This fallacy presumes the question, "Which is easier? To fight a real man or one made of straw?" If we could choose, we would always pick the straw man who is so weak that he could be toppled by a breeze. When someone uses the straw man fallacy, she distracts attention away from her opponent's real position by creating a weaker one that is easier to attack. The weaker position (the "straw man") is usually an exaggerated or otherwise distorted version of the real position.

The fallacy looks like this:

1. Person A has position G.

2. Person B presents position H (a distortion of G).

3. Person B attacks position H.

For instance, a couple is having an argument about spending habits. The wife is upset because her husband has been charging expensive items to their charge card that they can't afford. "You need to be more careful with our money," she tells him. Her husband retorts, "why should I listen to you? You do not want me to spend a penny!"Where is the straw man? It is the husband's response to a reasonable claim about his overspending. Instead of acknowledging the issue his wife has brought up, he distorts it by exaggeration. Of course it is ridiculous to expect that someone never spends a penny, and by changing his wife's claim to something ridiculous, he dismisses it. Remember that his wife did not say that he should spend nothing (an extreme view), but rather that he should be more careful.

Note that the straw man fallacy attacks a position that is not actually held by his opponent. In an argument that uses the fallacy, a conclusion is drawn that denies the straw man but ignores the real issue. There may be nothing wrong with the conclusion or its prem


ises; they make sense as an argument against the straw man. But the person arguing effectively against the straw man has bypassed the real issue. In the previous example, the point is not that the wife does not want her husband to spend even a penny. By creating a new and unreasonable position for his wife, the husband dismisses her real argument, which is that he should be more careful with their money.

Straw man arguments put people on the defensive because they (and/or their views) are misrepresented as being extreme. Such arguments take a moderate view and exaggerate or distort it until it is radical. It can be difficult to defend yourself against such an argument because you need to discount an extreme position while at the same time attempting to bring the focus back to your more moderate one. For example, it is a straw man to portray all Republicans as caring only for the wealthy. It is also a straw man to declare that all Democrats care about is creating and preserving an expensive welfare state. A Democrat who does support welfare, when faced with such an argument, would have to first try to show that it is extreme, and then try to bring the discussion back to a reasonable view on the benefits of welfare.


■ We are all being asked to take a pay cut until the economy picks up. I can't believe they expect us to live on nothing!

■ You want me to vacuum the family room? I just cleaned it up two days ago. I can't spend my life cleaning, you know.

■ Congress is voting on reducing military spending. What do they want us to do, defend ourselves with paper airplanes?

Friendly Persuasion

Friendly Persuasion

To do this successfully you need to build a clear path of action by using tools if necessary. These tools would be facts, evidence and stories which you know they can relate to. Plus you always want to have their best interests at heart, in other words, you know what is good for them

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