In Defence of Liberty

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Ad Hominem

ad-hominem

Debating terms may be misused. (Source: Your Logical Fallacy Is)

The acceptance of debating argot into the popular language has led to misuse.

Over at Libertarian Republic, a website for American libertarians, there is a post entitled ‘7 clues that you might be debating an idiot’ [1]. The first clue is:

An ad hominem is any personal attack in lieu of substantive arguments; it doesn’t matter if it’s levied against you or another individual.

This is not what an ad hominem is.

Definitions

An argumentum ad hominem, which is Latin for ‘argument to the man’ (or person), is an attack on an argument made by addressing an attribute of the arguer, such as character or motivation [2].

In formal cases, this is a part of a broader fallacy, called the genetic fallacy: declaring that the source of an argument renders it false. There are cases where such reasoning is not fallacious, such as when considering the credibility of a personal testimony.

Whilst I sympathise with those who have had to suffer personal abuse during political discussions, an insult is not an argument, and so cannot be a fallacious argument. The mere presence of a personal attack, or sarcasm or abuse, does not mean an argumentum ad hominem has been deployed. An actual instance must be where a person is trying to counter an argument by attacking the person making the argument.

This is a common misunderstanding. In online discussions, there is a paradoxical phenomenon where the assimilation of debating terminology has led to the constriction of debate and the erosion of substantive argumentation [3].

References

[1] Libertarian Republic, 2016. 7 Clues That You Might Be Debating An Idiot. Available from: http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/7-clues-that-you-might-be-debating-an-idiot/ [Accessed: 19th January 2016]

[2] Your Logical Fallacy is, 2016. Ad Hominem. Available from: https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/ad-hominem [Accessed: 19th January 2016]

[3] Masters, A., 2015. Rise of the Androids. In Defence of Liberty. Available from: https://anthonymasters.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/rise-of-the-androids/ [Accessed: 19th January 2016]

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2 comments on “Ad Hominem

  1. Adam
    January 20, 2016

    1. Argumentum ad hominem –
    Trump: “I will make America great again!”
    Beck: “No you won’t because you are a progressive.”

    2. Red Herring:
    Person 1: “Trump will make America great again!”
    Person 2: “No he won’t because he’s a progressive.”

    3. Argumentum ad hominem –
    Person 1: “Trump will make American great again!”
    Person 2: “I don’t believe you because you’re a progressive!”

    4. Not Argumentum ad hominem? –
    Person 1: “Trump will make American great again!”
    Person 2: “You’re an idiot! No he won’t.”

    5. Argumentum ad hominem? –
    Person 1: “Trump will make American great again!”
    Person 2: “You’re an idiot and because of that I don’t believe you!”

    With #4, does the question become ‘what is the intent of the insult?’ If the insult is made out of anger or frustration, the fallacy is not ad hominem but just a simple (or strategic) insult. But as with #5, if the insult is clarified as the reason that person 2 doesn’t believe person 1, then a argumentum ad hominem has occurred.

  2. Juhani Taylor
    January 20, 2016

    It’s a fallacy when it’s used (as an argument) to dismiss another argument, like saying “David Cameron can’t comment on X, he went to Eton!”. As you said, it’s part of the genetic fallacy but also closely related to Tu Quoque when used in a debate.

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2016 by in Law and Philosophy.
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