Logical fallacy/Straw man

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The "Straw Man" fallacy refers generally to the practice of refuting weaker arguments than your opponents actually offer. The terminology is based on a combat metaphor -- instead of grappling with your opponent's real arguments, you set up a straw man which is easier to knock down.

Of course, it is not a logical fallacy to disprove a weak argument, the fallacy is believing or acting as though proving that one argument for a position is invalid proves that the conclusion is wrong.

People often refer to several different situations as "setting up a straw man."

  1. Presenting one of your opponent's lesser arguments then refuting it and then going on as if you've refuted her whole argument.
  2. Presenting a modified version of your opponents argument which is weaker than their real argument and then treating the refutation of the weaker argument as a refutation of her real argument.
  3. Presenting an poor defender of a position as the defender of that position and then defeating her arguments, and acting as than that were a refutation of all those who've argued for that position.

Some logic textbooks define the straw man fallacy only in terms of a misrepresented argument. However, it is now common to use the term in a much more general sense, and therefore we now identify all three situations as examples of the straw man fallacy.


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