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The logical fallacy of turning fact into opinion

  1. Sep 10, 2012 #1
    Does anybody know of a term for the logical fallacy of attempting to soften the damage of a factual statement by trying to play it off as an opinion?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 10, 2012 #2


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    lying ?
  4. Sep 19, 2012 #3
    "Soft soaping?"
  5. Sep 23, 2012 #4
    Feigned modesty.

    (Two plus two equals four, in my humble opinion.)
  6. Sep 23, 2012 #5
    It's your basic straw man argument where someone attempts to replace the original argument with a less compelling one. THE basic rhetorical technique where you either attack the message or the messenger or both as not being reliable starting with the message and working your way up.
  7. Sep 24, 2012 #6
    It's not a straw man:


    That is clearly different than this: "Admit it! One plus one is only two in the opinion of mathematicians! But history is full of examples of 'expert' opinion turning out to be wrong!"

    Here, a fact has been re-characterized as a mere opinion.

    I don't know if there's a name for this. It may not be a logical fallacy, just a kind of lie, as Phinds suggested.

    With a strawman the attack is on something the person never said, as in the above example, the person never said all days should be sunny. They merely said sunny days are good. Recasting what the person said as opinion doesn't play a part here.

    An attack on the "messenger", as you put it, is also not a strawman, but an ad hominem: "Joe is always presenting his personal opinions as fact, therefore his assertion that one plus one is two is certainly also just an opinion of his. We can discount it."
  8. Sep 24, 2012 #7
    To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position....

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

    1. Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent's position.

    5. Oversimplifying an opponent's argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.

    The original post did not mention someone merely denying the facts, but attempting to "play it off" as an opinion. Insisting facts are mere opinions is misrepresenting the argument, over simplifying the argument, and then attacking a straw man version of the argument is the logical conclusion if and when they ever get to it depending on how vigorously the position is defended.

    C: We should give children ice cream after every school day.
    D: That would be rather bad for their health.
    C: Do you want our children to starve!?

    C says that children should be given ice cream after every school day. D replies to that statement assuming that children would be getting this in addition to their regular meals, and states that this would be unhealthy. C replies with the unreasonable suggestion that if children were not given ice cream, they would starve. Person C does this because it is harder for D to argue that children should starve than to argue that children should not be unhealthy.

    Note this example follows yours in Wikipedia and shows a clear attempt to misrepresent the argument by grossly over simplifying the argument as merely concerning starvation. In fact, your own argument could be described as a straw man argument about straw man arguments. An attempt to over simplify what constitutes a straw man argument.
  9. Sep 24, 2012 #8


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  10. Sep 25, 2012 #9
    By your logic we can define just about any logical fallacy as a straw man because they all can be construed as misrepresenting the opponent's position in some way shape or form. An ad hominem fallacy misrepresents the opponents argument as being invalid due to his lack of personal integrity, therefore an ad hominem is a straw man.

    Misrepresenting the opponent's position is the central dynamic of the straw man, not an incidental epiphenomenon. The central dynamic described in the OP is, specifically, to recast fact as opinion. The central dynamic of an ad hominem is to attack the man rather than the argument. The fact the latter two also incidentally misrepresent the opponents position is just that: incidental.

    Is much different than:

    In the latter case, there is no misrepresentation of what the person said, it is agreed he said "one plus one is two". The tactic is to try and make that seem irrelevant by downgrading it from fact to opinion. In the former, there is outright misrepresentation of what the person said.

    C: We should give the kids ice cream every day.
    D: That would be bad for their health.
    C: That's your opinion.

    Obviously something wrong with the logic, but it's not a strawman. C has not misrepresented D as saying anything D didn't say, such as wanting the children to starve to death.
  11. Sep 25, 2012 #10
    D did not say it was their personal opinion, so C most definitely did say something D did not say and misrepresented their argument. If I were to say the earth is round and you insisted that was just my opinion you would be misrepresenting my argument and completely avoiding addressing the actual evidence and any rational discussion of the issue in one fell swoop.

