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Understanding the Concept of Straw Man Argument

Vijith Menon Oct 17, 2020
The straw man argument is a fallacy committed either intentionally or by accident to win an argument. To understand the concept better, here is all about the straw man argument with some easy examples.

Did You Know?

In the TV series Community, Jeff Winger uses the references of imaginary people to get himself nominated for the student elections. This is a straw man argument by referencing people that actually don't exist.

What is a Straw Man Argument?

When a view aired by a person is easily contradicted by another by misrepresenting the position of the person's argument, it is known as a straw man argument. The term 'straw man argument' comes by opposing the original argument with a weaker version of it, so that it can be easily refutable.
The term has been used in many political debates, where the opponent doesn't address the issue at hand, but misdirects it using a distorted version of the truth.
This term most probably comes from dummies or scarecrows used for target practice by the military. This is because a straw man can't defend himself easily, and the opponent wins the battle without any effort. In the United Kingdom, it is referred to as Aunt Sally, where patrons throw rocks at a mock old woman's head to knock it down.
The straw man argument is usually made by quoting things out of context, exaggeration, misrepresentation, and fabrication. Let's get a better understanding of the straw man argument with some examples.

Straw Man Argument Examples

In Politics

People who think abortion should be banned have no respect for the rights of women. They treat them as nothing but baby-making machines. That's wrong. Women must have the right to choose.

This is an example of the straw man argument, where the anti-abortionists are made out to be monsters who don't care about women or babies.
A: The government should raise fuel efficiency standards to cut down the release of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years.

B: Our cities are built so that we have to drive cars. Your solution will kill the economy. How would people get to work without cars? It'll never work.
This is another example where B has exaggerated the problem by arguing about the need of cars, instead of addressing the issue of fuel efficiency.

In Day-to-day Life

We should not speak ill of our friends.

Though this statement means that we shouldn't speak ill about our friends, someone constructing a straw man argument may misconstrue that we can talk ill about everyone except our friends.
Son: Should we clean the backyard when it gets messy everyday?

Father: You want the garbage to pile up forever?

The father took his son's words out of context, implied that he wanted it to be dirty, even going as far as to point out his laziness. Instead of answering it with a yes or no, he point out the weak point of the argument by emphasizing on cleaning.

In Religion

Atheists claim that the universe came out of nothing.

This is a straw man argument, in that, everyone who believes in the Big Bang Theory is an atheist. But the truth is, only creationists believe that the universe came from nothing at the command of God.

In Movies

'Thank You for Smoking' is an example of the straw man argument, as the title takes things out of context, and pretends to accept smoking as a pro-life choice.

This is an argument based on little evidence, but is instead set-up to break down an opponent's argument. Think of it as a walk-in trap to intentionally malign the other side of the argument.
The fastest way to win any argument, the straw man is closely related to ad hominem or argumentum ad vercundiam. It is not a straw man fallacy if we don't use the simplified or exaggerated version of the argument to attack the other person's views.
Straw man arguments commit intellectual dishonesty, and should be avoided at all costs. Instead, you should try winning a debate by building a solid foundation to your argument.