Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fallacy


Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fallacy

Postby mtbturtle on May 5th, 2014, 7:18 pm 

Fallacy Files Ad Hominem Fallacy

Exposition:

A debater commits the Ad Hominem Fallacy when he introduces irrelevant personal premisses about his opponent. Such red herrings may successfully distract the opponent or the audience from the topic of the debate.
Exposure:

Ad Hominem is the most familiar of informal fallacies, and—with the possible exception of Undistributed Middle—the most familiar logical fallacy of them all. It is also one of the most used and abused of fallacies, and both justified and unjustified accusations of Ad Hominem abound in any debate. It is a frequently misidentified fallacy, for many people seem to think that any personal criticism, attack, or insult counts as an ad hominem fallacy. Moreover, in some contexts the phrase "ad hominem" may refer to an ethical lapse, rather than a logical mistake, as it may be a violation of debate etiquette to engage in personalities. So, in addition to ignorance, there is also the possibility of equivocation on the meaning of "ad hominem".
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Subfallacies:

Abusive: An Abusive Ad Hominem occurs when an attack on the character or other irrelevant personal qualities of the opposition—such as appearance—is offered as evidence against their position. Such attacks are often effective distractions ("red herrings"), because the opponents feel it necessary to defend themselves, thus being distracted from the topic of the debate.

Circumstantial: A Circumstantial Ad Hominem is one in which some irrelevant personal circumstance surrounding the opposition is offered as evidence against their position. This fallacy is often introduced by phrases such as: "Of course, that's what you'd expect them to say." The fallacy claims that the only reason why they argue as they do is because of personal circumstances, such as standing to gain from the argument's acceptance.

This form of the fallacy needs to be distinguished from criticisms directed at testimony, which are not fallacious, since pointing out that someone stands to gain from testifying a certain way would tend to cast doubt upon that testimony. For instance, when a celebrity endorses a product, it is usually in return for money, which lowers the evidentiary value of such an endorsement—often to nothing! In contrast, the fact that an arguer may gain in some way from an argument's acceptance does not affect the evidentiary value of the argument, for arguments can and do stand or fall on their own merits.


Introduction to Logic
Irving M. Copi, Carl Cohen & Kenneth McMahon
Fourteenth Edition 2014

Argument Against the Person (Argumentum ad Hominem)

Of all the fallacies of irrelevance, the argument against the person, or ad hominem, is among the most pernicious. Such arguments are common, as many fallacies are. These, in addition to being unfair to the adversary (as straw man arguments are also), are hurtful, often inflicting serious personal damage without any opportunity for the fallacy to be exposed or its author chastised.
The phrase ad hominem translates as “against the person.” An ad hominem argument is one in which the thrust is directed, not at a conclusion, but at some person who defends the conclusion in dispute. This personalized attack might be conducted in either of two different ways, for which reason we distinguish two major forms of the argument ad hominem: the abusive and the circumstantial.

Argumentum ad hominem, Abusive

One is tempted, in heated argument, to disparage the character of one’s opponents, to deny their intelligence or reasonableness, to question their understanding, or their seriousness, or even their integrity. However, the character of an adversary is logically irrelevant to the truth or falsity of what that person asserts, or to the correctness of the reasoning employed. A proposal may be attacked as unworthy because it is supported by “radicals,” or by “reactionaries,” but such allegations, even when plausible, are not relevant to the merit of the proposal itself.
...
The accusation of guilt by association is a common form of ad hominem abuse.

Argumentum ad hominem, Circumstantial

The circumstances of one who makes (or rejects) some claim have no more bearing on the truth of what is claimed than does his character. The mistake made in the circumstantial form of the ad hominem fallacy is to treat those personal circumstances as the premise of an opposing argument. Thus it may be argued fallaciously that an opponent should accept (or reject) some conclusion merely because of that person’s employment, or nationality, or political affiliation, or other circumstances.
...
The circumstances of an opponent are not properly the issue in serious argument. It is the substance of what is claimed, or denied, that must be addressed. It is true that highlighting one’s opponent’s circumstances may prove rhetorically effective in winning assent, or in persuading others, but the effectiveness of this device does not make up for its error. Arguments of this kind are fallacious.
...
Between the abusive and the circumstantial varieties of argument ad 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, not logical inconsistency), that is clearly one kind of abuse. When a circumstantial ad hominem argument charges the opponents with a lack of trustworthiness in virtue of membership in a group, that is an accusation of prejudice in defense of self-interest and is clearly also an abuse.
...
Even in these special circumstances, an attack on the person of the witness does not establish the falsehood of what had been asserted. Revealing a pattern of past dishonesty or duplicity, or showing an inconsistency with testimony earlier given, may cast justifiable doubt on the reliability of the speaker, but the truth or falsity of the factual claim made can be established only with evidence that bears directly on that claim, and not merely on some person who denies or asserts it. In each case we must ask: Is the attack on the person relevant to the truth of what is at issue? When, as commonly occurs, the attack is not relevant to the merits of the claim, the ad hominem argument is indeed fallacious (118-121).


