics it lacks indivuduality. Secondly, as it has become a multinational country the modern democratic society whould like to have its own face not always reminding the country it depends on, the Uk. However, the presenter makes several obvious mistakes in his presentation. He states pont after point, passing from one idea into another very quickly so that one can’ follow his thoughts. In this context the argumentation is not persuasive. Besides he focuses on other countries’ experiences and spends a fair amount of time debunking other point of view, which is another mistake he makes as a good public speaker. In other words the argumentation is good but not very successfully presented.

  • Helena Holliday

    I think the argument that the silver fern appears on war graves is very compelling.

  • Richard Burtle

    He’s a politician so he knows the value of presentation and that a viewer’s/listener’s subjective impression may be as important as the content of his argument. It’s not always what you say but the way you say it.
    He smiles a lot.
    He seems a nice chap – avuncular, a family man (he’s keen to let us know that when he mentions their year in Australia), someone whose company you could enjoy, perhaps over a beer or two.
    He doesn’t drone on but puts forward point after point very quickly so that you don’t really have time to consider carefully what he’s saying and maybe look for any flaws in his argument.
    He uses simple language in a very down-to-earth way.
    If I were a New Zealander (I’m British) I’d vote for the silver and black fern and definitely be in favour of a new flag. (Incidently, isn’t it clever politics to have two referendums, with the first one accustoming the voters to the idea of a change of flag and presenting a choice of four).

  • Jacqueline minte

    I think John key the primester of New Zealand is amazing the has a warm and friendly voice , he very well travel , and he put is princeable of change the flag is stop on , their given the New Zealand people the choose to choose , I love the way he so compassion it about his country , the way he smile with his eyes and he has that happyness and friendly look about him , when he talk he made me keeP fous and staying in the moment , I be very pound to be a New Zealand national your all so lucky have John and I think change is agood thing always go in to things with a open mind you may surprise yourself and like the new flag if you were a countery that never change it flag then I would think again but your a young fresh and exciting country and the vote and choose is your and yours a lone , I am going to vist New Zealand because I like John key and if he like that it on my bucket list to vist you

  • Michelle

    I’m Canadian and I prefer our current flag, I wouldn’t go back to the old one. The maple leaf is the most widely recognized national symbol of Canada. Red and white are our national colours.

    I looked up the history of the Canadian flag and the first government attempt to give Canada a flag was in 1925. It took until 1965 to finally get one – a 40 year process.

  • Donna

    John Keys places some good reasoning and facts that New Zealanders need to consider in making their choice. His use of historical information to set a platform for a new and modern society to immerge and take our country forward is interesting. New Zealand’s diverse culture may not know the history or be concerned of its input into who we have become as a nation. It is a well put together political video that brings pros and cons to the table for voters to make a choice. But has it reached the majority of the overall audience it was intended or designed to meet? Example, we are currently voting on the flag, this is the first time I have seen that video.

  • Andrew Mackie

    The New Zealand prime minister conflates the logically sound solution that solves the problem of the Australian flag confusion with a politician’s (not so logically sound) solution to solve a perceived issue with New Zealand’s weak national identity. He hijacks the logic that solves the first problem and applies it to the second. Tricky!

  • Jean

    Hello. I often flounder when I am putting over my point of view. I am interested in being able to consider others points of view and to explain my ideas better.

    This is great timing for me because the UK have a lot of difficult political decisions to make. I looking forward, to this course!

  • Elisabeth Hill

    Hello: I live in the North East corner of Scotland. As you probably know we had a referendum in 2014 to become independent of the UK which resulted in a strong NO!. However there is likely to be a second referendum at a date in 2016 to be announced. I find it very difficult to decide which way to vote mainly because I think things are fine as they are.

    • Jean

      Hello Elisabeth. I think we have similar feelings with regards to the referendums (referenda?) I am hoping that this course will help with these sorts of issues! My first Futurelearn course was about the referendum which was run by Edinburgh University. It was a really good experience and it helped me to make a decision a little more with my head than heart. (I voted N0 too! https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/indyref

  • Craig

    At the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup final, both Australian (yay) and New Zealand flags were on display. I had to look twice to see which was which.

  • kayenga kibasubwamo nestor

    The logical and critical thinking is very necessary in English language learning and English language teaching.If a learner did not criticise any message,he would get many problems in his every day life.

  • Myo Aung

    Among these (5) flag, I like the silver fern, red and blue corner with Southern Cross. The silver fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The red represents our heritage and sacrifices made and it represent brave. Blue represents our clear atmosphere and peace full. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands and it already included in old design that New Zea-lander scared on it. That is why I prefer this one.

  • Myo Aung

    I agree on Prime Minister idea of changing the flat of current design to new one because he already express it is similar with Australian Flag and confuse world community on understanding. On my side, now they are standing dependent but on flag it almost 1/4 cover Jet flag of Great Britain and that will some demotion of New Zealand nationalist that is why they need to change the flag design. It will up grade the trust of their community on country.

    The silver fern: A New Zealand icon for over 160 years, worn proudly by many generations. The fern is an element of indigenous flora representing the growth of our nation. The multiple points of the fern leaf represent Aotearoa’s peaceful multicultural society, a single fern spreading upwards represents that we are all one people growing onward into the future. The red represents our heritage and sacrifices made. Blue represents our clear atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, over which all New Zealanders, or their ancestors, crossed to get here. The Southern Cross represents our geographic location in the antipodes. It has been used as a navigational aid for centuries and it helped guide early settlers to our islands.

  • Alaa Eddin

    It seems it’s a great chance for outsiders to share their ” logical thinking ” into such private local decision of New Zealanders people.
    I agree with changing to a new designed flag to distinguish the Patriotic sense which doesn’t reflected in current one.

  • Budmaa

    I think that the New Zealand Prime Minister is completely right. First, the current flag is fairly the same as Australian. Let’s imagine ourselves in his shoes by being a world champion to receive a golden medal and his national flag is mistaken with Australian. Secondly, flag must carry patriotic sense which completely does not exist in the current flag. The State flag of any nationality is symbol of national admire, pride, solitary and future prosperity. I hope that more people from Zealand would like to change the flag.

  • Gordon

    I’m all in favour of a new flag for New Zealand. The silver fern is far more meaningful than the union flag or the Southern Cross. Wales is in the UK but it doesn’t have the union flag superimposed on the Welsh dragon.
    Come on New Zealanders, change your flag.

  • Alexsia

    I have read of this in the UK newspapers and did not have an opinion on it because I thought it was for the people of the country to decide for themselves. Now I can see that it is possible for an outsider to learn to evaluate the arguments and formulate a view without wishing to interfere with the people’s decision. I am looking forward to the course.

  • Illeana

    I am not sure about change a flug only for not good reasons. If you born in a country and you live there all you life, you have to recognize your flag independently whether is similar or not with the another falg ´s countries. I think is not a good argument for doing that he said.