Logical Fallacy 1: Straw Man

This is Part 1 in a series about Logical Fallacies. We are going through one fallacy at a time. There are many types of fallacious arguments. I'm going to try to explain them with examples then find ways to help you refute those arguments when they occur. Please comment or email if there's a particular fallacy you want me to tackle, or if you have success with refuting an argument using a good technique you can share.

Our first Logical Fallacy is the Straw Man Argument. This is a great one to start with on our journey because it's quite common and easy to spot.

A straw man: a dummy stuffed with straw. It's too weak to fight back.

Arguing against a position specifically created to be easy to argue against, rather than the position held by someone who opposes that point of view.

So, when you state your position, your opponent replies not to what you said, but to a distorted and exaggerated caricature of what you said, that is obviously harder to defend.

Example: You state your argument: People who commit minor offenses should be let out of jail sooner.
Opponent replies: Emptying out all the jails would create havoc in society.

While that may be true, it isn't what you suggested. It's irrelevant. Your opponent didn't refute your point, he invented a different point that is easier to argue against. The opponent can take satisfaction in having a point that no reasonable person could argue with. He appears to have successfully defeated your argument when in fact he simply dodged it.

Example: You: I don't believe in UFO's based on the lack of evidence.
Opponent: You don't believe in anything you can't see with your own eyes. So air doesn't exist because you can't see it?

That isn't true at all. Scientists accept logical inference as a legitimate method. I have never seen a black hole but I accept their reality because the evidence strongly infers their existence. I've never seen a proton or a neutron but I can infer their existence based on the findings of numerous scientists.

I'm using 2 great resources for these fallacy lessons, well, technically three.
I noticed while writing this one up that no one talks about simple, clear cut ways for refuting each kind of argument. I'll look around for some examples and add them in as I find them. If you have any resources, please share with the class!

Ok, I talked to my husband, Butch, today and we hashed over what we thought would be a good plan for refuting this type of fallacy.
  1. Tell your opponent that his/her reply is the Straw Man Argument.
  2. Briefly explain the Straw Man Fallacy to the person.
  3. Restate your case in clear terms so that they understand where you're coming from.
  4. Ask for a direct reply to your argument.
This is what makes sense to me. Helpful comments and suggestions are welcome, as well as other resources.


  1. This is great! Will you be explaining the other fallacies as well?

  2. Hi Sue Nami. Yes I am going to go through all the big fallacies. There are about 20, according to the Skeptic's Guide. If I find any more, I'll do them too. I am aiming for approximately one a day. I'll edit the post to make it clear that this is a series.

  3. You know, your opponent has a point about air - it must not exist so I am not actually breathing anything.....

    Poor strawmen. Always taking the brunt of bad arguments.

  4. HA, good argument, James. Excellent point!