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Straw Man

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Straw man

A straw man, known in the UK as an Aunt Sally, is a type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

Origin

The origins of the term are unclear. The usage of the term in rhetoric suggests a human figure made of straw which is easily knocked down or destroyed, such as a military training dummy, scarecrow, or effigy. The rhetorical technique is sometimes called an Aunt Sally in the UK, with reference to a traditional fairground game in which objects are thrown at a fixed target. One common folk etymology is that it refers to men who stood outside courthouses with a straw in their shoe in order to indicate their willingness to be a false witness.

Reasoning

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

  1. Person A has position X.
  2. Person B disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. The position Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
    1. Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position.
    2. Quoting an opponent's words out of context — i.e. choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent's actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context)
    3. Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person's arguments — thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated
    4. Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
    5. Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
  3. Person B attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position.

Examples

Straw man arguments often arise in public debates such as a (hypothetical) prohibition debate:

Person A: We should liberalize the laws on beer.

Person B: No, any society with unrestricted access to intoxicants loses its work ethic and goes only for immediate gratification.

The proposal was to relax laws on beer. Person B has exaggerated this to a position harder to defend, i.e., "unrestricted access to intoxicants"It is a logical fallacy because Person A never made that claim. This example is also a slippery slope fallacy.

Another example:

Person A: Our society should spend more money helping the poor.

Person B: Studies show that handouts don't work; they just create more poverty and humiliate the recipients. That money could be better spent.

In this case, Person B has transformed Person A's position from "more money" to "more handouts", which is easier for Person B to defeat. Furthermore, Person B fails to mention what the money could be "better spent" on.

Person A: Sunny days are good.

Person B: If all days were sunny, we'd never have rain, and without rain, we'd have famine and death.

In this case B has falsely framed A's claim to imply that A says that only sunny days are good, and has argued against that assertion instead of the assertion A has made.

Wikipedia

Entry #329

Comments

1.
Coin TossComment by Coin Toss - August 21, 2012, 5:53 pm
Like this?
______________________________________

Here’s How You Know You’re Losing a Debate
posted on August 20, 2012 by Gary DeMar

While I don’t debate for a living, I’ve been involved in lots of debates over the past 30 years. Some of them have been before live audiences in a formal debate setting, on the radio with callers, books, and (mostly) with emails and comment posters. A few years ago I did three radio shows over the same number of days for 7.5 hours where the callers got to ask me questions about a particular topic. It was the most fun I had in a long time.

In 30 or more years of doing this type of work, there are a few things you learn. One of them is “be prepared.” I debated an ACLU lawyer from Beverly Hills on the role religion played in America’s founding. I prepared a notebook of possible questions and references to original source documents . . . just in case. At one point in the debate, my opponent quoted a paragraph of a source document that I had included in my binder. When he finished citing it, I immediately responded by reading the rest of the quotation that changed the meaning of the point he was trying to make.

A lot of people will make a claim with nothing to back it up. “They’ve heard it through the grapevine,” so to speak. A simple “what is the source for your claim or statistic” usually shuts them up. Of course, you must be ready if your opponent offers a source. But not all sources are created equal. An “independent source” can be cover for a prejudiced source. I always ask for book, article, web address, page number, author, etc.

In the end, however, I’ve found that most debate opponents resort to trying to destroy the character of the person they’re debating by making unsubstantial charges. This works because most audiences are ignorant. They fall for every logical fallacy in the book.

This election is shaping up to be the granddaddy of ad hominem attacks. An ad hominem argument is no argument at all. By attacking the “man” (ad hominem = “against the man”) the goal is to divert attention away from the topic and put it on the person making the argument. When a person has nothing, he goes after the person he can’t answer with logic or facts. For example:

Billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump blasted President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Robert Gibbs Sunday as “vicious and hateful” after the former press secretary called Trump a “right-wing nut job” on Fox News.

“I was a great student at a great school, Wharton School of Finance,” Trump told Newsmax late Sunday night. “I built a net worth in excess of $8 billion, built a tremendous company, and have employed tens of thousands of people. I hardly see where I qualify under his definition.”

“The Obama representatives like Robert Gibbs attack people viciously, but people like me will not be silent and will answer them back,” Trump said. “It is a shame that they are so vicious and hateful l and that is why the country is so terribly divided””

Using epithets like “right-wing,” “extremist policies,” “going backwards” serve as substitutes for an over-matched debater.

The favorite and most overused ad hominem attack is to call someone a “racist.” Over and over again leftists pull the race card when they’ve got nothing else. By definition, to attack a policy of President Obama is to be a racist. A majority of people are seeing through the charade.

If you’re white and you say that President Obama is angry, this is translated as “angry black man.”

Concerning voter ID laws, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to the NAACP that voter ID laws were like “poll taxes.” Poll taxes and literacy tests were given to blacks to keep them from voting. I wonder way they never thought of requiring IDs?

The real racists are those who make these charges. It assumes that blacks are children. They are unable to care for themselves. Elections happen every two years. The assumption of the race baiters is that two years is not enough time to get a free ID.

Black racist Touré said that the Republicans were seeking the “<snip>ization” of President Obama when they describe him as a liberal extremist. What do you call it when a liberal describes a white candidate as a right-wing nut job? Can a black accuser be a “racist”? Not in the world of Liberalville where there are only one-way streets.

I believe that the racist charge is helping the conservative cause. Whites and Blacks are tired of it. The charge trivializes real racist beliefs, attitudes, and actions. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. After awhile, no one will listen.

Read more: http://godfatherpolitics.com/6692/heres-how-you-know-youre-losing-a-debate/#ixzz24DhoftZ4
2.
TenajComment by Tenaj - August 21, 2012, 7:31 pm
Cointoss it's clear what's it like. Many examples. It's idiot proof.
3.
jarasanComment by jarasan - August 21, 2012, 10:42 pm
Oh Oh!
4.
rdgrnrComment by rdgrnr - August 22, 2012, 12:54 am
Now that was a very informative blog, tenaj. And it illustrates perfectly what Democrats do.
That being said, I hope you will continue to post in that vein without all the vitriol and invective.
It's much easier to debate and discuss issues when we act with respect and civility towards one another. We all need to work together. Peace.
5.
jarasanComment by jarasan - August 24, 2012, 9:02 am
Barry Soetero will be......
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6.
TenajComment by Tenaj - August 24, 2012, 9:35 am
jarasan, how do you expect us to understand when you can't get it out. Stop stuttering.

Ridge, your ancestors will be proud of you, you don't stutter like jarasan. You just flap your wings, but the buzzing is annoying.

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