The straw man is a logical fallacy that occurs when a person argues against a misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument rather than the actual argument itself. In effect, the person is building a false argument (the straw man) that is easier to knock down than the actual argument.
- George supports a law reducing speed limits by 10 miles an hour. His opponent, Lucy, says, “This is part of your ultimate plan to get rid of all cars.”
- A parent tells her daughter to eat her vegetables. The daughter replies, “You won’t be happy until I’m a vegetarian.”
- Richie Rich says to one of his workers, “You just want a raise because you want more of our company’s money, and you’re jealous of all rich people.”
- Stanley says: “I don’t think children should play on busy streets.” Livingston replies: “I don’t think we should be confining children inside all the time.”
Straw men fallacies are typically exaggerations or misrepresentations. The actual facts are critical toward determining if an argument is a straw man.
- Straw man: Person A: “We need to do yard work today.” Person B: “I don’t understand why you want to work in the yard every single day.” Actual facts: person A has wanted to do yard work three (or some number not near ten) days out of the last ten.
- Not a straw man: Person A: “We need to do yard work today.” Person B: “I don’t understand why you want to work in the yard every single day.” Actual facts: person A has wanted to do yard work ten out of the last ten days. Nine days may be close enough, although it would be less fallacious for person B to instead say, “I don’t understand why you want to work in the yard almost every single day.
Avoiding extreme language can often help prevent straw man fallacies.
- A mother tells her son that he plays video games all of the time. He says, “Not true. Last week I mowed the lawn.” (The son took advantage of the fact that the mother actually did use a straw man fallacy with her exaggeration. She could have prevented this by instead saying something such as, “You play video games way too much.”)