I am wondering if you can assist me with identifying a certain kind a fallacy?

I believe it might be the Straw Man fallacy, but I'm unsure.

In this instance, however, an opponent is not attributing false positions to an actual opponent.

Rather, he is actually inventing a nonexistent opponent, or a group of opponents, which he refers to by the newly coined word xxxxx-ists (as in federalists, capitalists, modernists, etc.) (I won't give the actual newly coined name because it's not really relevant -- it could be anything.)

Then, without defining exactly what he means by the newly coined label xxxxx-ists, the arguer attributes all sorts of negative and easily debunkable views to that opponent.

For example (and this is completely made up), suppose someone is passionate about ice cream but dislikes vanilla, and so he calls his opponents "vanilla-ists", and then attributes to them all sorts of false attributes and easily debunkable arguments. Is that the straw man argument? And is it straw man despite the fact that the group of vanilla-ists doesn't even really exist? ("Vanilla-ists" in this example are not merely people who like vanilla, but, rather, are people who like vanilla AND who also have all the horrible attributes and weak positions the arguer attributes to them.)

  • I made an edit mainly to illustrate how editing works. You may roll this back or further edit. Welcome to this SE! – Frank Hubeny Aug 24 '18 at 16:37
  • There are two things going on. Creation of the false opponent is making an almost literal straw man. The other half of this tactic may be 'poisoning the well' against that false opponent: logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/140/… – user9166 Aug 24 '18 at 16:47

Here is the definition of a straw man argument from Wikipedia:

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent.

A problem with calling straw man arguments logical fallacies is that there may be no argument involving critical thinking going on. They may be deliberate attempts to attack an enemy by any means available including lying under a pretense of appearing rational.

Those using such straw man arguments win if they get more votes, power or popular opinion trending in their direction, not by clarifying the differences between opposing positions. These are more ethical failings rather than logical fallacies.

Here is Wikipedia again about the straw man technique used in polemical debate:

This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery "battle" and the defeat of an "enemy" may be more valued than critical thinking or an understanding of both sides of the issue.

Once the arguing ceases to be about critical thinking there is no point labeling what is going on as any kind of logical fallacy. If it were a logical fallacy and those arguing were more concerned with the argument than in attacking an enemy, then a fallacy should be easy to fix or accept, much like a typo or grammatical error.

The question the OP raises is whether a false description of an imaginary group in order to easily argue against that imaginary group is a straw man argument or not. Since there is no real opponent who takes this view, it is hard to call it a logical argument or even a polemical debate.

Such an argument, however, might be a caricature of a straw man argument and labeled a comedy or a form of sarcasm. This assumes the audience listening to such an argument sees an analogy between the bogus argument that is being presented and some real straw man arguments they have heard.


Wikipedia, "Straw man" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

  • "Once the arguing seizes to be about critical thinking" should be "Once the arguing CEASES to be about critical thinking." – David Blomstrom Aug 26 '18 at 1:09

The first thing I thought when I saw the word "vanilla-ist" is "are you serious?" My comment isn't directed at you but at the fictional character who hypothetically made up this word. It sounds like an insult.

It reminds me of terms like "humaniac" (applied by some to animal rights activists or even human rights activists) and "tree hugger" (applied to environmentalists).

It could thus qualify as what is probably the most common fallacy - an ad hominem attack.

However, it could be a more complex fallacy combining ad hominem with a straw man fallacy, poisoning the well, etc.

  • I think I just lost my detailed response! Anyway, to reiterate in brief, yes, vanilla-ist was just a humorous stand-in for the actual term in a debate about race and ethnicity, in which I would assert my opponent created a , let’s say, “straw man-like” group of persons to whom he has ascribed a variety of horrible traits. But no such group really exists. It could be considered a conspiracy theory, I suppose. – skb8721 Aug 27 '18 at 3:52

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