Implicit Meaning Of Critical Thinking

Lesson Summary


Students watch two video segments about the Fourteenth Amendment and then write an essay addressing where the amendment is explicit or implicit in meaning.

Why is this an important concept?

Understanding that language can present messages that are both clearly stated and implied in meaning is an important part of critical reading and reading comprehension strategies. When students are able to understand that language includes nuance and “gray” areas in meaning, they are better able to practice and apply critical thinking, ask “big concept” questions and in turn become more open to the possibilities of multiple interpretations in various issues and subject matters.

Grade Level:


Suggested Time

(2-3) 50-minute periods

Media Resources


The Lesson

Part I: Learning Activity #1

Prior to the activity, you may choose to review Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is discussed in the video segment. You may also want to provide any supplemental materials that will assist students in understanding the issues brought before the Supreme Court during the period following the Civil War.

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

1. Begin by providing definitions of the words “explicit” and “implicit.” Next, discuss with students examples of explicit and implicit language.

  • Explicit - Fully and clearly expressed or demonstrated; leaving nothing merely implied; unequivocal
  • Implicit - implied though not directly expressed; inherent in the nature of something

2. Next, check for prior knowledge by asking students what they know about the American Civil War and why the Fourteenth Amendment was created. Discuss.

3. Tell students that they are going to watch a video segment about the Fourteenth Amendment. While watching the segment, ask students to take notes on what was explicit in the purpose and meaning of the amendment. Play the video “Fourteenth Amendment - Part I” multiple times for understanding.

4. Discuss student responses. Next, distribute the Fourteenth Amendment Explicit Meaning Handout. Students answer questions on the handout about the explicit meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Part II: Learning Activity #2

1. Review the meaning of explicit and present the meaning of “implicit."

2. Next, check for prior knowledge by asking students what they understand about the expression "public accommodations." Discuss with students that even though the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to protect the rights of all American citizens, providing them with equal protections after the Civil War, African Americans and many other groups were not allowed access to public accommodations.

3. Tell students they are going to watch a second video segment. Ask students to take notes on the Supreme Court decision of 1883 and the new view held by the court. Play the video segment “Fourteenth Amendment - Part II” multiple times (if necessary) for understanding.

4. Discuss student responses.

5. Distribute the Fourteenth Amendment Implicit Meaning Handout . Ask students to complete the handout in class or as homework. Divide students into small groups to discuss their responses.

Part III: Assessment

1. Using the Fourteenth Amendment Explicit Meaning handout, the Fourteenth Amendment Implicit Meaning handout, the Fourteenth Amendment Essay Handout, and their notes, students write an essay answering the question "where is the language of the Fourteenth Amendment explicit or implicit in meaning?"

2. Distribute the Fourteenth Amendment Rubric so students will know how they will be evaluated.

3. Completed essays and handouts can be placed in a students’ portfolio to demonstrate skill acquisition.

For students who need additional guidance:

  • Review the terms explicit and implicit, and check for understanding.
  • Watch the video segments as many times as necessary for understanding.
  • In small groups, work with students to complete each handout.
  • For the essay, guide students to develop ideas on either the explicit or implicit language of the amendment.

Critical Thinking: Hidden Premises and Conclusions

Here come the tricky part.  Who needs the Quickie-Mart?  Often identifying hidden premises and conclusions can require a little more cognitive effort than we have so far had to use in identifying explicit premises and conclusions.  Before we look at some helpful interpretive dances tools to pick them out, lets quickly review what implied premises and conclusions are.

An implied premise is an unstated reason or claim that supports and is generally required to support the main claim of the argument (i.e., the conclusion).  For example consider the following simple argument:  We should ban GMO crops because they aren't natural.  The stated premise is "GMO crops aren't natural" and the stated conclusion is "therefore we should ban GMO crops."  But notice that there is an unstated general premise lurking in the dark that supports the stated premise.  It is, "we should reject foods that aren't found in nature."  If we decomposed the argument it'd look like this:

HP1 We should reject foods that aren't found in nature.
P2   GMO crops aren't natural.
MC  Therefore, we should ban GMO crops.

HP1 means "hidden premise"

The Vong diagram would look like this:
HP1 + P1-->MC  (I.e., linked premises)

As you may have guessed by now, a hidden/implied conclusion is a conclusion that is not explicitly stated but supported by the premises.  Hidden or implied conclusions are almost always (but not exclusively) contained in advertising or editorial cartoons.

Lets look at an example:
Your chances at winning the lottery are slim to none.  And slim just left town.

The implied conclusion is that you have (virtually) no chance of winning the lottery.

P1      Your chances at winning the lottery are slim to none.
P2      And slim just left town.
HMC Therefore, you have virtually no chance of winning the lottery.

Vong Diagram
P1+P2-->MC   ("+" means linked premises)

General Heuristics:  Principles of Communication
For most of you, picking out the hidden premises and conclusions in these examples probably wasn't too difficult.  Of course, in real life (and on exams) things usually aren't so easy.  What we need are some heuristics to help increase our odds of identifying the unstated parts of arguments.  So, lets take a step back and to get a big picture view of what's happening.  It will help us devise strategies.

