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A straw man argument, sometimes called a straw person argument or spelled strawman argument, is the logical fallacy of distorting an opposing position into an extreme version of itself and then arguing against that extreme version. In creating a straw man argument, the arguer strips the opposing point of view of any nuance and often misrepresents it in a negative light.
The straw man fallacy is an informal fallacy, which means that the flaw lies with the arguer’s method of arguing rather than the flaws of the argument itself.
One of the earliest references to the straw man argument dates to Martin Luther. In his 1520 book On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, he claimed that one of the church’s criticisms of him was that he argued against serving the Eucharist according to one serving practice despite his never actually making that argument.
Later recognition of the straw man fallacy as a distinct logical fallacy dates to the twentieth century. The term originated with the idea of setting up a simplistic imagined opponent that’s easy to knock down, like a scarecrow or a military training dummy.
A straw man argument is constructed by presenting an opposing position as a warped, extreme version of itself.
There are a few different ways an individual might turn a reasonable argument into a straw man:
Straw man arguments are used in a few different ways. In a live debate, one might be used in an attempt to back the opposing debater into a corner and force them to defend an extreme or unpopular take on their position. In a piece of writing, a straw man argument makes it easy for the writer to make their position look rational and appealing.
By doing this, though, the writer is giving readers a biased look at the issue they’re discussing. When readers aren’t familiar with the topic, this can give them the wrong idea and prevent them from developing well-reasoned opinions on it.
The easiest way to identify a straw man argument is to determine whether an argument sounds too simple or extreme to be true. Take a look at these statements:
See how all of these statements contain simple statements that lack nuance? That’s a key characteristic of a straw man argument.
To counter a straw man version of your position, restate your position in the clearest, most definitive language possible. The clearer you are, the more difficult it is for your opponent to distort your works or take them out of context. This works as a straw man prevention strategy as well as a straw man rebuttal strategy.
When you’re actively being misrepresented by a straw man, stay calm and try to avoid straw-manning your opponent in return or letting your argument devolve into other fallacies
Asking your opponent to elaborate on their claim: Depending on the claim, ask them where they got their data or how they came to that conclusion based on what you’ve said and done.
Pointing out that your opponent is misrepresenting you: Simply call it what it is: a straw man argument.
You also need to know how to recognize them in your own writing. When you’re writing an argumentative or persuasive essay, it can be easy to use straw man arguments—even accidentally!
Person 1: Because of the thefts in our building, I think we should add more security cameras.
Person 2: So you’re saying you don’t trust your neighbors?
Person 1: I think we should mute debaters’ microphones when it’s their opponents’ turns to speak so they can’t interrupt each other.
Person 2: I disagree because I support free speech.
Person 1: Our restaurant’s policy is that nobody under eighteen is admitted after 8 p.m.
Person 2: Why are you against families eating dinner together?
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