Bad Arguments and How to Avoid Them - Deepstash

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Straw man arguments

A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to contradict.

The only purpose is for it to be easy to expose. It’s not an argument you happen to find inconvenient or challenging. It’s one that is logically flawed.

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Hollow man arguments

This is a weak case (similar to the Straw man arguments) attributed to a non-existent group: Someone will fabricate a viewpoint that is easy to contradict, then claim it was made by a group they disagree with. Arguing against an opponent which doesn’t exist is a pretty easy way to win any debate.

People who use hollow man arguments will often use vague, non-specific language without explicitly giving any sources or stating who their opponent is.

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Iron man argument

It is designed to be resistant to attacks by a defier.There arguments are difficult to avoid because they have a lot of overlap with legitimate debate techniques.

A person using an iron man argument will most likely make their own viewpoint so vague that nothing anyone says about it can weaken it. They’ll use jargon and imprecise terms. This means they can claim anyone who disagrees didn’t understand them, or they’ll rephrase their argument multiple times.

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Bad arguments are harmful

Bad arguments are harmful

  • They are harmful to everyone involved in a debate: they don’t get us anywhere because we’re not tackling an opponent’s actual viewpoint. This means we have no hope of convincing them.
  • It’s not easy to admit we’re wrong about anything or to have to change our minds. But this is crucial if we want to get smarter and see the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

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Avoid using bad arguments

  • We have to accept it’s something we’re all vulnerable to: it’s easy to look at other people we know that use logical fallacies. It’s much harder to recognize them in ourselves.
  • Bad arguments are almost unavoidable if we haven’t taken the time to research both sides of the debate. We have to research the opposite side and understand that our perception of an opinion is not that opinion.

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Successful critical commentaries

  • Re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  • List any points of agreement.
  • Mention anything you have learned from your target.
  • Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

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When someone uses a bad argument

The first thing you can do you is to point it out. Explain why that isn’t helpful.

If this is not working, repeat your original point and make no attempt to defend the bad argument. The debate should probably not continue when your opponent proves unwilling to recognize their use of a bad argument.

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