Logic Me This

Logic Me This: Ad Hominem

It’s time for another exciting instalment of….. Logic Me This! I’m all kinds of snowed-under with this predicting the future lark, so just a quickie this week. I’m doing Ad Hominem: Against the Man. It’s pretty simple, really: You attack a person, and then you say that their argument is undermined because of the attack you made. Without actually attacking their argument.

(Image: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

The reason why Ad Hominem is a fallacy is because the character, past actions or personal circumstances of the person making the claim have, in most cases, absolutely nothing to do with whether or not the claim is true or not. Arguments can float or sink on their own merits, not the merits of the person making the argument.

The first type of Ad Hominem attack is the Ad Hominem Abusive. Then General formula is this: This person claims this! This person is objectionable because of something else! Therefore, whatever it was that this person claimed was true, is false! An example of this could be saying “We can’t listen to Lucy’s argument about abortion, she is only young”. Well, sure Lucy might be young, but does that mean her reasoning is bad?

Another kind of this fallacy is the Ad Hominem Circumstantial, or Guilt By Association. This would involve somebody saying that a claim is invalid because it is in the interests of the person making the claim. This could involve saying something like: “Well of course you’d say that, because you’re a [insert social/ethnic group, political affiliation, religion (or lack thereof)] here]”. Just because it is in a persons best interests to hold a point of view, doesn’t mean that their point of view is lacking in reasoning.

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque (too KWO-kwee, meaning “You too” in Latin) is an argument where somebody tries to deflect an argument by pointing out that the arguer is guilty of what they are arguing against. For example, a parent might tell their child not to take up smoking. The child can say, well, why should I listen to my parent, because they smoke. Sometimes it is effective to point out somebody elses hypocrisy, but in this case the child’s argument falls down, because the parent is probably telling the child not to smoke because of the effect smoking will have on their health and well-being. Something they are well qualified to argue for if they have experienced illness due to smoking themselves.

One other important thing to remember is that insults or personal criticism do not fall under this fallacy if they aren’t used to undermine a particular argument. Plus, if somebody is making a testimony (in a court of law, for example), their testimony can be brought into question by pointing out personal circumstances and this does not count as the Ad Hominem fallacy. For example, if we were to say “Mary has been known to lie in the past, therefore we can’t trust her testimony”, this would not be an example of the Ad Hominem fallacy. However, if we were to say “Mary has been known to lie in the past, therefore we should not accept her argument that morality does not come from god”, then this would be an example of the Ad Hominem fallacy.

And for a little bit of extra credit, check out this YouTube:

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Lauren is a Maths and Physics student from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. She has an affinity for reality, and you can find her on twitter @lolrj, or Google+.

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