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What is a Straw Man Argument?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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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?"
Parent: "No."
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.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon992767 — On Sep 30, 2015

This is also used by trolls when they create a sock puppet character that argues, but weakly, the opposing point that the troll wants to discredit. Then the sock puppet finally agrees with the troll. But the sock puppet doesn't usually express the core idea of the real people, thus it is used like a straw man.

By anon958293 — On Jun 26, 2014

A - Don't worry about the updates. H1Z1 will be out soon.

B - Great. Another generic zombie game.

A - Maybe they will take the zombies outta H1Z1 and replace them with red animals. That would make it way less generic.

By orangey03 — On Feb 18, 2013

The straw man argument example between the child and the parent here sounds like arguments I used to make when I was a teenager. I probably couldn't have thought of something that clever as a young child, but as a teen, I was just full of them!

My arguments were mostly that the things I wanted could make me a more well-rounded person. Of course, this wasn't the real reason I wanted them, but I thought my parents might let me get them if they thought this.

When they said, “No,” my argument was always, “Don't you want me to have more life experience so that I will be better prepared for college?” This never worked, but I kept trying.

By healthy4life — On Feb 18, 2013

I had no idea this was what it was called, but I use the straw man argument with my husband a lot. In my defense, he does say some really dumb things that are easily misconstrued.

So, I don't have to look far for my defense. It's only a slight twist on what he just said, but it infuriates him!

By anon315174 — On Jan 22, 2013

Obama = Straw Man to the nth degree.

By anon98083 — On Jul 22, 2010

Glen Beck = Straw Man extraordinaire.

By anon61669 — On Jan 21, 2010

This argument is the primary defense of youtube trolls.

By averagejoe — On Nov 06, 2009

Though I'm sure I too am guilty of using straw men, I have to say, this leads the worst logical fallacies race.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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