The Straw Man Fallacy

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By aaron

The straw man argument is one in which you give the impression of refuting someone's claim by refuting a similar claim that wasn't even made by that person. Usually, the mis-represented version is one that is much easier to refute. Straw man arguments are fallacies because by modifying the claim they are addressing, they don't adequately refute that claim.

Here is an example debate that has a straw man:

Suzy: It is time to legalize medical marijuana.
Bob: You want to legalize marijuana? I can't believe you are okay with that! Allowing every drug under the sun to find their way onto our streets! What's wrong with you?

This argument is a straw man. Suzy never made the claim that she wants to legalize every drug, and she never suggested that it was okay for those drugs to end up on the streets. She simply stated that she supports marijuana for medical use. She could still be against the use of other drugs, and she could even be against general use of marijuana outside of medical use. But by mis-representing her view, Bob has given the appearance of refuting her argument.

That is one type of straw man, but there are others. A second type is when someone is quoted out of context to mis-represent their claims. Quoting someone out of context is an easy way to weaken an argument and give the impression of refuting it, but it is a fallacy.

Another common example is when an arguer refutes the argument of one person, then claims to have “shut down” every person who agrees with that position. A straw man of that form could sound like this:

Jerry: We should make greater efforts to protect endangered species like the bald eagle.
Megan: The bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list in 1995.
There is really no need to protect endangered species anymore.

In this argument, Megan is committing a straw man fallacy. It is true that the bald eagle is no longer endangered, but just because she refuted that one claim, it doesn't refute the general claim that we should protect endangered species. It means Jerry was wrong about one point, it doesn't mean the entire viewpoint is wrong.

A similar type of straw man is when someone makes up a fictitious person with points that are easy to refute, then uses that to give an impression of refuting the entire viewpoint. For instance, in that last example, Megan could have completely made up the entire conversation with Jerry and purposely included mistakes in his logic, then refute his argument to reinforce her own views on the matter.

Such tactics do not address the debate topic, and constitute a straw man fallacy. #logic #skepticism #critical thinking #fallacy #fallacies

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