What Is a Straw Man Argument? Definition and Examples - Deepstash
What Is a Straw Man Argument? Definition and Examples

What Is a Straw Man Argument? Definition and Examples

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What Is a Straw Man Argument? Definition and Examples

The Straw Man Argument

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.

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History of The Straw Man Fallacy

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. 

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Strawman Argument: How It Works

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:

  1. Oversimplifying it.
  2. Focusing on just one part of the opposing argument: The arguer shows a tiny sliver of it as if that sliver were the whole thing.
  3. Taking it out of context.
  4. Presenting a fringe or extreme version of an opposing argument as the mainstream version of it.

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Live And Written Usages Of The Strawman Argument

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.

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Identifying A Strawman Argument

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:

  • My opponent hates animals and doesn’t care how many will be displaced by his project. 
  • Our new principal wants to ban everything that’s fun. 
  • Their only priority is to make more money for their shareholders. 

See how all of these statements contain simple statements that lack nuance? That’s a key characteristic of a straw man argument. 

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How to Counter 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

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The Two Strategies

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!

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  • Understanding the opposing perspective enables you to craft a stronger argument of your own. When you’re able to think critically about an opposing argument and formulate well-thought-out responses, your writing is more impactful. 
  • In a debate or another scenario where you’ll have a back-and-forth discussion with your opponent, understanding their position completely can enable you to anticipate their rebuttals and plan your responses accordingly.
  • Understanding opposing points of view also enables you to empathize with your opponents .

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A Few Examples

Example 1

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?

 

Example 2

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. 

 

Example 3

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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