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Description

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person's actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of "reasoning" has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.
2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
3. Person B attacks position Y.
4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing (straw man) of a person to hurt the person.

The straw man fallacy is when you misrepresent someone else's position so that it can be attacked more easily, knock down that misrepresented position, then conclude that the original position has been demolished. It's a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that have been made.

To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent.
 

Examples


"Senator Jones says that we should not fund the attack submarine program. I disagree entirely. I can't understand why he wants to leave us defenseless like that."

AR version: "ARAs say that we should not eat meat. I can't understand why they want to kill us."

Bill and Jill are arguing about cleaning out their closets:
Jill: "We should clean out the closets. They are getting a bit messy."
Bill: "Why, we just went through those closets last year. Do we have to clean them out everyday?"
Jill: "I never said anything about cleaning them out every day. You just want too keep all your junk forever, which is just ridiculous."

AR version: "Your forum account has been deactivated (for using ad-hominems) until you read the guidelines."
Warwak: "I have learned forums are the wrong venue for drumming support and sharing ideas - doesn't matter anyway, as the ALF won't have me."
ALF: "You can join after you agree to our guidelines."
Warwak: "I am tired of caring what others think" (ALF note: on a forum entitled "brainstorming AR topics", listening to others is important)

 
"To be an atheist, you have to believe with absolute certainty that there is no God. In order to convince yourself with absolute certainty, you must examine all the Universe and all the places where God could possibly be. Since you obviously haven't, your position is indefensible."

AR version: "To believe that animals should have rights because they suffer you have to know with absolute certainty they have feelings. To know this with absolute certainty you need to communicate with an animals. Since you obviously haven't, your position is indefensible."

The welfarist idea is that welfarism will lead to abolition by imposing costs on exploiters that will in turn make animal products prohibitively expensive.

Which welfarists said this? Certainly not the majority of folks who see no harm in certain, specific welfarist actions. This is another example of the straw man fallacy combined with the hasty generalization fallacy -- using a little bit of data to create a straw man and then argue against this facade. It is often used by some rightists to argue against an extreme position as it were a mainstream position.

You would lose if you were arguing against the position our opponents often take. The opponent's position is simply the following: As far as science has been able to prove, man's brain DID require more protein to evolve (ie: man's brain was smaller until it got more protein) and man DID get some that protein from animals (how much from animals is unknown). Therefore early man DID evolve with the benefit of meat and man's body did adjust to process meat. From that, the opponent is concluding that man is designed to eat meat and that eating meat is natural.

This debate is whether man is "designed" to eat meat. It's a vague debate never properly worded:
       1. Can man eat and process meat and use the nutrients? Yes (therefore one can argue that man was designed to eat meat and provide adequate data to support his argument).
       2. Did early evolved man gain mental prowess from eating a high-protein diet that included meat? Possibly. The jury is still out on that one. A decade ago the answer was yes. Now scientists are not so sure.
       3. Was man designed to need to eat meat? No.
 

Rebuttal

Show that the opposition's argument has been misrepresented by showing that the opposition has a stronger argument. Describe the stronger argument.

Example: You ignored the position of the pro-life people. You are arguing something different than what others are saying. The point that pro-life people make is that the right of the fetus to live (right to life) supercedes to the right of the woman to avoid pain, have more money, etc. If you want to debate that point you can't argue that people shouldn't procreate or the kid might be unhappy. It's not relevant to their position.

In AR philosophy we use the same morality: The right to life trumps other rights. There are many qualifications, but you have to deal with those, not anything else.


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