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Caoilfhionn N í Bheacháin Email: Critical Thinking – Session 1.

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Caoilfhionn Ní Bheacháin



Critical Thinking – Session 1

  • “When we become critical thinkers, we develop an awareness of the assumptions under which we, and others, think and act. We learn to pay attention to the context in which our ideas and actions are generated. We become sceptical of quick-fix solutions, of single answers to problems, and of claims to universal truth. We also become open to alternative ways of looking at, and behaving in, the world”
    • Brookfield, S. Developing Critical Thinkers

Routine Thinking Vs. Critical Thinking:

  • Routine thinking
    • Driving home - often you can drive a distance of a few miles and when you reach your destination have no memory of the journey. And yet, thinking was required. Knowledge, calculation and mental skill were employed to make this journey. However, it was automatic. It was routine thinking that did not demand a high level of awareness.

Critical Thinking involves:

  • Being sceptical or questioning about statements, arguments etc.
  • Being critical of personal, societal and political values and structures
  • Critiquing relationships between power and knowledge.
  • Interrogating the thinking process itself

Critical Thinking involves thinking turned on itself:

  • We may look at the narratives / stories that we tell about ourselves
  • We may examine our emotions and how they influence our behaviour
  • We might ask ourselves:
  • What are my assumptions about friendship, family, work-life balance, success?
  • Do I have sufficient reasons for believing this?

Critical Thinking Triggers:

Negative triggers – any form of trauma or life transition

Positive triggers – moments of insight or self-awareness


Critical Thinking:

The kind of thinking which probes important or crucial elements of our lives and values. These may be social or personal.

Personal - How will you cope with losing your job?

Social – What are the implications of high levels of unemployment for human happiness or liberty?


Critical Thinking:

What is happiness?

What is the ‘good life’?

What is a ‘Consumer Society’?

What is ‘progress’?

toulmin model how arguments work
Toulmin Model: How arguments work
  • Also consider definition, narrative and context




(underlying assumption)







Personal History

Social / political / Business





Assumptions are our presuppositions and viewpoints that we take for granted. It is important to recognise our assumptions because they represent a ‘baseline’ for thought. If they are flawed or misunderstood, the reasoning that stems from them can also be flawed.

example of an unstated assumption
Example of an unstated assumption
  • Divorce contravenes Catholic teaching
  • Ireland should ban divorce
  • Unstated Assumption: Irish law should reflect Catholic doctrine.


In a consumer society, what are our assumptions?


The Consumer Society

  • “People’s involvement with material culture is such that mass consumption infiltrates everyday life not only at the levels of economic processes, social activities and household structures, but also at the level of meaningful psychological experience – affecting the construction of identities, the formation of relationships, the framing of events.”
    • Lunt and Livingstone (1992)

