What Is a Straw Man Argument?

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Whether you are reading a news article, watching an online video, or attending a debate in person, you will see that there are multiple ways to argue. Some people will present clear facts and ideas, while others will use logical fallacies to try and manipulate the audience. When you can identify these fallacies, you can avoid the traps in logic that the user wants you to fall into. 

High-quality news sources avoid publishing content with logical fallacies. One commonly used attack is the straw man argument. Learn more about this concept and how to identify it so you can avoid low-quality news and stick to trusted publications.

Straw Man Definition

A straw man argument builds up an idea into its worst possible version. The opponent then argues against this extreme version, which no one had brought up previously. You might also see this fallacy represented in the gender-neutral term “straw person argument.” 

This fallacy gets its name because the person who uses it makes up an argument or an idea that their opponent doesn’t actually support. They misrepresent the idea or take it to the extreme. 

Types of Straw Man Fallacies

There are multiple types of straw man fallacies that you may encounter as you consume media or debate with others. Here are a few to look out for. 

  • Oversimplification: A complex issue is reduced to its most basic form.
  • Focusing on one aspect: This looks at a specific point in an argument instead of the big picture.
  • Exaggeration: The arguer will take the most extreme version of a concept and present it as their opponent’s ideal situation.
  • Taking the argument out of context: They will take an idea or statement and contextualize it differently than their opponent intended. 

This is one of the most common logical fallacies used by people who don’t have a strong argument on their own. Instead, they take one part of their opponent’s ideas and over-dramatize it.

Why Is It a Fallacy?

This is considered a fallacy because the user takes the information provided by their opponent and manipulates it. Instead of countering an argument point-by-point, the straw man fallacy allows the user to play on the fears of audiences and focus on the worst-case scenario instead. 

This use of hyperbole and misdirection is similar to other logical fallacies like the slippery slope argument, ad hominem attack, and false equivalency.

How To Identify the Straw Man Fallacy

It can be difficult to identify a straw man fallacy if you don’t know what to look for. Here are a few tips to spot the warning signs that someone is trying to make a straw man argument. 

  • The opponent starts to oversimplify a concept or an idea.
  • They take parts of the argument out of context and then manipulate it.
  • They bring up extreme situations that the original party did not reference. 
  • The original debater is now baited to focus on the extreme case instead of their original concept. 

There are also a few key characteristics of a straw man argument to look out for. here are a few things to be aware of. 

  • The opponent refuses to argue the presented points and dramatizes them instead. 
  • They don’t bring up their own views, but rather focus on manipulating the ideas of their opponents.
  • They don’t provide concrete evidence or facts that one point will lead to the most extreme situation.

The goal of straw man arguments is to make opponents defensive. Instead of the opponent being able to present logical ideas and carefully thought-out points, they focus on clarifying their statements and avoiding misrepresentation. If someone has a limited number of minutes to present an argument, either because they are in a debate or a live interview, the use of a strong man fallacy can waste time so the audience misses out on valuable information.

Examples of the Straw Man Fallacy

The more you see examples of the straw man fallacy, the easier it becomes to identify this form of argument. Here are a few situations where someone uses a straw person instead of actually debating their opponent.

  • The senator supports refugees, which means they want to flood the country with immigrants. 
  • Anyone who votes in favor of abortion access hates babies and wants to kill all of them. 
  • Someone who supports gun control wants to take away all of the firearms in the county, including those used by hunters, police officers, and the military. 

In each of these examples, one person presents an argument and the opponent takes their comments to the extreme.

How To Counter the Straw Man Fallacy

If someone uses a straw man fallacy against you, resist the urge to validate their position. Their goal is to goad you into defending the extreme position they created for you. Here are a few ways to counter it instead. 

  • Clarify your position: State that your words have been taken out of context and restate exactly what you said. 
  • Do not repeat the misrepresentation: Your sentence could be taken out of context in the future. 
  • Call out the bad behavior: You might be able to highlight how your opponent is using a straw man fallacy before getting back to your point.

Try to force your opponent to argue on the specific points that you are making instead of letting them misrepresent your information. Don’t fall for the trap of validating their accusations by restating them or arguing against them.

More Effective Arguments

You can’t stop your opponent from using logical fallacies, but you can develop strong arguments that win over your audience. Here are a few ways to argue effectively that don’t rely on the straw man attack. 

    • Focus your argument on a single idea: Every point you make can defend this clear thesis. 
    • Gather evidence from reliable sources: Pull together a mixture of qualitative and quantitative sources to defend your points. 
  • Address the counterarguments: Prove that you researched your opponent’s side and explain why they are wrong. 
  • Know your audience: Understand what they think about the topic and how informed they are about the issue. 

People make arguments and defend their stances on a variety of topics, from national political issues to debates on what to order for dinner. If you can make strong arguments and defend your ideas clearly, then you can win people over to your side. Continue embracing a lifestyle of learning so you can make strong arguments and choose the best side in debates. 

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