fallacies: straw man

Informal Fallacies

Straw man

The general purpose of a straw man argument is to present an opponents position in a way that makes it seems ridiculous, weak, and obviously wrong. The straw man fallacy is similar to the red herring fallacy in that it doesn't address the actual argument being considered. It differs in that a straw man doesn't address the opposing argument because it misrepresents or distorts it. A straw man argument often contains a grain of truth, but the opposing position is so blown out of proportion it is hardly recognizable.

A great source for straw man arguments is any heavily biased news source. Sentiments like "Obama's going to take all our guns" is a straw man argument against proposed gun control legislation. While there may be some truth in that the proposed legislation seeks to ban assault weapons, there is no part of any proposed bill that requires all gun owners to turn in every type of gun they own. Conversely, proponents of gun-control legislation might make a straw man out of the legislation's opponents by arguing that pro-gun people don't want any restrictions at all on gun ownership and types of ownership.

From the point of view of critical thinking there are a few important points to notice: (a) The straw man gun control arguments on both sides distort the respective opponent's position such that its actual content isn't being addressed, (b) because the opposing argument is distorted it seems ridiculous and easy to refute, and (c) because the actual content isn't being addressed, the topic of the argument gets shifted away from the actual premises rendering difficult meaningful dialogue.

Hotly debated topics are fertile ground for straw man arguments. For good examples read the comments section for any article on GMO, nuclear power, natural gas, gun control, health care (in the US), immigration policy, and public policy regarding religion.

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