James C. Dobson, in a fund-raising letter for "Focus on the Family", February 13, 1992.
Judging from my experience, Straw Man is one of the common of fallacies. It is endemic in public debates on politics, ethics, and religion. A straw man argument
occurs in the context of a debate―formal or informal―when one side attacks a position―the "straw man"―not held by the other side, then acts as though the other side's position has been refuted.
This fallacy is a type of Red Herring because the arguer is attempting to refute the other side's position, and in the context is required to do so, but instead attacks a position not held by the other side. The arguer argues to a conclusion
that denies the "straw man", but misses the target.
There may be nothing wrong with the argument presented by the arguer when it is taken out of context, that is, it may be a perfectly good argument against the straw man. It is only because the burden of proof is on the arguer to argue against the opponent's position that a Straw Man fallacy is committed. So, the fallacy is not simply the argument, but the entire situation of the argument occurring in such a context.
As the "straw man" metaphor suggests, the counterfeit position attacked in a Straw Man argument is typically weaker than the opponent's actual position, just as a straw man is easier to defeat than a flesh-and-blood one. Of course, this is no accident, but is part of what makes the fallacy tempting to commit, especially to a desperate debater who is losing an argument. Thus, it is no surprise that arguers seldom misstate their opponent's position so as to make it stronger
. Of course, if there is an obvious way to make a debating opponent's position stronger, then one is up against an incompetent debater. Debaters usually try to take the strongest position they can, so that any
change is likely to be for the worse.
However, attacking a logically stronger position than that taken by the opponent is a sign of strength, whereas attacking a straw man is a sign of weakness.
A common straw man is an extreme man. Extreme positions are more difficult to defend because they make fewer allowances for exceptions, or counter-examples. Consider the statement forms: