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How The Strawman's Fallacy Correlates With Objective Importance

Updated: Feb 12

A monkey in a sad mood

(Note: I once claimed that all importance is subjective. I now realize I was wrong... Partially wrong, that is!).

The Strawman's Fallacy is a common logical fallacy that happens when a being or thing is either distorted or exaggerated beyond proportions, for the sake of rhetoric. For those new to the site, rhetoric is the art of convincing the other side. Many fallacies can be used for the sake of rhetoric, especially for an audience that does not know them, but I digress.

It is called a "strawman" because you essentially take a different version of reality, and present it in a way that is supposed to imitate that reality's original version. It's just like an actual scarecrow that is used to imitate an actual human being in order to keep birds away from a farm. Since the birds are not aware that the scarecrow isn't a real human, they are deceived by this fallacy.

(And fallacy, for that matter, is a concept that impairs our understanding of the truth.)

In order for the strawman fallacy to work, I suggest the idea that we must recognize objective value/importance. Because if something has actual importance, that is independent of our perception, then Strawman's fallacy has every right to exist. On the other hand, if nothing had objective value, this fallacy would've been irrelevant, as things would always legitimately be prone to subjective importance.

Because if an actual scarecrow would've been regarded as a human being capable of physically defending itself from a bird's attack, then it would contradict the original meaning of this fallacy: The meaning that argues for an objective difference between an actual guard and a downgraded, decieving version of one. Surely there is an objective difference between the two, correct? A difference that is independent of our subjective experience (a scarecrow only gives the illusion of defense).

Physical examples of this fallacy exist in military warfare. By using decoys, we can outsmart the enemy faction, as they focus fire on the pretentious force, while we can outsmart them. These are examples because they cause the attacker to distort the decoy's own importance in their mind. Thus, you can even use this fallacy on yourself without any awareness.

In contemporary reception of my writings, I'd like to argue that some readers may make a strawman out of them, by deeming them less-than-relevant because they felt that they were disrespectful, condescending, and so on. That's not even the point of philosophy, to please the audience in any way. The point is to research the truth, and everything else is minor in comparison. To minimize something's importance because of a subjective experience is therefore an incorrect estimation. And a strawman's fallacy cannot exist without incorrect estimations.

I'm talking in terms of objectivity, here, as philosophy was never about people-pleasing. If it were about it, Socrates would avoid asking so many questions, and thus, bothering the citizens of Athens. When we dare to know, we may also dare to cause unease, unintentionally or otherwise. I, personally, have no intention to disrespect anyone on purpose. And I cannot control people's sensitivities. Thus, I now see little reason to be concerned with their ridicule. It's all because they miss the point of a philosophical text: to reach the truth.

The strawman's fallacy may be combined with other fallacies, such as the ad-hominem fallacy, where you literally make a metaphorical strawman out of someone, and present them as the real thing. Combine this fallacy with the ad-populum fallacy, and you can make a mockery out of something or someone, purely because they are popular. I guess the stereotypical hipster may use this recent combination.

In order to overcome this fallacy, we must aim to see things as they are. We must put ourselves in the eyes of a crow, and raise the possibility that the guard might be nothing more than a fabrication and not an actual threat. And to do that, we must not be so scared by the scarecrow. Succumbing to our subjective experience can mean that we will be deceived by our very own subjectivity.

Objective importance does not have to be absolute in order to exist as such. Instead, it can be more rational than otherwise, and be based on conditions. For example, if I only have apples to eat, and don't have anything else to eat, eating apples is more important, right now, than eating food that I don't have (it's just an example). In this case, apples do not have absolute importance, but they are objectively important at the time, for the sake of one's survival. Thus, even if they are not that important in general, they are that important, now.

We may degrade the importance of apples, using the strawman's fallacy, and fantasize about far tastier food. However, doing so would undermine the objective importance of apples to our survival in this specific anecdote.

This is why I don't think we should put that much emphasis on our subjective experiences. Reality is not subjective, even if our perception of it, is. Both maturity, rationality, and professionalism stem from the recognition of reality, as external to our personal thoughts and feelings. And sometimes, of course, that reality may be more important than our experiences. This isn't to say that subjectivity is not important at all. It's to say that objectivity is imperative for the strawman's fallacy to work.

Otherwise, what would it matter to the crow, if the scarecrow is a strawman or an armed guard, that could shoot it down? Their fear, or lack of fear, is an indication of external reality, thus its objective importance in this case. Anything else in this scenario, from the crow's side, doesn't matter. What matters, in this case, is its safety and survival.

And for that to work, it must distinguish between the objective value of a strawman and that of an actual man or woman.

Case dismissed.

Afterthought: In order to reduce this fallacy from happening, here are some tips:

  • Listen carefully to the opponent's argument. You need to hear them fully in order to know what they're talking about.

  • Ask questions to clarify the opponent's argument. This will help you to understand their position better. Make sure they know that the questions are not rhetorical, but sincere, in order to be understood.

  • Be willing to change your own mind. If you find that the opponent's argument is stronger than yours, be willing to admit it. It shouldn't damage your ego if you are sincere in knowing the truth, in this exchange of ideas.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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