Brand Slogans

  • L’Oreal “Because I’m worth it”
  • Mars “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”
  • Pepsi “The joy of Pepsi”
  • McDonalds “I’m Lovin’ it”
  • Gilette “The best a man can get”
  • Access Credit Card “Your flexible friend”
  • Visa “It’s everywhere you want to be”
    • Sex and the City
      • A Woman’s Right to Shoes
product placement
Product Placement
  • The Blind SideDate: 4-7 Dec., 2009Studio: Warner Brothers Weekend gross: US$ 34 M Featured brands: Baltimore Ravens, Barcalounger, BMW, Borders, Canon, Chanel, Cincinnati Bengals, Clemson University, Cosmopolitan, Dell, Dial-a-Down, FedEx, Ford, Jordan, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Louisiana State University, Madden, MTV, NASCAR, National Rifle Association, New York Giants, NFL, Nike, Ole Miss, Pepsi, Schutt Sports, Seattle Seahawks, Spalding, St. Louis Rams, Taco Bell, Under Armour, University of Arkansas, University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Miami, University of South Carolina, University of Tennessee, VTech, Washington RedskinsComments: This week The Blind Side knocks New Moon out of the number one spot, giving “real life” brands such as Taco Bell, Spalding, Nike, MTV, Dell, BMW, and NASCAR time on the big screen
www brandchannel com source (Source)
  • Valentine's DayDate: 12-14 Feb., 2010Studio: Warner Brothers Weekend gross: US 56.4 M Featured brands: 1-800-Flowers, adidas, American Airlines, American Express, Apple, BlackBerry, Blazer, Cadillac, Cadillac Escalade, Cartier, Chanel, Chevrolet, Chicago Cubs, Christian Louboutin, Craigslist, Discovery Channel, ESPN,, Facebook, FedEx, Ford, Ford Mustang, Gatorade, Hollywood Forever Cemetary, Indiana University, International Creative Management, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mapquest, Marc Jacobs, Moët & Chandon, Nike, Nokia, Northwestern University, Polaroid, Porsche, PUMA, Quiksilver, Range Rover, Retin-A, Scope (mouthwash), Sharpie, Sony, Southwest Airlines, Stanford University, The BLVD (Los Angeles), The Lawrence Foundation, Toyota, Tufts University, US Army, USPS, Versace, Victoria's Secret, Volkswagen Beetle, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Yale, YorkComments: In a nod to symmetry and marketing research, Valentine's Day, the movie, topped box office in ticket sales on Valentine's Day weekend. The star-studded film, however, features just as many – if not more – brands than stars. Familiar brandcameo brands such as Apple, Toyota, Sony, and Chanel make the big screen, but the real props go out to brandcameo count leaders the US Postal Service, the U.S. Army, Stanford University, and Chevy – each of which has two brandcamoes for the year
www brandchannel com source1 (Source)
  • Gran TorinoDate: 9-15 Jan., 2009Studio: Warner Bros. Weekend gross: US$29.5 M Featured brands: Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Colt, Ford, Gopher, Honda, Israel Weapons Industry, Jack Daniel's, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Reebok, Remington, Tory Burch, Toyota, Tsingtao, USPS, WD-40Comments: This film is about an old man, with an old gun and an old car responding to the increase of gang violence in his neighborhood. Walt Kowalski is a retired Ford worker and Korean War veteran, who carries an M1 Garand rifle and spends his time caring for his 1972 Ford Gran Torino. He befriends his Hmong neighbors and trades his Pabst Blue Ribbons for Tsingtao beer
www brandchannel com source2 (Source)
  • The HangoverDate: 5-11 Jun., 2009Studio: Warner Bros. Weekend gross: US$ 46.0 M Featured brands: Aquafina, Baldwin, Boost Mobile, Cadillac, Caesars Palace, Cirque du Soleil, Coca-Cola, DNX, Fiji, Hard Rock Cafe, Jägermeister, Krispy Kreme, Lay's, Mercedes, MGM Grand, Monster Energy Drink, Nokia, Rogaine, Roots, Taser, Trump PlazaComments: The Hangover: One would think the title leaves little to the imagination, but this film about a bachelor party in Las Vegas—on the surface, a cliché at best—delivers more than the requisite Ceasar’s Palace, MGM Grand and Trump brandcameos. A convertible Mercedes serves as a metaphor for four men who become different people by the end of the movie. Cadillac also receives some prominent screentime, as do beverage brands Jagermeister, Monster Energy Drink, Aquafina, Coca-Cola and Fiji Water
www brandchannel com source3 (Source)
  • Iron ManDate: 2-15 May., 2008Studio: Paramount Weekend gross: US$149.8 M Featured brands: Apple, Audi, Blüthner, Brown University, Bulgari, Burger King, Cadillac, Cadillac Escalade, Caesars Palace, Chevrolet, Cisco, CNBC, Dell, Dolce & Gabbana, Esquire, Forbes, Ford, Goodyear, LG, M.I.T., Maxim, MySpace, Newsweek, Nissan, Operation, Perrier, Persol, Ray-Ban, Rolling Stone, Rolls Royce, Saleen, Segway, Shelby, Tesla, Texaco, The Apogee Foundation, U.S. Air Force, University of California, Berkeley, Vanity Fair, Verizon, Voss, WiredComments: Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark loves to play with big boy toys. His collection of expensive cars was a perfect place for Audi to showcase its R8, S5, A4 and Q7 models. Though we question the gadget guru's use of dated LG phones and off-the-shelf Dell servers
text of ad for vacuum cleaner
Text of ad for vacuum cleaner
  • “Life isn’t always neat and tidy. It’s about laughing, crying, loving, dancing, maybe even shouting. So we’ve developed the new QuickClick tool change system and the ComfoGlide floor tool, to save you energy and time to enjoy what we have all been put into the world to actually do. Live.”
    • (Karcher Advertisement, 2006)
don slater
Don Slater
  • Commodity signs – “advertising and marketing attach extraneous meanings to basically functional objects” (pg. 136)
  • Commodity Fetishism – a term coined by Karl Marx – emphasises the way that the commodity culture conceals the underlying power relations of their producers
“Consumer culture is about continuous self-creation through the accessibility of things which are themselves presented as new, modish, faddish or fashionable, always improved and improving”
  • Consumption is a meaningful activity - We ‘act out’ our membership of particular groups through our consumption
toulmin model how arguments work1
Toulmin Model: How arguments work
  • Also consider definition, narrative and context




