Journal article

When and how do we deal with straw men? A normative and cognitive pragmatic account


  • 2013
Published in:
  • Journal of Pragmatics. - 2013, vol. 59, no. Part B, p. 164-177
English We propose to treat informal fallacies in a comprehensive pragmatic account which investigates both their invalidity and misleading – sometimes deceptive – character. We do so by drawing on the integrated pragma-dialectical theory of argumentation (van Eemeren, 2010) and on cognitive pragmatics (Sperber and Wilson, 1995). As a case in point, we present a contextually and cognitively grounded account of the straw man fallacy by addressing two interrelated questions: (1) when can we justifiably say that the straw man occurred? and (2) how can we explain its remaining covert, its persuasiveness and its deceptiveness?
In the normative pragma-dialectical sense, fallacies are unreasonable strategic manoeuvres aimed at persuading, i.e., violations of the rules of a reasonable critical discussion that may have rhetorical allure. Determining when straw men occur is a matter of drawing the line between representation and misrepresentation in argumentation, and this can be investigated by taking into account the contextual specificities of activity types. This will answer question (1).
From a cognitive pragmatic perspective, fallacies can moreover be viewed as an arguer's attempt at contextually constraining addressees’ interpretations; their deceptive “success” characteristically requires information about the fallacious nature of the argument to be absent. We formulate our answer to question (2) in terms of such a constraint on information-processing mechanisms at play in the meaning derivation procedure.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines
Département d'anglais
  • English
Language, linguistics
License undefined
Open access status
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