Skip to comments.A Freeper's Introduction to Rhetoric (Part 3, the Argument Ad Hominem)
Posted on 12/21/2003 5:59:01 AM PST by general_re
The phrase ad hominem translates into "against the person." It names a fallacious attack in which the thrust is directed, not at a conclusion, but at the person who asserts or defends it. This fallacy has two major forms, because there are two major ways in which the attack can be personalized.
Argument Ad Hominem, Abusive
Participants in strenuous argument sometimes disparage the character of their opponents, deny their intelligence or reasonableness, question their integrity, and so on. But the character of an individual is logically irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of what that person says, or to the correctness or incorrectness of that person's reasoning. To contend that proposals are bad, or assertions false, because they are proposed or asserted by "radicals" or "extremists" is a typical example of the fallacy ad hominem, abusive.
Abusive premisses are irrelevant; they may nevertheless persuade by the psychological process of transference. Where an attitude of disapproval toward a person can be evoked, the field of emotional disapproval may be extended so as to include disagreement with the assertions that person makes.
A bitter controversy among several contemporary American philosophers illustrates this fallacious attack. One of the disputants wrote:
It is one thing to be attacked by an honorable opponent in an honorable way. This happens all the time in philosophy. But in my view Sommers's intellectual methods are dishonest. She ignores the most elementary protocols of philosophical disputation.
The target of this accusation replied:
One dishonest and unworthy tactic used by several of my detractors is to attribute to me complaints I never made and then to dismiss the "complaints" as "irresponsible and evidence of my reckless unfairness."
The merits of the positions of the conflicting parties are not illuminated by argument of this character.
Ad hominem abuse has very many variations. The opponent may be abused for being of a certain persuasion, an "isolationist" or an "interventionist," a member of the "radical right" or of the "loony left," or the like. When an argument ad hominern, abusive, takes the form of attacking the source or genesis of the opposing position not relevant to its truth, of course it maybe called the "genetic fallacy." A conclusion or its proponent may sometimes be condemned simply because the view defended is also defended by persons widely believed to be of bad character. Socrates was convicted of impiety at his notorious trial partly because of his association with persons widely known to have been disloyal to Athens and rapacious in conduct. From his day to ours there have been countless cases of such "guilt by association" in which persons are unfairly accused, and sometimes convicted, because they have been associated with other persons in disrepute.
In legal proceedings it is sometimes appropriate to exhibit the unreliability of the person giving testimony, to "impeach the witness." If dishonesty in other matters can be shown and credibility thus undermined, such impeachment, in that context, may not be fallacious. But it is never enough simply to assert that the witness lied; a pattern of dishonesty or duplicity must be exhibited, or inconsistencies with past testimony revealed. And even in this special context, the attack on character cannot establish the falsehood of the testimony given; that inference would be fallacious.
Argument Ad Hominem, Circumstantial
In the circumstantial form of the ad hominem fallacy, it is the irrelevance of the connection between the belief held and the circumstances of those holding it that gives rise to the mistake. The circumstances of one who makes (or rejects) some claim have no bearing on the truth of that claim.
Thus it may be argued fallaciously that consistency obliges an opponent to accept (or reject) some conclusion merely because of that person's employment, or nationality, or political affiliation, or other circumstances. It may be unfairly suggested that a clergyman must accept a given proposition because its denial would be incompatible with the Scriptures. Or it may be claimed that political candidates must support a given policy because that policy is explicitly propounded in the platform of their party. Such argument is irrelevant to the truth of the proposition in question; it simply urges that some persons' circumstances require its acceptance. Hunters, accused of the needless slaughter of unoffending animals, sometimes reply by noting that their critics eat the flesh of harmless cattle. Such a reply is plainly ad hominem; the fact that the critic eats meat does not even begin to prove that it is right for the hunter to kill animals for amusement. The Latin term tu quoque (meaning "you're another" or, more loosely, "look who's talking") is sometimes used to name this variety of circumstantial ad hominem argument.
