- November 8, 2021
- Posted by: Philip Struble
- Category: Uncategorized
What is your objective when debating with someone?
To win at all costs.
To convince them your argument is right.
Straw Man Argument
A straw man is a well-known logical fallacy whereby one person appears to be refuting their opponents’ argument in a debate, but they are actually refuting a modified version of their opponent’s argument which has been made easier to refute.
The basic structure of the argument consists of Person A making a claim, Person B creating a distorted version of the claim (the “straw man”), and then Person B attacking this distorted version in order to refute Person A’s original assertion.
This gives the impression that one has beaten their opponent in a debate, when in fact they have beaten a ‘straw man’ which they have set up on purpose.
An example of a straw man agreement is:
Wife: I’d rather have a dog than a cat.
Husband: Why do you hate cats?
The wife never said that she hated cats, only that she preferred dogs. The husband either assumed or pretended that her argument was against cats instead of for dogs. Now the wife must argue that she doesn’t hate cats — which completely changes the course of the discussion.
Steel Man Argument
If you just wanted to win the debate (and annoy the person you’re speaking to), pick a straw man of their argument and burn it to the ground.
If, however, you want to try to get to the truth, you should consider the strongest possible argument that your opponent could have meant — and respond to that.
That would be the steel man argument which is the strongest version of an argument, sometimes called the principle of charity.
The steel man argument requires a debater to find the best form of their opponent’s argument and then argue against that. To do so, you must 1) explain what you think your opponent means back to them, 2) ask them if they agree this is what they mean, 3) and then argue against that.
This is a tougher debate tactic because it allows for fewer shady arguments, but the result is a stance that holds up to intense scrutiny.
Benefits of Steel Manning
Steel manning is a simple idea, but incredibly difficult in practice. Too often, we’re interested in being the winner rather than convincing our opponent we are correct.
What reason is there to build a steel man for the other party?
First, you’ll have a better chance of persuading the other party.
People want to have their thoughts taken seriously and not brushed aside. The best way to do this is to show that you understand their arguments by improving on the way the core idea is expressed. Anything less and you’ll merely be attacking a weak manifestation of an idea, and not the idea itself.
Second, and more importantly, you need to constantly test your assumptions and beliefs in order to build a better argument. If you can’t respond to the strongest argument from the other side, there’s a good chance you’re wrong.
Understanding the steel man argument form is important to business leaders and entrepreneurs because its foundation forces you to listen to the other side.
You can’t effectively employ a steel man argument if you don’t understand the opposition. And you cannot effectively negotiate with a client, vendor, or employee if you do not completely understand what they are presenting.
Finding common ground first and offering counter information second is always the best process to successful negotiations.
In our media driven world today, we see very little steel manning. All stories and talking points are straw men designed to be easily defeated. Very few real issues are comprehensively discussed in detail.
The Pharisees were finely adept at straw man arguments. Jesus called them out in Matthew 23. Specifically, in Matthew 23:23-24 He said.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
This is strong language against those who regularly use the straw man argument. And an example we need to follow in calling out those who also use this same form of argument to avoid the truth.
Business leaders need to be focused on the truth.
Following the steel man agreement line of thinking strengthens our understanding of the truth and destroys those who try to avoid the truth by the use of a straw man.