In Part 5 of Associate Professor of Philosophy Kevin deLaplante‘s video series of logical fallacies, he explains the Straw Figure fallacy.
Professor deLaplante says, “The Straw Figure Fallacy involved criticizing a distorted, exaggerated or otherwise misrepresented version of an argument and claiming to have refuted the original argument. It often involves knowing or willful deception and a refusal to ‘play by the rules’.”
“When someone is willing to knowingly misrepresent an argument,” Professor deLaplante says, “they are no longer playing by the rules. They are more concerned with the appearance of winning than with argumentation itself. When you see this going on, you should correct the misrepresentation and get the discussion back on track. If it is an honest mistake and the arguer is willing to correct their misunderstanding, that is great. But if you catch them doing this again and again, then there is probably no point in engaging argumentatively with this person, because they have shown you that they are unwilling to play by the rules.”
Cognitive Biases: What They Are, Why They’re Important – Source: The Critical Thinking Academy
Another example of Sid’sintellectual dishonesty was an argument over Water – the Democracy versus the Authoritarian Republic.
This post compared India and China and what each country was doing to supply water to its people. I asked this question, “Is freedom of expression and of religion more important than water?”
Logically, the answer would be ‘water’ was more important than freedom of expression and of religious choice, because we die within a few days without water but can live a full life without the two abstract freedoms of expression and choice of religion. The post provided evidence that China was doing more than India to supply water to its people, and closed with, “What happens to life when there is no water?”
The logical answer was that we will die quickly without water, but will not die due to limits on freedom of political expression or from a limited choice of religions.
However, the first comment from Sid introduced another Red Herring into the conversation and changed the topic. Sid’s first sentence said, “An estimated 75 percent of China’s river water is not safe for drinking or fishing, according to Rob Gifford, author of China Road.”
Sid says, “Hmmm. Interesting stuff. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people without access to safe water or santitation; a dire warning from the world bank…”
Again, this was not the topic of the post and was misleading. In fact, this was when Sid introduced the Straw Figure Fallacy distorting the argument, as Professor deLaplante says, “with willful deception and a refusal to play by the rules.”
In my reply, I attempted bringing the topic back to the original premise by pointing out that unsafe water was not the issue, because the Chinese boiled their water before drinking it, which common sense says to do with contaminated water.
Sid then claimed that was not the reason why Chinese people drank warm water and then introduced several more topics in rapid succession without evidence to support them, which had nothing to do with which country was doing a better job planning ahead to provide water for its people—contaminated or not.
My next reply said Sid’s comment was a logical fallacy, a Red Herring. Sid then changed the topic again with another Red Herring leading to a series of Straw Figure Fallacies and ended by asking if I had ever read any books on argumentative logic, which had nothing to do with which country was doing a better job of bringing water to its people.
I replied by asking Sid to answer the same question on how many books he had read on argumentative logic, which he ignored in all of his subsequent comments, which I then deleted (a total of eighteen between January 11 – 14). Some quotes from a few of those comments have been used as examples of logical fallacies in this series of posts.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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