The "Weak Man" Argument
n the February/March issue of Scientific American Mind
, Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse, philosophy professors at Felician College and Vanderbilt University, respectively, note
the existence of a close relative to the ever-popular straw man
argument. Talisse calls this second type of false argument the "weak man argument," a technique whereby
a person sets up the opposition's weakest (or one of its weakest) arguments or proponents for attack, as opposed to misstating a rival's position as the straw man argument does.
Raley and Talisse go on to point out that
Weak man tactics are harder to detect than those of the straw man variety. Because straw man arguments are closely related to an opponent's true position, a clever listener might be able to spot the truth amid the hyperbole, understatement or other corrupted version of that view. A weak man argument, however, is more opaque because it contains a grain of truth and often bears little similarity to the stronger arguments that should also be presented. Therefore, a listener has to know a lot more about the situation to imagine the information that a speaker or writer has cleverly disregarded.
Among Raley and Talisse's suggestions for fortifying yourself against being misled by a weak man argument is taking the trouble to construct in your own mind the strongest argument against what the other party is saying, and seeing whether your argument against is persuasive. Another suggestion is to ask yourself, "Why should I not
Labels: Critical thinking, Decision-making