Letter: The straw person

Wednesday, January 03, 2018
The straw person

Kudos to the push for media literacy as an education priority. As misleading information becomes more common, the need for critical thinking increases.

One fallacy worth understanding better is the “straw person” argument. This consists of alleging something that nobody has ever said, then disputing it. A Dec. 27 letter contains a good example. It alleged that the term “political correctness” has been “weaponized by progressives and the left; using their language to censor, silence others and stifle debate.”

I learned of this fallacy years ago as the “straw man” argument, so my language change is itself an example of political correctness. Now, just suppose I were to call someone out for using an expression that implies that only men are persons. Would I be censoring or stifling them, or employing language as a weapon? Of course not. They could go on using whatever language they wish, and I could go on registering disagreement.

The indicators that a straw person argument is in play are that there is no indication of where the position in question came from and that as a follower of current affairs, you have either never heard of it, or only from people who oppose it. Don’t assume that the author must have gotten what they are alleging from somewhere, or, if you hear it from several people, that they can’t all be trying to deceive you.

Since a straw person argument doesn’t reference anything real, the correct response is to tag it as invalid.