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.

Examples:

  • 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.”

scarecrow straw manStraw 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.”)
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