(underlying assumption)







  • Definitions can change the nature of a fact
  • Definitions can influence attitudes
  • Definitions can be contested
  • Examples of contested terms:
  • ‘Progress’, ‘Masculinity’, ‘Femininity’, ‘Happiness’,
  • ‘Success’, ‘ ‘Environmentally-Friendly’, ‘Development’

Evidence: the foundations for argument

  • Evaluating Evidence:
  • What is the source of the evidence?
  • Is the evidence current, accurate, relevant and authoritative?
  • Is an inference or opinion being presented as a fact?
  • Are the instances cited typical?
  • Is the evidence alone sufficient to result in the conclusion drawn?
  • Who produces the archive / evidence? For what purpose?
argument structure
Argument structure
  • Arguments: premises, evidence & conclusions
  • Premises offer reasons that support the conclusion. They are the building blocks of arguments.
  • Evaluating arguments
    • Truth – Can we believe the premises?
    • Validity – is the argument structure valid?
    • Evidence – is it authoritative?
argument analysis example
Argument Analysis - Example
  • We can be proud that America has turned the corner on the depression of the last few years. At last the many indexes of recovery are showing optimistic readings. The rate of inflation has slowed, unemployment has more or less stabilised, inventories are beginning to drop, advance orders are starting to pick up, and – the best news of all – the average income figures are showing a gain. The doomsayers have been discomfitted and the free enterprise system once more vindicated.
diagram structure
Diagram Structure

Find the premises that support the conclusion

Set out the relationship between premises and conclusion.

Identify irrelevant sentences, repetition of premises and rhetoric.

Set down the relationship in a tree diagram.








Intermediate Conclusion



Inflation slowed

Unemployment - stabilised

Income up

Advance orders up

Inventories down

The indexes of recovery are optimistic

The US has turned the corner on the Depression

Free Enterprise vindicated

Doomsayers wrong

argument analysis
Argument Analysis
  • What is left out?
    • Says many indexes but only given a few. What about GNP, farm prices, foreign exports?
  • No specifics – not supported with facts
  • Language use
  • Check argument structure
  • Flaws – Ad Hominem etc.
  • Article / thesis might be persuasive but may still fail in argumentation / reasoning

our decision making

The environment tends to be just one factor that we consider when making decisions

Our behaviour is often driven by other, competing, factors

In a consumer society, we want things that are contradictory to our environmental beliefs

How can we address this?


Narratives / Stories

  • The telling of a story is always bound up with power – with questions of authority
    • What stories get told?
    • Who is the hero of the story?
    • Who is the narrator?
    • What are the story’s sources?
  • Stories are multiple – there is always more than one story.
  • What are the ‘shadow’ stories of the commodities we consume? What is the other side of the ‘progress’ story?


Need to interrogate assumptions that underpin our consumer society. The stories of ‘things’, how we celebrate life events, etc.

Argument is rule governed – look at argument structure, evidence provided and context.

Tomorrow: Narrative and History / Resource Wars / A Case Study on Rubber