Resumption of Speech — Straw Man

The label straw man fallacy refers to a special case of a general phenomenon, discourse and meaning resumption and representation.

The argumentative space is an interactional and textual space organized by a question@, where co-oriented, anti-oriented and third parties’ discourses articulate and overlap. S. Orientation; Roles. In such a space, argumentative interventions constantly refer to and influence each other, under quite different modes, ranging from explicit quotation, to more or less distorted repetition and reformulation, to the most allusive expression.

1. Resumption of speech

1.1 Direct, explicit quotation

An explicit quotation is expressed in a passage between quotation marks, accompanied by its space-time coordinates, so as to construct an unequivocal object: what was said, by whom, when, where.

Explicit quotations can be rejected by showing that they are incomplete, unduly de-contextualized, or misunderstood, S. Authority; Circumstances. Accordingly, an interpretative stasis@ can emerge about what the text really means and what the author has really said. It may be argued that a direct quotation is already an interpretation, and an indirect one certainly is. S. Interpretation.

In the case of direct quotation, the source text does exist; in the following ones, the very existence of such a text is problematic.

1.2 Indirect quotation

Indirect quotation of a position is presented by the speaker as a reformulation which paraphrases the original saying, or rephrases it in order to clarify its meaning and intention. The indirect quotation can be dismissed as tendentious or ludicrous, that is to say, presenting an unfair reinterpretation of the original position, implying something that was never said, S. Orientation; Epitrope; Prolepsis

1.3 Allusion

Allusion to another discourse is no more than a trace that makes it possible to broadly locate the source discourse, without the possibility of designating any individual author or work. Its vague character is its best guarantee against contradiction, and a veil of mystery suits some kinds of authorities well.

2. Anticipating oppositions

The discourse can also be attributed to a voice staged in a polyphonic space, as in the case of anticipated objections, S. Interaction; Prolepsis.

3. Straw man

The discrepancy between what the quoted party said or might have said and what the quotation makes him say is the basis for the fallacy known as the straw man or scarecrow fallacy.

Undisputable refutation must be about what the other really claimed, S. Relevance. This requirement has a clear meaning in the case of written and referenced statements. In ordinary discourse, no segment is totally context-free, and its meaning is always an interpretation, so it is often not clear if someone has fully said something or not. In an argumentative situation, what the other has actually said is not a prerequisite but an issue in the argument.

The straw man fallacy is an accusation of mischievous representation of the diverging discourse. The expression is a metaphor on the substantive straw man, which literally refers to:

a mass of straw formed to resemble a man. (Thes., Straw man).

As a metaphor, a straw man is:

1. a weak or imaginary opposition (such as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily refuted.
2. a person set up to serve as a cover for a usually questionable transaction (MW, Straw man)

Given meaning (1), the straw man or scarecrow strategy corresponds to a tendentious, repulsive, even self-refuting, reformulation, of the discourse of something previously said.

Given meaning (2), the straw man strategy corresponds to a position which masks the real position of the arguing party. This position is advanced in order to set the public, or the speaker’s opponents on a false track, S. Red Herring.