Critical Thinking:
A Student's Introduction - 4th Edition
Gregory Bassham

Personal Attack ( Ad Hominem )

We commit the fallacy of personal attack 7 when we reject someone’s argument or claim by attacking the person rather than the person’s argument or claim.
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It is important to bear in mind, however, that not every personal attack is a fallacy. The fallacy of personal attack occurs only if (1) an arguer rejects another person’s argument or claim and (2) the arguer attacks the person who offers the argument or claim, rather than considering the merits of that argument or claim.
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Attacking the Motive

Closely related to the fallacy of personal attack is the fallacy of attacking the motive. Attacking the motive 8 is the error of criticizing a person’s motivation for offering a particular argument or claim, rather than examining the worth of the argument or claim itself (122-123).


Nizkor Project Fallacies Fallacy: ad Hominem

Translated from Latin to English, "Ad Hominem" means "against the man" or "against the person."

An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting).


Logical Fallacies - Ad Hominem (Personal Attack)

Attacking Faulty Reasoning
A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments 6th Edition
T. Edward Damer
AD HOMINEM FALLACIES
An ad hominem argument is an argument directed “toward the person.” The fallacies in this section fail to meet the requirement of an effective rebuttal by unfairly attacking the critic of one’s argument instead of addressing his or her criticisms or presentation of counterevidence. This may be done by attacking the critic in a personal or abusive way (abusive ad hominem), by claiming that the criticism is poisoned by the critic’s questionable motives or personal circumstances (poisoning the well), or by claiming that the critic acts or thinks in a way similar to the way being
criticized (two-wrongs fallacy)
...
Abusive Ad Hominem 2
Definition Attacking one’s opponent in a personal or abusive way as a
means of ignoring or discrediting his or her criticism or argument (214).
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby Percarus on May 8th, 2014, 5:35 pm 

Summarizing an important point:
"Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact."

And from Wikipedia:
"Doug Walton, Canadian academic and author, has argued that ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, and that in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue, as when it directly involves hypocrisy, or actions contradicting the subject's words."

Ad hominem is Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"... I wonder if there are fallacy terms out there that relate to aspects outside of 'the man or person'. If anyone comes up with any additional arguments against an object (for instance) then I would love to read it. Mayhap 'Force Majeure' or similar...
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby ComplexityofChaos on July 26th, 2014, 3:04 pm 

What if a presidential candidate was a child molester. Do you expect his opponent not to mention that fact? And if he did, how would that be a fallacy? I, for one, do not want a child molester for President, and would appreciate the heads up.

It's not a fallacy where the speaker is also trying to sell himself or herself. And, in numerous debates, this is what takes place. Therefore, the personal attack fallacy is not always a fallacy. It appears to be something for the child-rapist politicians to hide behind.
Last edited by Natural ChemE on July 26th, 2014, 4:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Deleted double post, removed excessively long quote of OP.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby Natural ChemE on July 26th, 2014, 4:05 pm 

ComplexityofChaos,

Ad hominem is when you say that someone's wrong because they're whoever they are.

If we find out that a President is a child molester, we may find the President to be personally distasteful (and, ya know, throw 'em in jail). But that doesn't mean that their arguments are necessarily wrong. For example, if the President said "1+1=2", 1+1 would still equal 2 even though a child molester said it.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby ComplexityofChaos on July 26th, 2014, 4:18 pm 

Natural ChemE » July 26th, 2014, 3:05 pm wrote:ComplexityofChaos,

Ad hominem is when you say that someone's wrong because they're whoever they are.

If we find out that a President is a child molester, we may find the President to be personally distasteful (and, ya know, throw 'em in jail). But that doesn't mean that their arguments are necessarily wrong. For example, if the President said "1+1=2", 1+1 would still equal 2 even though a child molester said it.


And my point was that the personal attack is not a fallacy all of the time. I used the specific example of a presidential campaign, because there it should be readily apparent that the candidates are not confining themselves to arguments on the issues, but are also trying to sell themselves. However, this is true a lot of the time when people debate.

