March 23, 2006

The Difference Between “P is Q” and “P entails Q”

In polemical writings, a straw man accusation is often made. One person, let’s call him Bilbo, holds some position (P). His opponent, Frodo, attempts to use a reductio ad absurdum argument and says that “Bilbo's position P entails position Q (some absurd conclusion).” It’s possible for Bilbo to misrepresent (to straw man) Frodo's claim, as if Frodo is claiming “Bilbo says P is Q.” That’s actually a straw man fallacy on Bilbo’s part. Frodo is actually claiming that Bilbo’s position P logically entails Q, not that Bilbo actually holds to position Q. Bilbo is actually committing a straw man fallacy when he says that Frodo is committing a straw man fallacy. It’s possible for people to straw man a reductio ad absurdum argument. Beware :-)

Bilbo should respond by showing how P does not entail Q, rather than claiming that "Frodo says Bilbo believes Q."

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