Straw Man Argument

Every time I go home during break, my mom says “You’re looking skinny! Are you eating enough? Are you stressed?” And I generally say something like “What, do you want me to get fat, Mom?” This wonderful tidbit from my life (which you probably didn’t care about, and still don’t), raises an important topic in rhetoric, logic, argumentation, and maybe even philosophy: the Straw Man fallacy.

The initial “you want me to be obese” response is the typical Straw Man, where I misrepresent my opponent’s viewpoint to make it seem ridiculous (yes, in this case, my opponent is my mother). But how much effort should I put into understand her opinion? Saying “Mom, could you rigorously define the reasons you’ve concluded I look skinny” seems a little too formal. “No I don’t, but my brother surely does” doesn’t really address the point. Am I even allowed to disagree (politely, mind you) if I haven’t “steel manned” my mom’s perspective?

This week, we talk about the Straw Man fallacy. How do you recognize a Straw Man argument? What counts as a Straw Man rather than your own interpretation of an argument? How deeply should you understand the other perspective before giving your own? Am I actually too skinny, or does my mom just have a healthy concern for her children’s health?