Having a debate or an argument, then you may commit or be a victim of a straw man argument. How do you recognize it in the first place? A straw man argument is a term used to describe a logical fallacy, wherein if one were to dissect or inspect the argument carefully, it wouldn’t make any sense. This is because the person is out only to prove that his argument or position is better than the opponent’s argument which he does by misrepresenting the actual argument.
The straw man fallacy happens when a person does not acknowledge his opponent’s actual position and instead substitutes an exaggerated and distorted version of the actual position. A typical straw man argument is a scenario in which a person has a certain position, his opponent altogether misrepresents the actual position. He goes on to attack the distorted version that he has created and claims that the actual position is false or flawed. The reasoning of a straw man argument is considered fallacious as an attack on the distorted version does not amount to attacking the actual position.
The term Straw Man finds reference to a practice where the men waited outside courthouses with straw in their shoes to express their readiness to be a false witness to a crime. Another reference is to the practice in military training where dummy figures made of straw were used to represent the enemy and were attacked with ease as it is a dummy, a scarecrow and does not retaliate. The straw man argument is thus also known as the scarecrow or straw dog.
In a straw man argument, the person misrepresents the actual position of his opponent which is done in a number of ways-by eliminating the main point of the argument, using the actual words in a different context, creating a non existing persona having views which are often looked down with a negative perspective. In a way, a straw man is an imaginary person who has a weak defense and is easily defeated in an argument. Straw man argument can be bunched up with various logical fallacies such as slippery slope, ad hominem, and red herring that are used in arguments ranging from religious debates to political or business arguments.
Ann and Pat are arguing about cleaning their shoe racks:
Ann: We should clear the shoe racks. They are full.
Pat: We just cleared them last summer. We can’t be doing that everyday.
Ann: Oh! Spare me that. I didn’t say we have to clear it every day. But it looks like you are never interested in clearing them any time.
In the above example, the husband commits a straw man fallacy as he exaggerates the facts for his bankruptcy may have nothing to do with buying a dress but may be due to other factors.