Straw Man Argument (definitions of a fallacy)

In a strawman argument, "the author attacks an argument different from (and weaker than) the opposition's best argument."  {Stephen Downes Guide to the Logical Fallacies}

A strawman is "an argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated." {American Heritage Dictionary, in TheFreeDictionary}  The A.H. Dictionary also gives two other definitions — including "a bundle of straw made into the likeness of a man and often used as a scarecrow" which is the origin of using strawman to describe one type of logical fallacy — but this page will focus on the use of strawman in logic and rhetoric.  For other definitions, see Wikipedia's disambiguation for StrawMan.

Wikipedia says: "A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.  To ‘set up a straw man’ or ‘set up a straw-man argument’ is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent.  A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact a misleading fallacy, because the opponent's actual argument has not been refuted. ... It is occasionally called a straw dog fallacy, scarecrow argument, or wooden dummy argument."   /   "One can set up a straw man in the following ways:  1) Present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted.  2) Quote an opponent's words out of context — i.e., choose quotations that are not representative of the opponent's actual intentions.  3) Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute that person's arguments, and pretend that every upholder of that position, and thus the position itself, has been defeated.  4) Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticized, and pretend that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.  5) Oversimplify a person's argument into a simple analogy, which can then be attacked."

    Here is an evaluation, a strategy, and a resource:
    evaluation (and editorial opinion) — A strawman argument pretends that something false is true, so it is intellectually dishonest.
    a defensive strategy — Your only defense is to "know your stuff" by educating yourself, so you'll by know the evidence and logic that supports each position.
    an educational resource — Because we in ASA want to help promote honesty and integrity in science (and in other areas of life) a central goal is to minimize the distorted "strawman" caricatures built by opponents of a view, so you can learn what each view actually is.  In an effort to do this, our main educational strategy is to help you "get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support... so you can get an accurate understanding."  {quoted from Accurate Understanding and Respectful Attitudes}  

One type of strawman argument is "those [legal] arguments in briefs or opinions created solely for the purpose of debunking or ‘discovering’ them.  Arguments so created are like ‘straw men’ because they are, by nature, insubstantial."  {from}


This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

Here are other related pages:

Critical Thinking in Education & Life
includes links about logical fallacies
(circular reasoning ...) and more.

This page, assembled and written by Craig Rusbult, is

Copyright © 2007 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved