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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Strawman Fallacy Revisited

A lot of people really are giving me grief about my definition of the Strawman Fallacy! All these definitions are nearly exactly equivalent! Don't you see that?

My definition of the Strawman Fallacy is that you attack the weakest point your opponent makes. I write "Taxation is theft!" and you respond "But who will build the roads?"

Another variation of the Strawman Fallacy is that you criticize the weakest argument your opponent makes. "FSK writes about the Supreme Leader of Humanity. There's no such person. Therefore, taxation is not theft."

Another variation is to make an argument that's similar to your opponent's argument and refute that. I write "The income tax is immoral!" You respond "The income tax is legal; the 16th amendment allows it."

Another variation is "FSK does not have a PhD in economics. Therefore, his economic analysis is wrong." This is "argument from authority" rather than the Strawman Fallacy proper. A PhD is a license from the State that indicates you're qualified to think. I don't have a State-granted economics license; therefore, I'm unqualified to write about economics.

Ad hominem is different. Ad hominem is "FSK was labeled with a mental illness. Therefore, FSK's reasoning is wrong." Also, if I say "You are pro-State trolling", that isn't ad hominem if you actually are trolling.

Argument from authority is another closely related, but different fallacy. On, some people write "Mises never wrote about the Compound Interest Paradox. Therefore, the Compound Interest Paradox does not exist." If you're merely citing other people and not thinking for yourself, then you aren't actually doing anything.

There's another important point about the Strawman Fallacy. It leads to self-censorship. If people are judged by the stupidest thing they ever do, then they are reluctant to try something original or different. If you remember people's mistakes, but not their successes, then why should anyone ever take any risk?

All these fallacies seem nearly exactly the same to me. I've learned quite a bit of Mathematics, and all forms of invalid reasoning seem identical. From my point of view, there's valid reasoning and nonsense. Do I need to categorize and name all the different types of nonsense? I'm using "The Strawman Fallacy" to cover several closely related false reasoning tricks.

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