Straw Man Fallacy

Straw Man: Definition and Useful Examples of Straw Man Fallacy

What is the straw man fallacy? When we look at the vast amount of fallacies which can be seen in the English language, it can be somewhat intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. There may a lot of different types of fallacy but when we take each one and look at it in more depth, things become a lot more clear. In this article, we are going to be taking a look at the straw man fallacy which is very commonly used within the English language. We will be looking at exactly what the straw man fallacy is as well as how it can be used during both spoken and written English. We will then be taking a look at some examples of this type of fallacy as a way of gaining a greater understanding of its function.

Straw Man Fallacy

Straw Man Definition

The straw man fallacy is a type of fallacy which is used as a way of attacking the argument of the opposition. This is a tactic which is often used in areas that involve heavy debate such as in politics or other types of controversial debates. The speaker or writer will deliberately misinterpret the view or opinion of the opposition as a way of making their claim much more easy to refute. The speaker or writer may often make their opponent’s argument much more simple than it is in reality, making it easier to tear apart. Quite often the straw man fallacy will omit any important points and only argue against those which are more easy to refute.

The straw man fallacy is made up of person 1 putting forward a claim or argument and person 2 then creating a view of that argument or claim which is distorted, this is the ‘straw man.’ Person 2 will then attack the distorted argument which they have created as a way of refuting the original claim made by person 1.

Straw Man Examples

As we mentioned earlier on, the straw man fallacy is widely used within the English language especially in areas of high or controversial debate such as politics.

In order to fully understand the concept, it is important to see the straw man fallacy being used in a conversation. For this reason, we are now going to take a look at some examples of how the straw man fallacy might work in day to day conversation.

  • In the War On Christmas, which is a popular controversial debate, we see an example of the straw man fallacy when person 1 says I think that the Christmas concert should include not only traditional Christmas songs but also songs that are not related to the holidays.” In response to this person, 2 says “You just won’t be happy until you have banned traditional Christmas songs altogether.” We can clearly see that the original claim was not intended to ban traditional Christmas songs altogether but person 2 has used this small detail to completely refute person 1’s claim.
  • A recent and famous example of the straw man fallacy comes when we take a look at a claim made by Elon Musk when talking about self-driving cars. He stated, “self driving cars are a natural extension of safety and clearly something that we should do.” His opponent in this discussion retorted with “those types of cars are not safe! Did you not hear about the self driving Uber car which killed a person in the state of Arizona?” Whilst this does mention the use of self driving cars it in no way relates to the original claim made and has used a tiny detail (the self driving car) to discuss a tragic incident related to this, therefore allowing the opposition to refute the original claim entirely.
  • Let’s now imagine a fictional scenario in which a married couple have spent the day apart due to work commitments, they return home and the husband says “hurry up and make my dinner” to which the wife replies “you only want me when I’m doing something for you.” This has nothing to do with the original statement made by the husband, who has said nothing that would suggest he only wants his wife when she is doing something for him. The wife has used this counter argument as a way of attacking her husbands original statement.
  • A very famous example of how people might use the straw man fallacy is when talking about the theory of evolution. This is something that has separated the opinions of people for a very long time and by using the straw man fallacy, those taking part is debates are easily able to refute the claims of their opponents. For example is a scientist were to say “evolution allows us to explain how various different animals have adapted, developed and diversified over a period of millions of years.” When his opponent hears this, he might reply with something along the lines of “If we are, as you say, evolved from a monkey, why do monkeys still exist today? Why do we not have three arms? Would that not give me an advantage competitively speaking?” The opponent has selected certain, irrelevant points from the original statement as a way of bringing down the claim and attacking the opposing view. The original claim did not mention that humans came from monkeys, it simply mentioned evolution yet the opposition made this claim to refute it.

How To Challenge The Straw Man Fallacy

There are ways in which the straw man fallacy can be challenge, you might consider asking your opponent to prove how their statement relates in any way to the original claim. You might also ask them to prove their own theory with evidence or facts, often times they will not be able to do this.

Conclusion

As we have seen, the straw man fallacy is a type of fallacy which is used to break apart the ideas or opinions of an opposing view in order to be able to more easily refute it. This is often seen as an underhanded tactic which is frequently seen in areas such as politics and controversial debate.

There are many examples of how the straw man fallacy might work and we have seen several which clearly demonstrate its function.

Straw Man Fallacy Infographic

Straw Man Fallacy

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