The Strategies of Misattribution of Commitments

  • Fabrizio Macagno
  • Douglas Walton
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 14)


This chapter investigates the structure and the strategies of the straw man fallacy. A straw man fallacy consists in the speaker’s attacking a distorted version of the other’s viewpoint or commitments, in order to rebut his argument more easily by attacking a position that has been simplified and weakened. This strategy, however, can lead to the risk of being accused of breaching the rules of the discussion by distorting the other’s ideas. This risk can be avoided by relying on other tactics (such as an appeal to emotions), by distorting specific types of content, and by communicating the distortion in specific ways. The goals of this chapter are to distinguish between these distinctive types of manipulation of the hearer’s commitments, and to point out the differences between implicit and explicit distortions of contents explicitly or implicitly conveyed. The various strategies are described and their dialectical effects brought to light.


Straw man Argumentation Fallacies Pragmatics Implicatures Presuppositions Interpretation Emotions 


  1. Aikin, S. F., & Casey, J. (2011). Straw men, weak men, and hollow men. Argumentation, 25(1), 87–105. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allan, K. (2013). What is common ground? In A. Capone, F. Lo Piparo, & M. Carapezza (Eds.), Perspectives in pragmatics, philosophy & psychology volume 2 (pp. 285–310). Cham: Springer. Google Scholar
  3. Bayor, R. (2004). The Columbia documentary history of race and ethnicity in America. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ben-Ze’ev, A. (2000). The subtlety of emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Blanchette, I. (2006). The effect of emotion on interpretation and logic in a conditional reasoning task. Memory & Cognition, 34(5), 1112–1125. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blanchette, I., & Richards, A. (2004). Reasoning about emotional and neutral materials - Is logic affected by emotion? Psychological Science, 15(11), 745–752. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blum-Kulka, S., & Weizman, E. (2014). Misunderstandings in political interviews. In J. House, G. Kasper, & S. Ross (Eds.), Misunderstandings in social life (pp. 107–128). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Bosanac, P. (2009). Litigation logic: A practical guide to effective argument. Chicago: American Bar Association.Google Scholar
  9. Capone, A. (2009). Are explicatures cancellable? Toward a theory of the speaker’s intentionality. Intercultural Pragmatics, 6(1), 55–83. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Capone, A. (2012). Indirect reports as language games. Pragmatics & Cognition, 20(3), 593–613. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Capone, A. (2016). The pragmatics of indirect reports: Socio-philosophical considerations. Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  12. Clark, H. H., & Gerrig, R. J. (1990). Quotations as demonstrations. Language, 66(4), 764. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clore, G., & Gasper, K. (2000). Feeling is believing: Some affective influences on belief. In N. Frijda, A. Manstead, & S. Bem (Eds.), Emotions and beliefs: How feelings influence thoughts (pp. 10–44). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Croom, A. (2014). The semantics of slurs: A refutation of pure expressivism. Language Sciences, 41, 227–242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dascal, M. (2003). Interpretation and understanding. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis, A. (2008). The People v. Orenthal James Simpson: Race and trial advocacy. In M. Tigar & A. Davis (Eds.), Trial stories (pp. 283–352). New York: Foundation Press.Google Scholar
  17. Elster, J. (1994). Rationality, emotions, and social norms. Synthese, 98(1), 21–49. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Elster, J. (1999). Alchemies of the mind: Rationality and the emotions. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Frijda, N., & Mesquita, B. (2000). Beliefs through emotions. In N. Frijda, A. Manstead, & S. Bem (Eds.), Emotions and beliefs: How feelings influence thoughts (pp. 45–77). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hamblin, C. L. (1970). Fallacies. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  21. Israel, M. (2006). Saying less and meaning less. In B. Birner & G. Ward (Eds.), Drawing the boundaries of meaning: Neo-Gricean studies in pragmatics and semantics in honor of Laurence R. Horn (pp. 143–162). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  22. Lascarides, A., Copestake, A., & Briscoe, T. (1996). Ambiguity and coherence. Journal of Semantics, 13, 41–65. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lewiński, M., & Oswald, S. (2013). When and how do we deal with straw men? A normative and cognitive pragmatic account. Journal of Pragmatics, 59, 164–177.
