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straw man

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straw man

Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)

Definition:

A fallacy in which an opponent's argument is overstated or misrepresented in order to be more easily attacked or refuted.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Straw man has always been a stock-in-trade of advertisers. . . . A Post Office commercial once pictured competitors trying to deliver packages with rickety old planes that fell apart on camera."
    (H. Kahane and N. Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric. Wordsworth, 1998)


  • "Democrats often complained about President George W. Bush’s frequent use of a rhetorical device as old as rhetoric itself: creating the illusion of refuting an opponent’s argument by mischaracterizing it and then knocking down that mischaracterization. . . .

    "Now that there is a new team at the White House, guess who is knocking down straw men left and right? To listen to President Obama, a veritable army of naysayers has invaded Washington, urging him to sit on his hands . . ..

    "'There are those who say these plans are too ambitious, that we should be trying to do less, not more,' Mr. Obama told a town-hall-style meeting in Costa Mesa, Calif., on March 18. 'Well, I say our challenges are too large to ignore.'

    "Mr. Obama did not specify who, exactly, was saying America should ignore its challenges."
    (Helene Cooper, "Some Obama Enemies Are Made Totally of Straw." The New York Times, May 3, 2009)


  • "When he was really rolling in February, Barack Obama would close every speech with a peroration about the importance of hope. The setup always seemed a bit defensive to me--an attack on the pundits and party elders who thought he was too idealistic, a 'hopemonger' who needed to have the 'hope boiled out of me.' Having knocked down that straw man, he would soar through an American history of hope, from the colonists to civil rights marchers."
    (Joe Klein, "The Patriotism Problem." Time, April 3, 2008)


  • "The straw man fallacy often misrepresents the context from which a quotation is taken. More often, however, it takes place without a quotation; the straw man usually occurs when the point of view is paraphrased or summarized."
    (Jon Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)
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