In with another fallacy; here we talk about the strawman fallacy and his more handsome brother, the steelman argument. The strawman fallacy is committed when someone ignores a person’s actual point in their argument and substitutes an exaggerated or misrepresented version of their point.
A lot of fallacies are used as ammunition in debates, where the person committing the fallacy is fully aware of what they are doing. They use the strawman if they notice that refuting someone’s point is going to be difficult or almost impossible, they pull out a strawman instead and go to town on it; so, it seems like they are taking out the opponent’s argument.
Types of Strawman Argument
The strawman can be used to various degrees, someone might change a minor detail in their opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack. Then we have the more “creative” people who fabricate claims that their opponent never made in the first place.
The 4 common ways a strawman can be used are:
- Oversimplifying, generalizing or exaggerating an opponent’s points
- Focusing on only specific aspects of an opponent’s argument even if it is not important
- Quoting things an opponent says out of context
- Arguing against extreme versions of the opponents points or position
Examples of Strawman Arguments
We can start off with a simple one, someone asks you if you would like vanilla or chocolate ice cream; you pick vanilla. Then you are asked why you hate chocolate ice cream; this is the simplest form of the strawman we meet daily. At no point did you claim to dislike any flavour of ice cream.
Another example that is very prevalent is one where someone is clamouring for rights for women. If you bring up the fact that men also face discrimination in the same way in those fields; there is a high chance you get attacked and tagged a sexist.
The Steelman Argument
This is an argument I came across recently, and it is one of the best counters to the strawman fallacy. You get to flex your critical thinking muscles and prove without a shred of doubt that you have the superior argument.
A steelman argument strengthens your opponent’s argument so you are arguing against the strongest form of their position, devoid of fallacies and ambiguity. The reason I love the steelman argument is because when used against someone who is using the strawman unknowingly; it helps both of you have a better and more satisfying argument.
How to Carry Out a Steelman
- Restate the other persons position even clearer and more vividly than your opponent did
- List the points of agreement between both of you
- Highlight the things you have learned from the other persons argument
- Now you are free to rebut their points or claims as you go up against a stronger form of their argument
The steelman argument is one of the cooler techniques you can use in an argument. But it is not an easy thing to pull off; when in a debate we are mostly geared towards persuading or just winning the argument. The reason why I still recommend the steelman is because, if you are able to defeat the stronger version of their argument; persuasion would be easier, more effective and longer-lasting.