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Straw man

The straw man rhetorical technique is the practice of refuting weaker arguments than your opponents actually offer. The terminology is based on a combat metaphor--instead of fighting with your real opponent, you set up a straw man and proceed to knock it down. It is not a logical fallacy to disprove a weak argument; rather the fallacy is declaring one argument's conclusion wrong because of flaws in another argument.

One can set up a straw man in several different ways:

  1. Present one of your opponent's weaker arguments, refute it, and pretend that you've refuted all of their arguments.
  2. Present your opponent's argument in weakened form, refute it, and pretend that you've refuted the original.
  3. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute their arguments, and pretend that you've refuted every argument for that position.

For example, one might argue "Charles Darwin believed in Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, which has now been discredited. Therefore, Darwinian evolution by natural selection did not occur." This is a fallacy because the Lamarckian ideas were only a small part of the overall theory; the fact that he was wrong about them does not affect the theory as a whole. Some logic textbooks define the straw man fallacy only as a misrepresented argument. It is now common, however, to use the term to refer to all three tactics. Straw man is also a type of media manipulation.

Often, the strawman set up is a weaker argument because it makes a wider or stronger claim. For example:

Fred: "Poverty is one factor that causes crime".
Alice: "You're wrong to claim that all poor people are criminals. My friend Jack is poor, but he is not a criminal!".

A "straw man proposal" is a simple draft proposal intended to generate discussion of its disadvantages, and to provoke the generation of new, better, proposals.

As the document is revised, it may be given other edition names such as "ironman", etc.

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