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A straw man argument is a rhetorical device that is meant to easily prove that one’s position or argument is superior to an opposing argument. However, this argument is regarded as a logical fallacy, because at its core, the person using the device misrepresents the other person's argument. The person does this because it then becomes easier to knock down the weaker version of the opposing argument with one's more substantial counter argument. The term straw man derives from the use of scarecrows for military practice, such as charges. In reality, a scarecrow is far easier to defeat than an actual person.
The straw man argument, also called straw dog or scarecrow, deliberately misrepresents and weakens the argument of the opposing side. This can be done by leaving out key points of an opposing argument, quoting a person’s words out of context, or presenting a particular person’s poor defense as the entire defense of an opposing side. In the worst case, a straw man is literally an imagined person who weakly defends an argument and can be easily defeated.
The straw man argument can be used in arguments in most areas of life, from political, to business, to religious, to personal life. It is also often used in conjunction with other logical fallacies, such as red herring, slippery slope, and ad hominem. One example of this type of argument can be seen in the following hypothetical situation between a child and his parent:
Child: "Can we get a dog?"
Child: "It would protect us."
Parent: "Still, no."
Child: "Why do you want to leave us and our house unprotected?"
The child in the above scenario may be making a straw man argument if the parent's reason for not getting a dog has nothing to do with protection but with other factors. Moreover, not getting a dog is not necessarily proof that the parent doesn't want to protect the family and home, since there are other means of protection.
Perhaps the easiest place to find straw man arguments is in the political sphere. One very effective argument of this kind is to take a small sound bite from a political candidate and use this to generalize about the person’s ability to hold political office. Using the straw man argument, these sound bites are often exploited in television and print ads, intentionally casting the candidate in a bad, albeit inaccurate, light. Although most voters can and will see through the argument, many will accept the argument as truth, and allow it to sway their opinion.