Essay:Straw man

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A straw man argument is one that distorts an opponent's arguments in order to weaken them and thereby make it easier to refute them. Straw manning is considered a violation of the conventions of constructive argumentation. A regrettable example of unintentional straw manning occurs in Ron Paul's Mises and Austrian Economics.[1] Paul quotes Mises as saying that it "is metaphysical nonsense to link together the 'slippery' and vague notion of liberty and the unchangeable absolute laws of cosmic order". Actually, it is clear from the context that Mises is reciting the arguments of his opponents (which ironically are deemed by Mises to be straw man arguments) as a prelude to demolishing them:[2]

Eighteenth-century liberalism and likewise present-day egalitarianism start from the "self-evident truth" that "all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." However, say the advocates of a biological philosophy of society, natural science has demonstrated in an irrefutable way that men are different. There is no room left in the framework of an experimental observation of natural phenomena for such a concept as natural rights. Nature is unfeeling and insensible with regard to any being's life and happiness. Nature is iron necessity and regularity. It is metaphysical nonsense to link together the "slippery" and vague notion of liberty and the unchangeable absolute laws of cosmic order. Thus the fundamental idea of liberalism is unmasked as a fallacy.

Now it is true that the liberal and democratic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries drew a great part of its strength from the doctrine of natural law and the innate imprescriptible rights of the individual. These ideas, first developed by ancient philosophy and Jewish theology, permeated Christian thinking. Some anti-Catholic sects made them the focal point of their political programs. A long line of eminent philosophers substantiated them. They became popular and were the most powerful moving force in the prodemocratic evolution. They are still supported today. Their advocates do not concern themselves with the incontestable fact that God or nature did not create men equal since many are born hale and hearty while others are crippled and deformed. With them all differences between men are due to education, opportunity, and social institutions.

But the teachings of utilitarian philosophy and classical economics have nothing at all to do with the doctrine of natural right. With them the only point that matters is social utility. They recommend popular government, private property, tolerance, and freedom not because they are natural and just, but because they are beneficial. The core of Ricardo's philosophy is the demonstration that social cooperation and division of labor between men who are in every regard superior and more efficient and men who are in every regard inferior and less efficient is beneficial to both groups.

Mises' writings lend themselves to being quoted out of context in ways that make him appear to be advocating a view that is completely contrary to what he is actually stating, because he had a habit of prefacing his counterarguments by writing several sentences in a row summarizing the viewpoint of his opponents, without beginning each sentence with "My opponents say..."