While the circumstances of the opponent may not be the issue in a serious argument, calling attention to them may be psychologically effective in winning assent, or in persuading others. But however persuasive it may prove, argument of this kind is essentially fallacious.
Circumstantial ad hominem arguments are sometimes used to suggest that the opponents' conclusion should be rejected because their judgment is warped, dictated by their special situation rather than by reasoning or evidence. But an argument that is favorable to some group deserves discussion on its merits; it is fallacious to attack it simply on the ground that it is presented by a member of that group and is therefore self-serving. The arguments in favor of a protective tariff (for example) may be bad, but they are not bad because they are presented by a manufacturer who benefits from such tariffs.
One argument of this kind, called "poisoning the well," is particularly perverse. The incident that gave rise to the name illustrates the argument forcefully. The British novelist and clergyman Charles Kingsley, attacking the famous Catholic intellectual John Henry Cardinal Newman, argued thus: Cardinal Newman's claims were not to be trusted because, as a Roman Catholic priest, (Kingsley alleged) Newman's first loyalty was not to the truth. Newman countered that this ad hominem attack made it impossible for him and indeed for all Catholics to advance their arguments, since anything that they might say to defend themselves would then be undermined by others' alleging that, after all, truth was not their first concern. Kingsley, said Cardinal Newman, had poisoned the well of discourse.
Between the abusive and the circumstantial varieties of argumentad hominem there is a clear connection: the circumstantial may be regarded as a special case of the abusive. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument explicitly or implicitly charges the opponents with inconsistency (among their beliefs, or between what they profess and what they practice), that is clearly one kind of abuse. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument charges the opponents with a lack of trustworthiness by virtue of group membership or conviction, that is an accusation of prejudice in defense of self-interest and is clearly also an abuse. Whether of one form or the other, ad hominem arguments are directed fallaciously at the person of the adversary.
Tomorrow's installment is a twofer - the appeal to emotion, and the apeal to force.
Coming from a scoundrel like you, such perverted lessons will have terrifying consequences ...
That's a threefer.
I suppose general_re is at church this morning...
Human beings are persuaded both by reason and emotion. We instinctively reject arguments from people we dislike or distrust. Thus, the argumentum ad hominem works on that level.
nice example of the subject, you're funny.
Yes, and people persuaded by emotion rather than reason are often led astray. Making decisions based upon emotion is the problem. It was to cut through such - "the counterfeit of argument" that was the purpose of Aristotle's work.
Knowing an argument is fallacious is grounds for rejection.
One of the most difficult situations to deal with is when a person is on the right side, but for the wrong reasons. We've all seen people on this website who seem to be absolutely crazy, can't construct or even understand a logical argument, can't deal with abstract ideas at all, but who are patriotic Americans for what seem like nothing but totally emotional reasons.
I'm happy that they vote for the right people, but when they get into arguments with liberals, they really make an angry mess of it. Often they end up doing damage to our cause by giving the impression that all conservatives are nuts. We'd be better off if they understood things a lot better.
I'm coming to understand the damage they do though. The irrationality of the junk science suppositions behind "Global Warming" for example. They cause real damage, cost real resources, cost real lives. It is this part of it that really bugs me.
Often they end up doing damage to our cause by giving the impression that all conservatives are nuts. We'd be better off if they understood things a lot better.
Goes back to an ability to think, (and that I would have to add 'logically' demonstrates just how depraved we have become.) Reason for this thread. I deal with it as a practical matter in my work every day. Public policy actions taken based upon faulty logic. Costs me money in taxes. Costs you, costs everyone.
I recently reviewed a book, Eco-Imperialism - Green Power, Black Death. (check out the web site) It documents the faulty logic and flawed premises of the environmental movement, and how it has literally caused the death of millions around the world.
It's funny, as an avowed non-altruist I care more about this fact than many of the altruists, of the left and the right do. But I can see myself in those deaths and they only see a floating abstraction principle, the result of which is those very deaths. Demands them in the name of unseen, unborn others.
So it is more than just an exercise in debate for me. I bring this analysis to what I do every day.
