The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:
- Person 1 has position X.
- Person 2 disregards certain key points of X and instead presents the superficially similar position Y. The position Y is a distorted version of X and can be set up in several ways, including:
- Presenting a misrepresentation of the opponent’s position.
- Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s actual intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
- Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then refuting that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
- Inventing a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs which are then criticized, implying that the person represents a group of whom the speaker is critical.
- Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
- Person 2 attacks position Y, concluding that X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This reasoning is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position does not address the actual position. The ostensible argument that Person 2 makes has the form:
- “Don’t support X, because X has an unacceptable (or absurd or contradictory or terrible) consequence.”
However, the actual form of the argument is:
- “Don’t support X, because Y has an unacceptable (or absurd or contradictory or terrible) consequence.”
This argument doesn’t make sense; it is a non sequitur. Person 2 relies on the audience not noticing this.
It’s frightening to learn that vulnerable people can be targets for an aunt Sally, as they wouldn’t have skills to refute arguments wrongfully made against them. The irony too is that the one’s who do know about the straw-man can also be the one’s fed false information and could easily blindly go along with same – or so it may appear out of pure false emotion?! Catch 22 situation. Caught between the river and the deep blue sea.