The Straw Man Straw Man

Claims and their logical implications exist objectively. So if a man asserts a claim, then that claim may have implications that he has not recognized. If another man recognizes and explicitly criticizes one such implication, then the asserting man might accuse the critic of attacking a straw man, noting that the critic has attacked a claim that the asserting man does not believe. But this accusation would itself constitute a straw man argument. For the critic’s interrogation focuses not on the mental state of the asserting man, but rather on the truth or falsity of the asserting man’s claim. The asserting man, in failing to recognize one of his claim’s logical implications, has in no way diminished the critic’s ability to refute the claim via a refutation of that implication. If the critic has derived from the asserting man’s claim a logical implication—which the asserting man has not recognized and so could not possibly believe—and shown that implication to be false, then the critic will have refuted the asserting man’s claim without ever mentioning it. The fact that the critic has applied these rules of logic in engaging with the asserting man’s claim, whereas the asserting man himself has not, indicates that the critic, far from constructing a straw man of the asserting man’s claim, has in fact taken the claim more seriously than the asserting man has himself. The critic, in other words, has done the exact opposite of attacking a straw man. And ironically, the accusation that the critic attacked a straw man, by suddenly shifting the conversation away from regulative principles of truth and falsity, toward the question of who believes what, constitutes the only straw man argument in the entire exchange.

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