Strawman Fallacy

The latest episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast touches on a great example of self-delusion that we haven’t covered here yet. In this episode, David McRaney interviews Jesse Richardson of “Your Logical Fallacy Is”, a site that I am definitely going to have to check out about the strawman fallacy.

The basic idea behind the strawman fallacy is that it is usually easy to find one poor example within someone’s position in a debate and falsely (knowingly or self-delusion) overgeneralize that example as evidence that the whole position is wrong.

     Person A: Soup is delicious
     Person B: I tried soup once. It was terrible. Therefore you are wrong.

My Take

Of course this is a trivial example, but it gets the point across. Here is a more complex one. I was explaining to someone (on Facebook, which I know is a BIIIG mistake) the three modes of epistemology that I use to teach the philosophy of science in my research methods course. The 3rd mode is based on the pattern recognition that underpins recognition primed decision making. It is intuitive and often inaccessible to conscious evaluation. In fact, when you try to consciously assess it, you are more likely to go wrong.

But this mode of thinking is also where we get faith-based reasoning from. “I just know that there is a deity.” So my discussion partner used the strawman fallacy against me. He said: “That mode of thinking explains why people believe in the flat earth, angels, and climate change denial.”

This is admittedly true. But that does not mean that the whole model is false. It does not mean that this mode is not productive 95% of the time, especially when combined with empirical thinking and logical thinking (the other two modes).

So the example that he knocked down allowed him to think that he proved me wrong, when in fact he had succumbed to the strawman fallacy.

Your Turn

I am sure you have some good stories about when an argument you made was incorrectly disputed using the strawman fallacy. But dig deeper and try to remember an example of when you used it to contest the argument of someone else.

Image Credit: Jeff Golden

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