Fallacy: the Straw Man

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A straw man argument attempts to change the original position so that it’s easier to attack.

A straw man argument appears to refute the original statement, but actually refutes a similar yet altered argument.


Example of a straw man fallacy

Sally says women should make as much as a man does for doing the same work, but women obviously can’t lift as much as men can so I don’t understand why we should pay them as much for manual labor jobs where they won’t have the same output as a man.

…let me just remind you that we’re looking at the logical validity of specific arguments here – not the answer to massive cultural issues.

Let’s unpack it:
Premise 1: Sally says women should get paid as much as men for doing the same work.
Premise 2: Women can’t do the same amount of work in manual labor jobs.
Conclusion 1: Women in manual labor jobs should not get paid as much as men.
Conclusion 2: Sally is wrong.

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Why it’s illogical

The fact that there can be two different conclusions drawn supported by different premises, including one that isn’t even spoken here illustrates the problem with this kind of argument.

The speaker has changed the argument: “women should be paid the same amount as men for the same work,” to “women don’t do the same work, therefore they shouldn’t be paid as much.”

Those are two different arguments.

The following two arguments are also separate:

  • Women don’t do as much work as men.
  • Sally is wrong.

Sally, in fact, did not say that women do as much work as men. She said they should get paid the same amount for the same work.

The speaker used a different argument, to suggest that Sally’s original statement is wrong – and that’s what we call the straw man fallacy.

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Author: A. Primate

Mammal. Organizes itself into complex social hierarchies. Very particular about objects - even those that can't be eaten or used for shelter. Seemingly aware of itself as separate from the environment.

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