And, to reprise:
our cause by giving the impression that all conservatives are nuts.
I must plead guilty, I am not a 'conservative.' So it isn't 'my cause.' I have come to realize more and more of late the poverty of thought that is both 'liberalism' and 'conservatism.' I am so weary of this false dichotomy. Here let me give you an example. Go here. Quiz
Now, did you end up right or left, or up or down?
Right and left don't matter, they are only different justifications for control, up and down is what really matters. Do you advocate individual rights over collective power, or the opposite? A true dichotomy and a classic either/or.
And all the accusations and railings and denigration of logic is to avoid this very fact. This Very Fact. If reason and logic in human affairs can ever be truly "enthroned" then the politics of altruism, which is collectivism by another name, will be dethroned. This is the threat and this is the inevitable conclusion. Either/Or. With individual freedom hanging in the balance.
Don't know if you've been following other debates (you suprise me in this regard) but this is fundamental.
There is so much embedded here. To "own yourself" presupposes an intellect to know what 'yourself' is as well as the abstract 'ownership.' I said 'intellect' but by that I then imply, logic, reason, law of identity, and so much more.
And if a person, every person, doesn't recognize the principle that that person, 'owns himself' (sorry I ain't PC) then the principle of "Rights" of "Ownership" is merely a power struggle, pure and simple. In that case the Hell Angels, or the Republicans win, it doesn't matter. We are all just slaves. (when is tax freedom day? May, June? Even Negroes in the South got to keep part of what they grew for themselves to survive on. It is only a matter of quantity.)
Ok, been a long day for me. But I have been very 'disheartened' by the lack of response to these threads. Understanding this issue is far more important than most people realize.
The sophistry of some people here notwithstanding, reason is the balwark that holds this society together, as you well understand. And reason cannot exist apart from logic. And fallacies are faulty logic.
The question is, are you willing to go where the conclusions lead? If not, then reason doesn't matter at all.
(If you want on or off this list please freepmail me.)
Ad hominem fallacy - (against the man). Ad hominem is the attempt to impugn an argument by attacking the arguer's character, motives, personality, intentions, or qualifications.
(Note: Insulting, denigrating, or impugning the character or morality of an individual, in itself, however reprehensible, is not necessarily an "ad hominem," as is frequently and falsely alleged. It is an ad hominem only if the personal attacks are used within the scope of a logical argument.)
Example: "Harry couldn't possibly know what good food is, he was raised in England." The ad hominem is only implied, that being from England disqualifies someone from making good judgement about cuisine. The attacks are usually more vituperative than this example.
While I agree with the point you both make concerning the danger and potential damage of a bad argument in defense of the right principle lost to the wrong person, the dilemma lies with the ability of people to learn from mistakes. The consequence of the engagement has the abilty to encourage one to learn from the process of debate to develop a logical argument. In my case, this is how I learned that my positions (leftist conjecture maintained in the naivete of post teen-dom) were wrong. Positions that were wrong could not be adequately defended. I learned this the hard way and was forced to re-evaluate the contradictions in my belief system. Beliefs were quickly overcome by thought process through which I have been developing ever since. In the same way, I expect that some (not all) of those who bravely attempt to defend the right principles in a public forum should be commended for the effort on the one hand, and corrected where necessary on the other.
Bad defenders are indeed a liability. Good ones, nevertheless, are priceless! Consider these threads to be the vehicle for this process.
And although, I do maintain my own 'mystic' affiliations, they belong to the realm of personal spirituality and not human interactions. I never use them in defense of a philosophical position and likewise get frustrated when dismissed in that regard, by others. But, I had to learn that for myself. So where is the balance? ... between being wrong and becoming right? I rarely engage a debate short of the facts; so I think. But, we are all taught a lesson or two from time to time (Radiometers come to mind). It is often a good thing, is it not?. Granted, it is not when the teacher is a Leftist driving a false premise through a conjectural wall.
This is an issue I consider everytime I post (especially among you talented gentlemen and women) or engage an Editorial Opinion via a submitted rebuttle.
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