In a jury trial, each attorney is trying to argue that they are a reliable source of information and can be relied upon. They aren't allowed to say it, but this is what is being implied. This is why a lot of the better trial attorneys act politely, don't object a lot, etc., because they want the jurors to believe what they have to say, i.e., that they are a reliable source for information. This also occurs in most debates. Take, for example, Hitchens debating and in the middle of the debate he makes an historical claim. No one has the time to check it out. So, he is hoping, when he was alive, that people trust him. And any time where a party to a debate is arguing, even by implication, that they should be trusted, a personal attack against them is not a foul, it is not irrational, and it can win debates, precisely because it is not a fallacy.

My point was not that this fallacy is not something commonly quoted in the philosophy texts. My point was that in the real world, it is not a fallacy as often as people think, and if you want to actually win a trial or a debate, one needs to get rid of the ivory tower garbage and learn real debate tactics. An average trial attorney would slaughter an average academic philosopher in a debate. It wouldn't even be a close call.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby Natural ChemE on July 26th, 2014, 4:49 pm 

ComplexityofChaos,

Trials aren't fully logical debates. You're moreso trying to convince a group of people (the judge and jury) that your position (the defendant should/shouldn't be convicted) is preferable to the alternative (the defendant shouldn't/should be convicted). This involves emotionalism as much as logic, and typically you have to keep things pretty simple since the jury's usually not a bunch of geniuses.

No worries, we understand that there's a huge difference between logical discussions among academics and persuasive arguments among a general population. Ditto for popular elections and such; most folks leaving the voting booth couldn't pass a basic quiz on the candidates' backgrounds.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby owleye on July 26th, 2014, 7:14 pm 

ComplexityofChaos » Sat Jul 26, 2014 1:04 pm wrote:What if a presidential candidate was a child molester. Do you expect his opponent not to mention that fact? And if he did, how would that be a fallacy? I, for one, do not want a child molester for President, and would appreciate the heads up.

It's not a fallacy where the speaker is also trying to sell himself or herself. And, in numerous debates, this is what takes place. Therefore, the personal attack fallacy is not always a fallacy. It appears to be something for the child-rapist politicians to hide behind.


One of the ways around this is to treat crimes as breaking laws, rather than character flaws. Of course, people tend to think of criminals as bad people, so it probably doesn't help all that much. But at least when one is making some sort of argument about whether someone was convicted of a crime, they need not frame it in a way that politicians are prone to. And, I should think you would not want to have arguments where you were involved reduced to character assassinations.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby mtbturtle on July 26th, 2014, 8:20 pm 

Fallacy Files Ad Hominem
For instance, the charge of "ad hominem" is often raised during American political campaigns, but is seldom logically warranted. We vote for, elect, and are governed by politicians, not platforms; in fact, political platforms are primarily symbolic and seldom enacted. So, personal criticisms are logically relevant to deciding who to vote for. Of course, such criticisms may be logically relevant but factually mistaken, or wrong in some other non-logical way.
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Q: Despite taking an introduction to logic course last semester, I still cannot differentiate between when it's permissible to attack someone's credibility and when it's considered an ad hominem. Could you shed some light on this for me?―Paul Margiotis

A: The main thing to keep in mind is the distinction between argumentation and testimony. The whole point of logic is to develop techniques for evaluating the cogency of arguments independently of the arguer's identity. So, ask the question: is the person being criticized arguing or testifying? Are reasons being presented, or must we take the person's word for something? If the person is arguing, the argument should be evaluated on its own merits; if testifying, then credibility is important.


Copi
An important qualification is called for at this point. Ad hominem arguments are fallacious (and often unfair to the adversary) because an attack against some person is generally not relevant to the objective merits of the argument that person has put forward. However, there are some circumstances in which it is indeed reasonable to raise doubts about some conclusion by impeaching the testimony of one who makes a claim that would (if true) support the conclusion in question. In courtroom proceedings, for example, it is acceptable, and often effective, to call a jury’s attention to the unreliability of a witness, and by so doing to undermine the claims upheld by the testimony of that witness. This may be done by exhibiting contradictions in the testimony given, showing that at least some of what has been asserted must be false. It may be done by showing (not merely asserting) that the witness lied—an abusive but in this context appropriate counterargument. Testimony may also be undermined by exhibiting the great
benefits that would accrue to the witness from the acceptance of his testimony— impeaching by circumstance. These are, strictly speaking, ad hominem considerations, and yet they are not fallacious because of the special context in which those assertions are being put forward, and because of the agreed-upon rules for the evaluation of conflicting witnesses.

