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Straw Man Argument

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Straw Man Argument

It might seem like a good idea to counter an argument by making the opposing argument bigger than it actually is. After all, the bigger something is the harder it falls, right? However, if a construction company attempts to demolish a building by demolishing the bigger building standing next to it, what have they accomplished? They certainly failed to demolish the target building! Likewise, if you exaggerate an opponent's argument and then "beat it", you are not toppling their argument; you are toppling a straw man argument.

Straw Man Argument Definition

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy. A fallacy is an error of some kind.

A logical fallacy is an argument with flawed reasoning and can be proven illogical.

The straw man argument is an informal logical fallacy, which means that its fallacy lies not in the structure of the logic (which would be a formal logical fallacy), but rather in something else about the argument.

A straw man fallacy occurs when one counters an argument with an exaggerated and inaccurate version of that argument.

While exaggeration is a powerful tool in satirical contexts, exaggerating an argument is a logical fallacy.

Straw Man Argument Fallacy

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy because it counters an argument that is not being made. Here is a simple example:

Person A: Trans fat is not good for you.

Person B: Getting a microgram of trans fat is not going to kill you. This idea that trans fat amounts to cancer is insane!

Of course, Person A never claimed that a “microgram” of trans fat will give you cancer and kill you. This was not the argument. Person A merely stated that trans fat is “not good” for you. This means that large amounts of trans fat could put someone at greater risk of a heart condition.

Straw Man Argument, trans fat example, StudySmarterJust because "trans fat" is the subject, not all arguments about it are the same. This is a straw-man argument.

Person A should have been more specific in their argument, but even a specific argument is not immune to the straw man fallacy. Someone who employs the straw man argument can make any argument different by exaggerating it.

Person A: Trans fat raises your bad cholesterol levels and lowers your good cholesterol levels.

Person B: Raising your bad cholesterol levels is not going to immediately kill you, just like raising your good cholesterol levels won’t save your life. Too much emphasis is getting put on “good” and “bad” cholesterol levels—like they are angels and devils!

Because Person B is making up a new argument to defeat, and they are failing to address the argument being made. They are committing the straw man logical fallacy.

Do not attempt to counter a straw man argument. Instead, identify its illogical use in argumentation altogether. Counter logical arguments; dismiss logical fallacies. Attempting to counter a fallacy will only get you off track. Remember, a straw man argument serves no logical purpose. It is a logical fallacy, often used in desperation.

The straw man argument is not the same as the logical technique of reductio ad absurdum (the “reduction to absurdity”). Reductio ad absurdum aims to prove something is false by rendering its counterpoint absurd. To do this, an arguer would take a counterpoint and examine its most fundamental conclusions, then demonstrate their absurdity. Reductio ad absurdum is a powerful philosophical argument, used by thinkers such as Nāgārjuna in India and Plato in Greece. Arguments of reductio ad absurdum identify extreme arguments; they do not create extreme arguments. Here is an example: "The idea that we should not pursue renewable energy is absurd. The alternative is pursuing fossil fuels, which will eventually result in all of them being gone, massive damage across the Earth, and needing renewable energy anyway."

Straw Man Argument Example in an Essay

In school, you will frequently find straw man arguments in literary analysis and argumentative essays. Here’s an example, which discusses a made-up work of fiction.

`In The Star’s Net, John Galileo vents the cargo bay of plasma by opening its doors to space, putting him at risk of suffocation and freezing, but ultimately saving the spaceship (202). Many of the cast and many commentators on the work have called Galileo a hero because of this. Matilda, one of the characters, calls him, “a knight in crusted armor,” (226) while one essayist calls him the “man of the hour” (Abbetto). However, Galileo is not some paragon of virtue. To call him perfect is, in fact, far from the truth. It wasn’t fifty pages earlier, on page 178, that Galileo lied to Pedro, his co-pilot, to protect the alien life-form. Galileo is not a hero, and there are dozens more reasons why.

Can you spot the straw man argument?

Search for exaggeration in a claim. Find a counterpoint that does not address the original argument.

Commentators and characters call John Galileo a hero for saving the ship. No one calls him a “paragon of virtue.” Calling someone a “hero” is a bold claim, but calling someone a “paragon of virtue” is a sainted designation. This is an exaggeration.

To understand the use of the straw man argument in this story, you need to acknowledge that Galileo is arguably a hero for saving a ship full of people. However, it is much harder to argue that he, as a man, is perfect because he saved a ship full of people. By countering the argument that Galileo is a paragon of virtue, instead of addressing the argument that he is a hero, the writer exemplifies the exaggeration and incoherence of the straw man fallacy.

Straw Man Argument, space man example, StudySmarterCounter the point being made, not a straw man.

How to Avoid Using the Straw Man Argument

Here are some ways to avoid the straw man argument in your own writing.

  1. Know your opponent’s argument. If you know what your opponent is really trying to say, you will not err by addressing an incorrect argument.

  2. Soften strong claims. When attempting to counter an argument, don’t “go big.” Don’t say the biggest, most persuasive sounding thing you could possibly say. If you do, you are prone to exaggerate.

  3. Don’t limit yourself to understanding one side of an argument. When you only listen to one side of an argument, you are listening in an echo chamber. This chamber will get louder and louder, and the truth might escape you. If you don’t look outside the box, you are liable to think that your opponent’s arguments are more extreme than they might be; when this happens, you are not arguing against your opponent any longer… you are arguing against a straw man.

