Straw man

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A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.[1] To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.[1][2]



The origins of the term are unclear; one common (folk) etymology given is that it originated with men who stood outside courthouses with a straw in their shoe in order to indicate their willingness to be a false witness, but it is unlikely that individuals would publicly declare their willingness to commit a crime outside a courthouse.[3][4] Another more popular origin is a human figure made of straw, such as practice dummies used in military training. Such a dummy is supposed to represent the enemy, but it is considerably easier to attack because it neither moves, nor fights back.

In the UK, the adversary is sometimes called Aunt Sally, with reference to a traditional fairground game.


The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious, because attacking a distorted version of a position fails to constitute an attack on the actual position.


Straw man arguments often arise in public debates such as a (hypothetical) prohibition debate:

The proposal was to relax laws on beer. Person B has exaggerated this to a position harder to defend, i.e., "unrestricted access to intoxicants".[1]

This example is also a slippery slope fallacy.

See also


External links

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