Straw man fallacy is the substitution of a person’s argument with a distorted form so that it can be easier to attack the opponent by pretending to disagree with an opponent’s viewpoint. It is based on providing an impression of rejecting an argument not presented by an opponent. Since the newly argument was not even initially present, it becomes more difficult to debunk it with facts and logic. Moreover, introducing a new, otherwise invalid argument makes the conflict or debate take an unexpected direction. “Attacking a straw man” is a term used to describe the behavior of an individual who indulges in this fallacy (Van Eemeren & Grootendorst, 2016). Straw man arguments have been used extensively throughout history, especially in debates involving controversial topics. This paper discusses the anatomy of this logical fallacy in detail, contrasting it to a healthy argument.
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Straw man arguments, unlike disagreements with someone’s viewpoint, focus on a few specific components of an opponent’s argument. Disagreeing with someone’s point of view involves considering all facts and prioritizing logic over emotions regarding a situation. Disagreements usually emphasize reasoning and supporting evidence as to why you disagree with a particular viewpoint. Straw man arguments tend to distort an opponent’s stance. Straw man arguments usually exaggerate an opponent’s case intending to attack his perspective quickly. Typical disagreements with another person’s perspective are anchored on illustrating why you feel the way you do and the reasons as to why you think you are likely to be correct.
Disagreeing with someone’s viewpoint entails effectively logically presenting your ideas with a motive to persuade the other party to have a different perspective other than poking holes in an opponent’s ideas to defeat them quickly, which is the case in straw man arguments. A simple disagreement with an opponent’s point of view entails tackling a topic holistically and elucidating your reasoning using carefully thought evidence. Contrary to this, straw man arguments quote parts of the opponent’s case out of context (Meeteren, Derudder, & Bassens, 2016). This is usually done to get an opportunity to pin down the opponent to defeat them during the argument. Disagreeing with someone’s point of view should take the form of introducing a new dimension of thinking, not a personal attack.
Unlike healthy disagreements, straw man fallacies are based on a distorted version of the original argument while pretending that there exists no difference between the two versions of a dispute, to invalidate the original case of an opponent. Differing with someone else’s point of view focuses strictly on a specific topic that is not distorted but rather, the different parties involved have differing opinions, and each one tries to convince the other using supporting evidence.
Straw man arguments are meant to distract real issues being discussed through the representation of cases that are not logically valid. The straw man created forms a diversion of attention from the real issues at hand to gain the upper hand in a discussion (Meeteren et al., 2016). Simple disagreements with someone else’s point of view is plausible and valid, with a goal of providing the reasoning behind why one supports a given stand of a given topic, achieved through effectively listening to the other person carefully then trying to persuade them, unlike straw man arguments that introduce an entirely new version of the opponent’s argument.
Meeteren, M. Van, Derudder, B., & Bassens, D. (2016). Can the straw man speak ? An engagement with postcolonial critiques of ‘global cities research.’ 6(3), 247–267. Web.
Van Eemeren, F. H., & Grootendorst, R. (2016). Argumentation, communication, and fallacies: A pragma-dialectical perspective. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
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