Straw Man: Weak Man & Hollow Man

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Straw Man: Weak Man & Hollow Man

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While a Straw Man fallacy always involves a misrepresentation, there are two variations developed by Robert Talisse and Scott Aikin. They call the classic Straw Man the Representative Form and their variations the Selection Form (or Weak Man) and the Hollow Man.

The Select Form/Weak Man substitutes a partial and weaker version of the target in place of the original. As in a classic Straw Man, this weaker version is attacked, and it is fallaciously claimed that the original has been refuted.

If the Weak Man target is a claim or argument, this reasoning has this form (it would be adjusted for other targets):

 

Premise 1: Person A makes claim or argument X.

Premise 2: Person B presents Y (a partial and weaker version of X).

Premise 3: Person B attacks Y.

Conclusion:  Therefore, X is false/incorrect/flawed.

 

The fallacy can also occur when the weakest (or weak) arguments for an opponent’s side are criticized to refute that side. This reasoning has this form:

 

Premise 1: Side A claims C.

Premise 2: Person B selects W, a weak argument for C, and ignores S, a stronger argument for C.

Premise 3: Person B criticizes W.

Conclusion:  Therefore, C is refuted.

 

As an example, atheists sometimes present the weakest arguments for God (such as the Appeal to Belief argument) and attack those, claiming that they have thus refuted the arguments for God. Or even that they have shown that God does not exist. Theists sometimes do the same sort of thing right back to atheists, selecting the worst arguments against God and refuting those to try to disprove atheism. While the Weak Man fallacy does present claims or arguments that someone makes, what about cases of complete fabrication? That takes us to the Hollow Man.

A Hollow Man follows the general pattern of the classic Straw Man but is based on a complete fabrication rather than a misrepresentation.  This fabrication is attacked, and this is fallaciously taken to refute or discredit the original.

If the Hollow Man target is a claim or argument, this reasoning has this form (it would be adjusted for other targets):

 

Premise 1: Person A makes claim or argument X.

Premise 2: Person B presents Y (a complete fabrication).

Premise 3: Person B attacks Y.

Conclusion:  Therefore, X is false/incorrect/flawed.

 

This fallacy can also be presented as having this form:

 

Premise 1: Person B fabricates Y.

Premise 2: Person B attributes Y to person A or Group G.

Premise 3: Person B criticizes Y.

Conclusion:  Therefore, person A or group G has been refuted/shown to be wrong.

There can be some debate about the distinction between complete fabrications and extreme exaggerations. After all, almost any sizable group has a chance of having a member who does believe what the creator of the fallacy believed they were fabricating. For example, a leftist might make up the idea that members of a conservative group believe that Jews are constructing space lasers to start forest fires to fake climate change. On the face of it, that notion seems too absurd to attribute to anyone. But it might turn out that a conservative believes this. As such, while the idea is a bad faith fabrication, it would just so happen to be true of one person, thus making it an odd sort of true lie.

Fortunately, we do not need to draw an exact line between complete fabrications and extreme exaggerations.  From a practical standpoint, there is generally not a need to determine whether an instance is a classic Straw Man or a true Hollow Man, since the reasoning is fallacious in either case.

This fallacy is commonly used to manufacture outrage over something no one has done or said. The manufactured outrage over the video game Cuphead is a good example of this fallacy. One part of the manufactured outrage was that vaguely defined group of social justice warriors was falsely claimed to be calling Cuphead a racist game. This fabrication was then used to “refute” that vague group.

The Hollow Man fallacy usually relies heavily on vaguely defined groups and vague attributed views. One reason for this is that if specific groups and views were identified, then someone could check on the claims in the Hollow Man and easily refute them. Complete fabrications also allow the Hollow Man fallacy to be perfectly tailored for the target audience. The person using it can simply make up whatever they think would work the best.

While you might think the Hollow Man fallacy would be ineffective because it would often be easy to point out that it is based on fabrication, it can be a powerful persuasive tool.  This is because the intended target will often either want to believe the fabrication or is unlikely to investigate. For example, someone who loathes supporters of Donald Trump is less likely to take the effort to confirm a fabrication about these supporters, especially if the fabrication matches their biases and the stereotypes they accept.

In some cases, members of the target audience know that it is a Hollow Man and are on board with spreading it. This might be because they agree with the claim the fallacy is alleged to support or they simply like trolling.

Spreading an instance of this fallacy can help create the illusion of truth and make the fallacy that much more effective. For example, if a Hollow Man attack on Trump supporters spreads to various blogs, Tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos, this can create the appearance that the claim is true. If a person does a search on the claim, they will get results that will superficially seem to provide evidence of the claim. This can be convincing, unless, of course, they take the effort to check this content critically.

 

Defense: The defense against these variants of the Straw Man is essentially the same as the dense against the classic Straw Man. For the Weak Man fallacy, the specific defense is to check to see if that side has stronger arguments than the one being attacked. Sometimes a critic will present a weak argument in good faith by making it clear that they know the argument is weak and that they are criticizing it to address those who use that weak argument. In that case, the Weak Man fallacy is not committed.

For the Hollow Man fallacy, there are two main parts of the defense. The first is to check to see if the group being criticized exists in a meaningful way or is itself a straw group. If a group is vaguely defined or poorly identified, then this is a red flag. For example, if someone is criticizing social justice warriors, conservatives, the rich, the poor, men, women, feminists in broad terms, then they might be committing this fallacy. But not all sweeping generalizations and vague group references are this fallacy (or any fallacy).

The second is to see if any actual person in the targeted group did or said what is attributed to them. For example, if it is claimed that conservatives have been setting fire to vehicles that display BLM stickers, then you would want to check credible sources to see if this is something that is really happening. If you cannot find any credible source to confirm this claim, that would also be a red flag for this fallacy. It must be kept in mind that even if the claim is true, another fallacy such as Straw Man: Nut Picking could be occurring.

 

Example #1 (Hollow Man)

“Trump supporters have been setting fire to vehicles displaying BLM stickers! This proves what we have known all along: Trump supporters are violent white supremacists.”

 

Example #2 (Hollow Man)

“Biden supporters have been setting fire to vehicles displaying Trump stickers! This proves what we have known all along: Biden supporters are violent criminals!”

 

Example #3 (Weak Man)

“So, today on Genius Atheist Philosopher we will be looking at the usual Christian proof for God. Christians will say that God exists because most people believe in God. But as anyone who knows logic gets, this is just the Appeal to Belief fallacy. So, that just about wraps it up for God and shows what dummies these Christians are.”

 

Example #4 (Weak Man)

“So, today on Genius Theist Philosopher we will be looking at the usual atheist attack on God. Atheists will always say that God does not exist because the only argument for God is an Appeal to Belief and that is a fallacy. But those stupid atheists never get that we have other arguments, like St. Aquinas’s Five Ways. That just about wraps it up for the atheists and shows what dummies they are.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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