    Which is precisely why informal fallacies like the straw man and red herring fallacies in general are so popular. Most people wouldn't know a real logical argument from a hole in the ground and the best they can manage is to twist other people's arguments out of context or whatever. Most cultures also widely support an endless variety of such red herring arguments in the form of political doublespeak, obfuscation, equivocation, etc. as all widely accepted practices. It's even ubiquitous in entertainment such as professional wrestling trash talk and comedy. It's simply what most people know and know is socially acceptable.
  12. Oct 1, 2012 #11
    No. To be a straw man the initial position must be distorted by "replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition" which is then attacked.

    A: Sunny days are good.
    B: If all days were sunny, we'd never have rain, and without rain, we'd have famine and death.

    Here the statement, "Sunny days are good," has been replaced by the (implied) superficially similar statement, "All days should be sunny." Which is not equivalent. "All days should be sunny," is then attacked instead of, "Sunny days are good." Classic straw man.


    "That's your opinion," does not do this. There has been no replacement of "One plus one equals two" with any superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition that is then attacked. Instead, it's accepted as stated, and the operative dynamic is to undermine it's importance.
  13. Oct 1, 2012 #12
    It's called enim ad opinionem.

    I think it should be called that at any rate.
  14. Oct 1, 2012 #13
    heh, thanks to everyone who has replied! Well I haven't given any feedback because I haven't seen anything too terribly convincing yet, but here are some quick thoughts.

    Well, I could see that if the it was somebody presenting a fact as if it were only an opinion to soften the blow to another, but I'm thinking more of the following dialogue where one counterattacks by trying to soften the blow of a fact that was sent their way by the opposition.

    So I'm thinking

    Person A: "The holocaust was the genocide of millions of jews during WWII."
    Person B: "We'll have to agree to disagree.."

    versus just

    Person A: "I believe that the holocaust was the genocide of millions of jews during WWII."

    well, in this case the person KNOWS this to be fact, but yet still feels the need to say "I believe" to soften the blow.

    I'm not familiar with this, what does this logical fallacy state?

    Also I think that a strawman is definitely a stretch. I was also initially thinking this is a false equivalence, but that too I think is a far far stretch. I really want to have a quick response to this kind of logical dishonesty that completely shuts people down in the way simply shouting "strawman" does in logical discourse. I seriously find myself dealing with this kind of logical fallacy allll the time.....
  15. Oct 1, 2012 #14
    Insisting it is merely your opinion is an attempt to replace the argument with a superficially similar one. Unless the person actually produces an argument for why they are not facts they are merely substituting their slightly different argument for yours. If they do produce some sort of argument for why your facts are merely opinions that is a separate issue, but the OP did not mention anything like that. All he said is they attempt to "play it off as an opinion".
  16. Oct 1, 2012 #15
    Disregard my post of Sept. 23. It's clear now that I misinterpreted the original question. I thought post #1 was asking about a tactical belittling one's own claims, not the claims of anyone else, and so I said the term was "feigned modesty."
  17. Oct 1, 2012 #16
    I believe that's called ignorance
  18. Oct 1, 2012 #17
    I know what you mean.

    This new example you posted points toward the psychological phenomenon of denial:


    In the new example, downgrading a statement from fact to opinion is actually a roundabout way of exhibiting denial. Knowing that may help you develop a way to deal with it.
  19. Oct 2, 2012 #18
    Or an intentional blurring of the domains of objectivity and subjectivity.
  20. Oct 2, 2012 #19
    Which essentially still breaks down to a type of straw man argument. The deliberate avoidance of the argument on the table and attempted substitution of the argument with a superficially similar one. What motivates the individual to do so doesn't matter. Whether they are in psychological denial or merely doing so out of habit or interested in watching the the value of their stocks increase is all moot as far as logic is concerned.
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