Ad hominem

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An ad hominem (Latin: "to the man"), also known as argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to link the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise.[1] The ad hominem is a classic logical fallacy,[2] but it is not always fallacious. For in some instances questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue.[3]

Contents

Types of ad hominems

Ad hominem abuse

Ad hominem abuse (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponent in order to invalidate his or her argument, but can also involve pointing out factual but ostensible character flaws or actions which are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and even true negative facts about the opponent's personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent's arguments or assertions.

Examples:

  • "You can't believe Jack when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn't even have a job."
  • "Candidate Jane's proposal about zoning is ridiculous. She was caught cheating on her taxes in 2003."

Ad hominem circumstantial

Ad hominem circumstantial points out that someone is in circumstances such that he is disposed to take a particular position. Ad hominem circumstantial constitutes an attack on the bias of a source. This is fallacious because a disposition to make a certain argument does not make the argument false; this overlaps with the genetic fallacy (an argument that a claim is incorrect due to its source).[citation needed]

Where the source taking a position seeks to convince us by a claim of authority, or personal observation, observation of their circumstances may reduce the evidentiary weight of the claims, sometimes to zero.[4]

Examples:

Mandy Rice-Davies's famous testimony during the Profumo Affair, "Well, he would [say that], wouldn't he?", is an example of a valid circumstantial argument. Her point was that since a man in a prominent position, accused of an affair with a callgirl, would deny the claim whether it was true or false, his denial, in itself, carries little evidential weight against the claim of an affair. Note, however, that this argument is valid only insofar as it devalues the denial; it does not bolster the original claim. To construe evidentiary invalidation of the denial as evidentiary validation of the original claim is fallacious (on several different bases, including that of argumentum ad hominem); however likely the man in question would be to deny an affair that did in fact happen, he could only be more likely to deny an affair that never did.

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