Straw Man Fallacy Synonyms

There are no direct synonyms for the straw man fallacy. Though, the straw man argument is sometimes written as “strawman argument.”

The straw man argument is a kind of irrelevant conclusion, or ignoratio elenchi ( which means "ignoring refutation" in Latin). Because of this, the straw man argument is related to missing the point—the red herring—and the non sequitur. The straw man argument is also broadly a fallacy of relevance because it appeals to evidence unrelated to the original conclusion.

Difference Between Straw Man and Red Herring

A straw man is addressing an exaggerated argument. A red herring is something different.

A red herring is an irrelevant idea used to divert an argument away from its resolution.

Person A: Ancient growth forests need to be protected in order to preserve natural history.

Person B: Natural history is important, and there are a lot of ways to celebrate it. There are so many ways to celebrate such a thing, so let’s talk about some of those great things: learning about natural history in school, photographing National Parks, and creating our own natural history by planting new trees.

Person B does not counter Person A’s argument at all—not even in an exaggerated form. Instead, they steer the conversation away from the topic altogether using a red herring (irrelevant idea). In this case they used the topic “celebrating natural history,” which sounds great but is not the same topic as preserving ancient growth forests.

Straw Man Argument - Key Takeaways

  • A straw man fallacy occurs when one counters an exaggerated and inaccurate version of another’s argument.
  • A straw man argument is a logical fallacy because it counters an argument that is not being made.
  • To avoid the straw man fallacy, know your opponent's argument, soften strong claims, and don't limit yourself to understanding one side of an argument.
  • A straw man argument is not a red herring. A red herring is an irrelevant idea used to divert an argument away from its resolution.
  • A straw man argument is a kind of irrelevant conclusion.

Frequently Asked Questions about Straw Man Argument

A straw man fallacy occurs when someone combats an exaggerated and inaccurate version of another’s argument.

You do not "counter" a straw man argument. You need to point out its illogical use in argumentation altogether. Dismiss this logical fallacy.

To identify a straw man argument search for exaggeration in a claim. Does it actually address the original argument? If it exaggerates the original argument and distorts it, it is a straw man argument.

A straw man argument serves no logical purpose. It is a logical fallacy.

No, they are not the same. But, the straw man is a kind of fallacy of relevance because it appeals to evidence unrelated to the original argument.

Final Straw Man Argument Quiz

Question

While exaggeration is a powerful tool in satirical contexts, exaggerating an argument is a _____.

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Answer

Logical fallacy.

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Question

_____ occurs when someone counters an exaggeratedly inaccurate version of another’s argument.

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Answer

A straw man fallacy

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Question

Why is the straw man argument a fallacy?

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Answer

A straw man argument is a logical fallacy because it counters an argument that is not being made. 

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Question

A very specific argument will prevent an opponent from creating a straw man argument.


True or false?

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Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Should you counter a straw man argument? Why or why not?

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Answer

Do not attempt to "counter" a straw man argument. Attempting to counter a fallacy will only get you off track. Instead, identify its illogical use in argumentation altogether. 

Show question

Question

Is the straw man the same as a reductio ad absurdum argument?

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Answer

No.

Show question

Question

How might you spot a straw man argument?

Show answer

Answer

Search for exaggeration in a claim. Find a counterpoint that does not address the original argument.

Show question

Question

How does knowing your opponent's argument help you to avoid the straw man fallacy?

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Answer

If you know what your opponent is really trying to say, you will not address an incorrect argument.

Show question

Question

To avoid the staw man argument, make as bold, clear, and big claims as possible. This will act as a wakeup call.

True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Don't limit yourself to understanding one side of an argument. 

Explain why this concept is important.

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Answer

If you don’t go out of your box, you are liable to think that your opponent’s arguments are more extreme than they might be; and when this happens, you are not arguing against your opponent any longer… you are arguing against a straw man.

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Question

How is a red herring different from a straw man?

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Answer

A red herring does not counter the argument at all; whereas a straw man counters an exaggerated form of an argument.

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Question

Does "straw man" have an alternate spelling?

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Answer

Strawman. 

Show question

Question

An irrelevant conclusion is a kind of straw man.

True or false?

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Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a logical fallacy to which Straw Man is related?

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Answer

Ad hominem

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Question

Is a straw man argument a fallacy of relevance? Why or why not?

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Answer

Yes, because it appeals to evidence unrelated to the original conclusion.

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Question

A straw man fallacy is an informal fallacy. What does this mean?

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Answer

An informal fallacy has an issue in how the argument was formed.

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Question

Does Person B use a straw man argument in response to Person A?


Person A: I like Oscar Wilde better than William Shakespeare.

Person B: Since you hate Shakespeare, you're in the minority.

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Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

Does Person B use a straw man argument in response to Person A?


Person A: I think we should build a playground instead of a library.

Person B: The children in the community would benefit so much more from a library than a playground, and that's the most important thing.

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Answer

No.

Show question

Question

Someone who employs the straw man argument can make any argument different by __________ it.

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Answer

Exaggerating.

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Question

How should you counter a straw man fallacy you find in an argument?

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Answer

You shouldn't engage a straw man fallacy.

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