  24. Macagno, F. (2011). Implicatures and hierarchies of presumptions. Argument cultures: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA), Windsor, ON.Google Scholar
  25. Macagno, F. (2012). Presumptive reasoning in interpretation. Implicatures and conflicts of presumptions. Argumentation, 26(2), 233–265. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Macagno, F. (2013). Strategies of character attack. Argumentation, 27(4), 369–401. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Macagno, F. (2014a). Manipulating emotions. Value-based reasoning and emotive language. Argumentation & Advocacy, 51(2), 103–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Macagno, F. (2014b). Presupposing redefinitions. In T. Herman & S. Oswald (Eds.), Rhétorique et cognition - Rhetoric and Cognition (pp. 249–278). Bern: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  29. Macagno, F. (2016). Reporting and interpreting intentions in defamation law. In A. Capone, F. Kiefer, & F. Lo Piparo (Eds.), Indirect reports and pragmatics (pp. 593–619). Cham: Springer. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Macagno, F., & Capone, A. (2016). Interpretative disputes, explicatures, and argumentative reasoning. Argumentation, 30(4), 399–422. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Macagno, F., & Damele, G. (2013). The dialogical force of implicit premises. Presumptions in enthymemes. Informal Logic, 33(3), 361. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Macagno, F., & Walton, D. (2011). Reasoning from paradigms and negative evidence. Pragmatics & Cognition, 19(1), 92–116. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Macagno, F., & Walton, D. (2013). Implicatures as forms of argument. In A. Capone, F. Lo Piparo, & M. Carapezza (Eds.), Perspectives on pragmatics and philosophy (pp. 203–225). Cham: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Macagno, F., & Walton, D. (2014). Emotive language in argumentation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McConnell, M. W. (2001). Two-and-a-half cheers for Bush v Gore. The University of Chicago Law Review, 68(3), 657–678. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Meyer, M. (2000). Humor as a double-edged sword: four functions of humor in communication. Communication Theory, 10(3), 310–331. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sanders, J., Green, M., & Powers, W. (2008). The insubstantiality of the “Substantial Factor” test for causation. Missouri Law Review, 73, 399–431.Google Scholar
  38. Shandell, R., Smith, P., & Schulman, F. (2006). The preparation and trial of medical malpractice cases. New York: Law Journal Press.Google Scholar
  39. Sherrod, S. (2012). The courage to hope: How I stood up to the politics of fear. New York: ATRIA.Google Scholar
  40. van Eemeren, F., & Grootendorst, R. (1992). Argumentation, communication, and fallacies: A pragma-dialectical perspective. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  41. van Eemeren, F., & Grootendorst, R. (2004). A systematic theory of argumentation: The pragma-dialectical approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Walton, D. (1989). Informal logic. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Walton, D. (1996). The straw man fallacy. In J. van Bentham, F. van Eemeren, R. Grootendorst, & F. Veltman (Eds.), Logic and argumentation (pp. 115–128). Amsterdam: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.Google Scholar
  44. Walton, D. (2003a). Defining conditional relevance using linked arguments and argumentation schemes: A commentary on professor Callen’s article, rationality and relevancy: Conditional relevancy and constrained resources. Michigan State Law Review, 4(4), 1305–1314.Google Scholar
  45. Walton, D. (2003b). Relevance in argumentation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Routledge. Google Scholar
  46. Walton, D. (2013). Methods of argumentation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabrizio Macagno
    • 1
  • Douglas Walton
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e HumanasUniversidade Nova de LisboaLisboaPortugal
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada

Personalised recommendations