Before moving on, I should quickly note that these principles of communication apply not only to written and spoken arguments.  They apply to any type of communication, whether it be a facial expression, movie, piece of art, cartoon, advertisement, hand gesture, etc...  If you want to impress you friends, these types of communication are called speech acts.

Given that speech acts are any act or medium that conveys information, we are going to creatively name the three principles of interpretation "principles of communication."

Principle I:  Intelligibility
This one's pretty simple.  You should assume that a speech act is intelligible.  This means that we should assume that it is an attempt to convey something meaningful.  It is not just random noise (despite our opinion of the view being expressed).

Principle II:  Context
This principle tells us to interpret a speech act relative to its context.  For example, is it in response to an opposing speech act?  What is the social or political context?  Suppose you're walking to class and a young woman offers you a red bull and tells you that it will give you wings.  Should we interpret the speech act as the woman's earnest desire for you to have wings or is this an argument for you to buy the product?  (Hint:  It's not the first choice).

If we examine the context of the speech act, it should be fairly obvious that we should interpret it as an argument.  There may be one or more possible contexts within which to frame a speech act:  to choose, refer back to principle I:  which context makes the speech act more inteligible?

Principle III:  Components
So far we've established that a speech act is intelligible and we've interpreted it in a way that fits the context in which we find it.  Now, we're going to get a bit more fine grained at look at its components and their relationship to each other.  Recall that a speech act can be composed of images, words, gestures, and even interpretive dance (my favorite!).  Lets look at an example using images and words:

Applying principle 1 we assume that there is some sort of intelligible message being conveyed.  Applying principle II, from the context (someone's facebook page) we might reasonable assume this is an argument for being more cautious about what we consume.  Finally, applying principle III we look at the components.  There are the words "rethink your drink" and images of sugar and popular drinks.  Putting these components together we can formulate the elements of the intended argument:  Lots of sugar is bad for you (premise).  These drinks have a lot of sugar (premise).  Therefore, we should be more careful about what we consume (and how much).

Even though the above image doesn't contain an explicit argument, if we apply the 3 principles of communication we can pick one out and identify the premises and conclusion.

Identifying Hidden Conclusions
Hidden conclusions are most commonly found in short passages or in image-based speech acts (magazine ads, billboards, political cartoons, etc...).   OK, now that we know where to find them,how do we identify hidden conclusions?  Ask yourself, (a) do the remarks or images imply some sort of point of view?  (look at context)  In other words, does the information provided propose a conclusion that is unstated? (b) what is this speech act trying to convince me of? (what's it trying to get me to believe, do, endorse?)  If it's not trying to convince you of anything, chances are it isn't an argument, but if it is trying to persuade you of something, then it's an argument and you can be darn sure there's a conclusion!

Lets look at an example:

Here we have a speech act that, assuming principle I, is an inteligible message.  Applying, principle II we might interpret it as an argument (because it's making a controversial assertion).  And applying principle III we can identify elements:  The image is of a healthy looking community being "eaten away."  It's a metaphor for cancer.  Given the context and the words we can interpret the premises and conclusion:  Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of cancer (stated premise).   Cancer is bad (hidden premise).  Capitalism has the same ideology--growth for the sake of growth (hidden premise implied by the picture).   Therefore, capitalism is bad (hidden conclusion).

Identifying Hidden Premises
How do we identify hidden premises?  One mechanical way to do it is to write down the explicit premises and conclusion and see if the argument is intelligible.  That is, can we reasonably infer the conclusion from the premises?  If not, then there are hidden premises.  In other words, there are unstated reasons or claims that the argument depends on.  As a charitable person (and good critical thinker) it's up to you to fill in the blanks.

For example, in the previous image if we hadn't filled in the unstated premises, the conclusion wouldn't make sense.  It only makes sense if we include (the obvious) hidden premise that cancer is bad.  This may be trivial in this particular argument, but hidden premises are sometimes very important and underpin the strength of the entire argument.   This relates to a second point about hidden premises.

Frequently, when we evaluate an argument, it is the hidden premises that are good fodder for criticizing the argument.   Consider the "anti GMO" argument I gave in the beginning.  The hidden premise is that "non-natural food is bad."  The argument depends on this being true.  If we can find counter-examples then the argument is in trouble.  The argument is also in trouble if there is little or no evidence to support the hidden premise.

Caveat:  As we've discussed earlier every argument makes many assumptions.  You simply cannot possibly state everything you are assuming.   What are stated and what are unstated assumptions will depend in large part on what is considered reasonable by the specific audience to which the argument is targeted (and hopefully for a general audience).

Why does this matter?  Because you should be judicious in identifying hidden premises.  Instead of willy-nilly identifying what are painfully obvious things that are assumed by the arguer, you should expend your effort picking out the hidden premises that are required in order to infer the conclusion from the stated premise.  In other words, it doesn't do you much good to identify and criticize trial unstated premises (ah ha! the arguer assumes that people don't like getting punched in the face!).  

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