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Straw Men, Iron Men, and Argumentative Virtue


The straw man fallacy consists in inappropriately constructing or selecting weak (or comparatively weaker) versions of the opposition’s arguments. We will survey the three forms of straw men recognized in the literature, the straw, weak, and hollow man. We will then make the case that there are examples of inappropriately reconstructing stronger versions of the opposition’s arguments. Such cases we will call iron man fallacies. The difference between appropriate and inappropriate iron manning clarifies the limits of the virtue of open-mindedness.

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  1. 1.

    For a quick summary see Aikin and Casey (2011) 87–88 n.1.

  2. 2.

    Straw man fallacy A fallacy committed when a person misrepresents an argument, theory, or claim, and then, on the basis of that misrepresentation, claims to have refuted the position the person has misrepresented” (Govier 1997: 201); “Straw man fallacy: A form of fallacy of emphasis in which someone’s written or spoken words are taken out of context, thereby purposely distorting the original inference in such a way that the new, weak inference (the straw man) is easy to defeat” (Baronett 2008: 287); “In the case of the Straw Man fallacy, the clear irrelevance emerges in the argument that is constructed on the basis of, or in response to, the misrepresentation or caricature” (Tindale 2007: 25).

  3. 3.

    Following Talisse and Aikin (2008), and Talisse and Raley (2008).

  4. 4.

    For a complete review of the hollow- and weak-man fallacies, see Aikin and Casey (2011).

  5. 5.

    A version of this insight about challenges has been made by Van Laar (2008).

  6. 6.

    See Siegel (1995) for a moral case for charitable inclusion.

  7. 7.

    See Anderson et al. (2013).

  8. 8.

    This notion of dialectical virtue is in the same spirit as the deliberative-epistemic virtues discussed in Aikin (2008), Aikin and Clanton (2010), Ferkany and Whyte (2011), De Bruin (2013), and Scott (2014).

  9. 9.

    See Aikin (2008) for norms bearing on the ‘sliding scale’ of explicitness and clarity to expect of views.

  10. 10.

    No dialectical move without a Latin name is worth making. Sometimes it requires finding the name, other times it requires inventing.

  11. 11.

    See Kitcher (1982), Hare (2003), and Aikin (2008).


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Correspondence to John P. Casey.

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Aikin, S.F., Casey, J.P. Straw Men, Iron Men, and Argumentative Virtue. Topoi 35, 431–440 (2016).

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  • Iron man fallacy
  • Open-mindedness
  • Straw man fallacy
  • Weak man fallacy