Straw Man Fallacy

Straw Man Fallacy

Postby mtbturtle on March 6th, 2013, 8:13 pm 

Fallacy Files - Straw Man


Judging from my experience, Straw Man is one of the commonest of fallacies. It is endemic in public debates on politics, ethics, and religion. A straw man argument occurs in the context of a debate―formal or informal―when one side attacks a position―the "straw man"―not held by the other side, then acts as though the other side's position has been refuted.

This fallacy is a type of Red Herring because the arguer is attempting to refute the other side's position, and in the context is required to do so, but instead attacks a position not held by the other side. The arguer argues to a conclusion that denies the "straw man", but misses the target. There may be nothing wrong with the argument presented by the arguer when it is taken out of context, that is, it may be a perfectly good argument against the straw man. It is only because the burden of proof is on the arguer to argue against the opponent's position that a Straw Man fallacy is committed. So, the fallacy is not simply the argument, but the entire situation of the argument occurring in such a context.

Straw Man Fallacy


A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position in order to make it appear weaker than it actually is, refutes this misrepresentation of the position, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. This, of course, is a fallacy, because the position that has been claimed to be refuted is different to that which has actually been refuted; the real target of the argument is untouched by it.

Attacking Faulty Reasoning
By T. Edward Damer

Attacking a Straw Man

Definition Misrepresenting an opponent’s position or argument, usually for the purpose of making it easier to attack.

A straw man is a metaphor used to describe the caricature of an opponent’s argument that the faulty arguer substitutes for the flesh-and-blood original version. But a successful attack on this strawlike substitute is not a successful attack on the actual criticism or argument of the critic. According to the rebuttal criterion, a good argument must effectively rebut the strongest version of a criticism or argument against it. Since the arguer has attacked a deliberately weakened version of that argument,he or she has failed to satisfy the rebuttal criterion.

One may misrepresent another's argument in several ways. First, one may distort it. This is often done by paraphrasing it in words that subtly include one’s own negative evaluation of it. Second, one may oversimplify it. A complex argument can be made to look absurd when it is stated in a simplified form that leaves out important qualifications or subtle distinctions. Third, one may extend it beyond its original bounds. This can be done by drawing inferences from it that are clearly unwarranted or unintended.

The principle of charity obligates us to represent fairly the arguments of others. Since a misrepresentation of another’s argument or position is an unfair treatment of it, the straw-man attack should be regarded as a violation of not only the rebuttal principle but the principle of charity as well. (page 221)

Critical Thinking:
A Student's Introduction - 4th Edition
Gregory Bassham

Straw Man
The straw man fallacy is committed when an arguer distorts an opponent’s argument or claim to make it easier to attack. For example:

Pete has argued that the New York Yankees are a better baseball team than the Atlanta Braves. But the Braves aren’t a bad team.
They have a great pitching staff, and they consistently finish at or near the top of their division. Obviously, Pete doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

This argument misrepresents Pete’s view. Pete hasn’t claimed that the Braves are a bad team, merely that the Yankees are a better team than the Braves. By mischaracterizing Pete’s view—making it seem weaker or less plausible than it really is—the arguer has committed the straw man fallacy.

Straw man fallacies are extremely common in politics.

For example:
Senator Biddle has argued that we should outlaw violent pornography. Obviously, the senator favors complete governmental censorship of books, magazines, and fi lms. Frankly, I’m shocked that such a view should be expressed on the fl oor of the U.S. Senate. It runs counter to everything this great nation stands for. No senator should listen seriously to such a proposal.

This argument distorts the senator’s view. His claim is that violent pornography should be outlawed, not that there should be complete governmental censorship of books, magazines, and fi lms. By misrepresenting the senator’s position and then attacking the misrepresentation rather than the senator’s actual position, the arguer commits the straw man fallacy.

The logical pattern of straw man arguments is this:
1. X’s view is false or unjustifi ed [but where X’s view has been unfairly
characterized or misrepresented].
2. Therefore, X’s view should be rejected.
Clearly, arguments of this pattern provide no logically relevant support for their conclusions. (129-130)

Introduction to Logic
Irving M. Copi, Carl Cohen & Kenneth McMahon
Fourteenth Edition 2014

It is very much easier to win a fight against a person made of straw than against
one made of flesh and blood. If one argues against some view by presenting an
opponent’s position as one that is easily torn apart, the argument is fallacious, of
course. Such an argument commits the fallacy of the straw man.
The straw man argument often presents a genuine objection or criticism, and the objection may be sound, but it is aimed at a new and irrelevant target (117).

Stephen's Guide to Logical Fallacies Straw Man

Nizkor Project Fallacies Straw Man
Last edited by mtbturtle on December 4th, 2014, 4:40 pm, edited 6 times in total.
Reason: added reference
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Re: Straw Man

Postby Forest_Dump on March 6th, 2013, 8:20 pm 

I think posts like these should be given a sticky, perhaps keeping the thread for all logical fallacies and locked except to add new ones (after this post is deleted, of course).
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Re: Straw Man

Postby mtbturtle on March 6th, 2013, 9:29 pm 

I made it an announcement so they'll collect at the top of the forum. I'll leave them open though for comments. I don't see much discussion taking place, but others might have examples or other sources to share or questions.
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Straw Man

Postby Watson on March 6th, 2013, 10:22 pm 

this was one of the topics that came up reviewing freeusall's public trust thread. just catch my eye.
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Re: Straw Man

Postby yadayada on March 7th, 2013, 11:34 am 

What makes the straw man argument so insidious is that misrepresentation is not always necessary for the argument to be fallacious but convincing. It is enough for the speaker to be more knowledgeable than the listener.

A prime example is Aristotle's use of the straw man method throughout his Metaphysics. When his opponents' position has a number of valid interpretations ranging from the inadequate through a powerful middle ground all the way to the absurdly generalized, he selects one of the extremes for ad hominem ridicule, leaving the relevant issues ignored.


Re: Straw Man

Postby DragonFly on March 7th, 2013, 5:49 pm 

yadayada wrote: …leaving the relevant issues ignored.

Yes, and people may try anything to have what they want to be true, some even knowing they are fooling themselves, and so this gets us into the area of the psychological reasons for trying to pull off fallacies in the first place. (I'm assuming that Aristotle was no dummy.)
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