Logical fallacies are tricks or illusions of thought that have the potential of leading the other person or the entire conversation away from the topic and confuse the listeners. Since debating is an ancient art from, by now, thinkers and researchers have described tens upon tens logical fallacies. Probably, one of the most pervasive and challenging to handle is the fallacy of straw man. This paper discusses the anatomy of the straw man fallacy, provides illustrations, and gives advice on how to overcome this type of thinking.
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The Straw Man Fallacy: Definition and Examples
Essentially, a straw man is a fallacious argument that distorts a person’s original point of view. It creates the illusion that the said person meant something other than they have just expressed. At that, employing the straw man fallacy makes dominating a debate easier for the opponent since they basically created an entirely different argument out of something the first person has said. In this way, they do not have to deal with the reality of the opponent’s opinion but merely attack an argument that they have just created. It is abundantly easy to see how this logical fallacy may be confusing for the person whose argument has become subject to it.
Understanding the straw man fallacy takes deconstruction and breaking it down into the three main stages:
- Person A states their position;
- Person B distorts Person A’s original position and pretends that these two are identical;
- Person B attacks the distorted version of Person A’s stance on the topic and acts as it undermines the logic of the original argument (Boudry, Paglieri, & Pigliucci, 2015).
An example of using the straw man fallacy in a debate or a conversation would be a student telling the professor that giving out study guides would be a good idea. The professor rejects the suggestion, saying that he cannot just give every student a perfect score. While having a comprehensive study guide may help a student get an “A,” it is not a guarantee. However, the professor acts as if there are no intermediary steps between reading a guide and scoring high at the exams. Now that he has changed the topic to something vaguely related, the student might become too confused to continue.
The Straw Man Fallacy: A Counterattack
Being confronted with the straw man logical fallacy in an argument may be annoying at best and challenging at worst. However, there are a few sound methods of debunking this fallacy and making the debate take its original direction. Below are the three best strategies:
- Make the original position exhaustive. Sometimes, the first speaker does not use clear language to present their point, which makes them vulnerable to the straw man fallacy. Once the speaker allows the mildest ambiguity, their opponent may jump right in and construct a pseudo-argument;
- Point out the fallacy. When confronted with a straw man, it might benefit the first speaker to make it known to the opponent and the audience;
- Ignore the fallacy. Another route that a debater might consider going down is ignoring a straw man altogether and keep defending their position. In this case, they might as well preserve energy and keep the conversation on track (Macagno & Walton, 2017).
Skilled debating is an art that requires sound reasoning, logic, and persuasion. Typically, the debating sides present their arguments and debunk the points made by the opponent. In the process of attacking the opponent’s opinion, some individuals employ so-called logical fallacies. One of the most common logical fallacies is that of the straw man. The straw man appears when one of the debaters distorts someone else’s opinion and presents it as their original point of view. This leads to confusion and makes the entire debate go off-topic. To counter the straw man fallacy, a debater might want to use more clear expressions, point it out to the audience, or ignore it.
Boudry, M., Paglieri, F., & Pigliucci, M. (2015). The fake, the flimsy, and the fallacious: Demarcating arguments in real life. Argumentation, 29(4), 431-456.
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Macagno, F., & Walton, D. (2017). Interpreting straw man argumentation. New York, NY: Springer.