Straw Man Fallacy

In general, this fallacy redirects a debate from the real argument to a straw man to gain an advantage. We call this redirection, “putting up a straw man.” This straw man is a caricature or substitution of a position. There are various forms of the straw man fallacy. We’re going to look at three: representational, selectional, and hollow man.

Representational Straw Man:

The person committing this fallacy substitutes the opponent’s actual view for a less defensible one and then refutes this distorted view.


  • The opponent: Due to the economic downturn, many suggest that we lengthen the road plan to extend the completion time to five years, instead of the original two.
  • The straw man: This is no time to abandon the road plan. We need working roads more than ever, especially during this economic crisis. I can not support this.

As you see, the opponent’s position was not to abandon the road plan as the straw man suggested. The plan modified the original project to spread the costs over an extended period to help with budgeting issues.

Selectional Straw Man or The Weak Man:

This straw man consists of selecting the weakest of the opponent’s arguments and using it to represent and attack the opponent’s entire case.


  • The opponent: The redistricting of our police forces will speed up response times, reduce crime, and save the city on fuel costs.
  • The straw man: I highly doubt that your plan will reduce fuel costs. If it does, it’ll be so negligible that in practical terms, it won’t even matter. Your redistricting doesn’t make sense.

The straw man picked what they considered the weakest of the reasons supporting the redistricting plan, fuel costs, and used it to attack the whole idea.

Hollow man:

This fallacy doesn’t attack an opponent’s views. Instead, it creates a fictional position of a vague opponent to cast aspersion.


  • The straw man: Some democrats want the U.S. government to collapse to implement an abortion-first policy to control population growth. We should not support the Democratic party under any circumstances.

As you can see, we have a vague opponent, “some democrats,” and a fictional policy, “abortion-first.” Thus, casting doubt on the Democratic party and what they represent.

Implications of the Straw Man:

Besides being a dishonest means of winning an argument, the straw man has further implications. When this fallacy is successful, it creates a false impression about the opponent and their arguments. These impressions are unnecessarily negative and can contribute to polarization. It also prevents us from learning and understanding the real views that would have taken place, preventing us from becoming more informed.

Avoiding the Straw Man:

For this fallacy to work, the audience has to be uninformed about the topic at hand. So the prescription is to become more informed about the different sides of an issue. We become more informed by reading, listening, and engaging a wide variety of views. We often live in an information bubble where we mostly consume opinions that are similar to our own. This bubble is caused by and contributes to confirmation bias, making us more susceptible to straw man fallacies.

To learn more about logical fallacies, check out our Critical Thinking Resource page.


  • Bad Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Fallacies in Western Philosophy. Edited by Robert Arp, Steven Barbone, and Michael Bruce.
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