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The Straw Man

2006-07-09

Category: philosophies

You may have seen, on television or otherwise, people burning an effigy of a notable personage. They do this, basically, because they have some issue with the individual and they have found it easier to attack a straw version of their victim rather than the actual person. This is sometimes done with words too.

This is a reference, of course, to the Informal Fallacy of Relevance called the Straw Man Argument. This fallacy requires two sides. Side A has made a point. Side B wishes to argue A?s point but A?s point is very well formed. It is easier for B to pretend to be argue against the point but really argue against things the look like A?s point. Side B has sort of built a straw man to stand as an effigy of Side A?s point.

Suppose the operator of a web site, such as LibertyBob.com, says to his psychic department, ?You took a contract. You took the money for the contract. The contract says that if you don?t uphold your end you must return any monies paid. You did not fulfill your contract. Therefore, you must return the money.? Such a statement seems both valid and strong.

Said psychic department may not wish to return the money and so must make a counter argument. It would be very difficult for them to tear apart the site owner?s argument, so they reword part of the situation to make an easier to attack argument. They may respond, ?Well, you never paid us all the money for the contract. You can?t possibly expect us to return money we never received. Leave us alone.?

Obviously, this argument is bunk. The money owed back to the site owner is the partial payment, not the full amount. By trying to rephrase the amount of money to be returned, the psychic department hoped to have a good retort. If the owner had wanted a refund of the full value of the contract after only paying part, the argument would have been good. Unfortunately, a full refund is not being demanded thus making the psychic department?s counter argument irrelevant in the discussion. (That?s why the Straw Man is considered a Fallacy of Relevance.)

At this point, the owner has to be careful not to fall into the trap of arguing the new Straw Man. He must bring back the original point and possibly point out that he sees through the Straw Man fallacy. He also may want to use phrases like ?litigation? and ?prison butt rape?. Hopefully this has made things a little more clear.

You may be wondering why someone would make such a fallacy. Well, there are three common reasons. First, some do it for comedic reasons. There?s always use for fallacies in comedy.

The second, and more common use for fallacies, is to mislead listeners. Anytime an advertiser or politician wants to convince people of something stupid, the fallacy is the tool of choice. Anytime a person wants to say something that sounds reasonable but is actually complete crap, you?ll find the fallacy. That?s why it is so important for you, my dear readers, to learn about logical fallacies; you want to be able to identify and defend against such behavior.

The third reason for use of fallacies is that the person making the fallacy is a moron. You have to be careful when pointing this out, however. Some people may think you are just making an ad hominem fallacy (attacking the person rather then the argument). You have to give the moron a chance to realize his or her error. Only after the moron has stuck to the original fallacy can you point at it and declare, ?Thou art Stupid!?

Go out now into the world and commit no unplanned fallacies


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