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Straw man argument

  1. Jul 17, 2004 #1

    Math Is Hard

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    Could someone give me an example of a straw man argument, or point me to a thread where I could find this?

    Thanks!
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2004 #2

    selfAdjoint

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    A straw man is a caricature of ones opponent you make up and give weak arguments that you can easily refute, so you can seem to beat him without really engaging his real arguments. You can find plenty of examples in the political speeches this year.
     
  4. Jul 17, 2004 #3

    chroot

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    For example:

    "Evolution can't be real. It says that new species happen from random mutations in DNA. It's like smashing up a Timex watch into tiny bits, throwing it into the dryer, and expecting a Casio watch to come out."

    - Warren
     
  5. Jul 17, 2004 #4

    Math Is Hard

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    ahhh.. got it! Thanks a bunch!
     
  6. Jul 17, 2004 #5

    loseyourname

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    Pretty much every thread with arguments in it has at least one of these.
     
  7. Jul 18, 2004 #6
    ooohhhww... that just made me shiver.. i've dealt with people like that... they can't explain resistent bacteria, but they can sure as hell make a strawman argument...
    the worst and most childish was "so you're saying you're a monkey?"
     
  8. Jul 18, 2004 #7

    Math Is Hard

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    red herrings

    One thing that I found confusing was that my book describes the strawman fallacy as a member of the category "fallacy of missing the point". On a website I found, the strawman fallacy was described as a type of "red herring" and then it listed several other fallacies that qualified for the "red herring" category. My teacher said that "red herring" arguments were all about distraction, but oddly my book doesn't say anything about red herrings at all - anybody want to comment on that type?
     
  9. Jul 18, 2004 #8

    Tom Mattson

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    Just look up any post by Geistkiesel or Ram1024. :biggrin:
     
  10. Jul 18, 2004 #9

    Math Is Hard

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    hee hee... I have seen a few of those. Quite a few of them do seem to fall under that "Fallacy of Missing the Point" group. (or ignoring the point)
     
  11. Jul 18, 2004 #10

    loseyourname

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    Now that's just a cheap shot. I didn't want to give any actual names.
     
  12. Jul 18, 2004 #11

    Tom Mattson

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    No, using a straw man argument is a cheap shot. Naming names is just being truthful.
     
  13. Jul 19, 2004 #12

    Math Is Hard

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    Very true. The specific term for creating a strawman or other distraction from the original argument (according to my text) is "being uncharitable".
    To quote my professor: "If you really care about the truth, put the most charitable spin on the argument and help the presenter out. Interpret the author of the argument charitably, even if you disagree."

    Another piece of advice he gives is "You should be concerned about your reasoning when someone whose opinion you respect disagrees with you. Better give it more analysis."
     
  14. Jul 19, 2004 #13

    Math Is Hard

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  15. Jul 19, 2004 #14
    That sounds a lot like "logical charity" (which (I think) was discussed in that thread Tom made, on Logic, as well as a few other threads on PF2). As I see it, if you can't defeat the best-stated most accurate portrayal of your opponents position, then you need to re-examine just how strong your case is against that opponent.

    I've also noticed that strawmen are often constructed by accident (i.e. the proponent of the argument doesn't realize that that's what it amounts to). So, while they do serve as red herrings, and are sometimes highly destructive to logical debate, one should always keep in mind that the one proposing the strawman is usually doing so by mistake.
     
  16. Jul 19, 2004 #15
    I should clarify. Some people construct strawmen on purpose, in order to distract the opponent, or cloud the issue. Most of the time, in my own (highly limited) experience, this has not been the case. Instead, the proponent really believed they had a valid argument.
     
  17. Jul 19, 2004 #16

    chroot

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    I agree Mentat -- what you said of strawmen being accidental is in fact true of most logical fallacies. The people who commit them rarely recognize that they are doing it.

    Just to make a point, think about relativity crackpots. These people are quite gifted at creating strawmen. They read a popular book, written for a lay person, and use it to create their own personal strawman version of relativity. They don't mean to do it; it's just that reading a popular book cannot teach you the innards of relativity theory well enough to truly understand it. These people recognize many flaws in their strawman, but are still unaware it's a strawman. The book does not contain enough information for them to discern the differences between real relativity theory and their strawman, so they continue to believe in their strawman even after a careful reading. After some time for contemplation, the arguments solidify, they become sure they are correct and relativty is flawed. Then they post on physicsforums.com for a few months and try to convince everyone that their strawman is an accurate picture of relativity. Then they get banned.

    - Warren
     
  18. Jul 19, 2004 #17

    russ_watters

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    Sometimes I wonder about the veracity of their beliefs. At some point, you have to look your ideas in the face and evaluate them. Willfull ignorance may mean the straw-man itself is unintentional, but the cracpotism becomes conscious.
     
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