Straw man fallacy

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A straw man fallacy (or straw man argument) is a fallacy which occurs by first incorrectly attributing an argument to someone, disproving this argument, then claiming that the person was wrong. It is a caricature of an opponent's argument, a distortion which can easily be "knocked down" (i.e., refuted) like a flimsy pile of straw.

A strawman argument is a weakened version of a debating opponent's argument, which lacks the potency of the opponent's actual argument. In debates attended by the unwary, a clever but unscrupulous debater can fool the audience into thinking that the opponent's position has been disproved. Knocking down the powerless straw man takes the place of an authentic contest with the real man.

Straw man arguments are often found in politics. It is common in politically corrupt societies for demagogues to construct strawmen of their opponents' arguments to win debates and sway the masses.

Straw man arguments can sometimes be hard to detect, because a valid statement may be used in a distorted fashion. For example:

  • Person A believes that a military program should be cut
  • Person B argues that since Person A wants to cut military funding, he wants to leave the country defenseless to attack

This is fallacious reasoning, because there is no way to know why person A believes what he does, and Person B has used one reason which suits his own purpose. For example, it's quite possible that Person A wants to cut the program because he wants to change the funding to something which he thinks does a better job at defending the country. Person A's idea may include putting more money towards diplomatic efforts.

Another example of a straw man argument:

A way to avoid committing the straw-man fallacy is through the ideological Turing test. Generally, the ideological Turing test is a test of the ability to state one's opponents' position correctly or in such a way that one's opponents accept it as an accurate statement of their position.

See also