The Straw Man Fallacy: Definition & Examples

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

This lesson covers a fallacy in logic that attempts to establish an argument that is easier to defeat because it is based on a weaker or distorted version of the original argument. A short quiz will follow to check your understanding.

Diverting Our Attention

Imagine when you were younger, and you really wanted to go somewhere with your friends and you were told that you couldn't go. Instead of seeing the logic behind the decision, you might have gotten angry and thought you had the worst parents ever, and all they cared about was ruining your life! Ugh! Unfortunately, in situations like this, we may tend to shift blame away from the actual issue to something else. And not only that, but we tend to exaggerate the motives behind the issue far past their logical end.

Arguments that attempt to divert our attention from the real issue being put forth are called red herring arguments. In this lesson, we will discuss one particular subset of a red herring argument known as the straw man fallacy.

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  • 0:01 Diverting Our Attention
  • 0:45 Straw Man Fallacy Defined
  • 3:18 Straw Man in Argumentation
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Straw Man Fallacy Defined

A straw man fallacy occurs when a person ignores another person's position on an issue and instead exaggerates, misrepresents, or creates a distorted version of that position. We tend to do this because by exaggerating someone else's position, it makes the other person's position easier to attack. The origin of the title of this particular fallacy is not completely known. However, one theory is that it comes from a technique used to physically train real fighters using straw dummies. It is much easier to practice fighting techniques against an opponent made of straw rather than one made of flesh and bone. Similarly, it's easier to mentally fight an opponent if you construct a version of your opponent that is more easily defeated by extending your opponent's arguments beyond their original point until their stance appears ridiculous.

The logical form of a straw man argument is as follows:

Person A makes claim X
Person B takes claim X but distorts or exaggerates it into claim Y
Person B is now easily able to defeat claim Y
Therefore, claim X must be false

Let's take a look at some examples to better understand this concept using our example from the beginning of the lesson.

Child: Can I go to the movies with my friends?
Parent: Not tonight, you haven't finished your chores.
Child: Ugh! You'll never let me do anything fun with my friends.
Parent: I never said you could never go anywhere with your friends.

In this example, the child is diverting attention away from the fact that he or she can't go to the movies because they did not do their chores. Instead, they are setting up a straw man argument to conclude that the parents will never let them go to the movies or do fun things with friends. This position has also put the parent on the defensive to defend a position that is different than the one that was originally put forth.

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