Even in these special circumstances, an attack on the person of the witness does not establish the falsehood of what had been asserted. Revealing a pattern of past dishonesty or duplicity, or showing an inconsistency with testimony earlier given, may cast justifiable doubt on the reliability of the speaker, but the truth or falsity of the factual claim made can be established only with evidence that bears directly on that claim, and not merely on some person who denies or asserts it. In each case we must ask: Is the attack on the person relevant to the truth of what is at issue? When, as commonly occurs, the attack is not relevant to the merits of the claim, the ad hominem argument is indeed fallacious. (Copi, pp120-121)


http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/character-attack/

Fair Use
What types of ad hominems might then be justified? Walton argues that an ad hominem is valid when the claims made about a person’s character or actions are relevant to the conclusions being drawn. Consider, for example, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, who was caught on a wiretap arranging to hire a prostitute for $4,300. Because this behavior ran counter to Spitzer’s anticorruption platform, its unveiling would prevent Spitzer from governing successfully; thus, criticizing this aspect of his character was relevant and fair. In an earlier scandal, in 1987, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was seen at a motel with a prostitute. Because his behavior undercut his preaching and status as a Christian role model, a character attack based on this incident would have been spot-on.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby ComplexityofChaos on July 26th, 2014, 10:30 pm 

Natural ChemE » July 26th, 2014, 3:49 pm wrote:ComplexityofChaos,

Trials aren't fully logical debates. You're moreso trying to convince a group of people (the judge and jury) that your position (the defendant should/shouldn't be convicted) is preferable to the alternative (the defendant shouldn't/should be convicted). This involves emotionalism as much as logic, and typically you have to keep things pretty simple since the jury's usually not a bunch of geniuses.

No worries, we understand that there's a huge difference between logical discussions among academics and persuasive arguments among a general population. Ditto for popular elections and such; most folks leaving the voting booth couldn't pass a basic quiz on the candidates' backgrounds.


I think we are largely on the same page. Although, I will say that the collective wisdom of a jury is damn impressive most of the time. Not all of the time, but the vast majority of the time, they come up with some damn good decisions.

I like philosophy, and I know it has made me a better attorney. But, one day I was thinking that if I only used logical arguments contained in a philosophy text, I would lose at trial. And, from the studies I have seen, the emphasis is on making both logical and emotional arguments, about 50/50. And, the additional emphasis is always to make sure you do nothing that makes you look like you are untrustworthy. And it was that last part that got me thinking, that since there is this implied argument almost going on in a debate, "You can trust what I am saying," that perhaps the personal attack is not entirely a fallacy.

So, I'm not making the claim that a personal attack addresses the merits of the topic under debate, but, it may help win a debate by showing the audience that the other debater is not a trustworthy source of information. And, if true, then does it qualify as a true fallacy?
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby mtbturtle on July 27th, 2014, 7:59 am 

ComplexityofChaos » Sat Jul 26, 2014 9:30 pm wrote:
So, I'm not making the claim that a personal attack addresses the merits of the topic under debate, but, it may help win a debate by showing the audience that the other debater is not a trustworthy source of information. And, if true, then does it qualify as a true fallacy?


Answered already. Several ways so you should be able to figure it out.

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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby Natural ChemE on July 27th, 2014, 6:26 pm 

ComplexityofChaos,

Yeah, I think we're on the same page; just semantic stuff.

As mtbturtle pointed out, not any attack against a person is necessarily the ad hominem fallacy. It's only ad hominem to say that their logic must be wrong because of who they are.

Examples of personal attacks that aren't ad hominem [which I write out because it's probably a decent contribution to the thread]...

Liars: Say somebody of questionable integrity makes an argument.

Ad hominem:
  • They must be wrong because they're a liar.
Not ad hominem:
  • They may be intentionally messing up the logic in their argument.
  • The premises on which their logic is based may be falsehoods.

Too unintelligent/uneducated/unstable: Say somebody of questionable intelligence, education, or sanity claims to have invented a Theory of Everything.

Ad hominem:
  • They must be wrong because they're unintelligent/uneducated/insane.
Not ad hominem:
  • It's so overwhelmingly likely that they're wrong that we are probably better off disregarding their argument in favor of doing something else with our time.

In general
In general, it's not ad hominem to judge another's argument as likely to be incorrect or otherwise not worth evaluating based on who they are (e.g., dishonest, insane, unintelligent, uneducated, misinformed). Ad hominem is specifically the notion that an argument must be wrong because of its source.
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Re: Argument Against the Person - Argumentum ad Hominem Fall

Postby ComplexityofChaos on July 28th, 2014, 3:53 pm 

Natural ChemE » July 27th, 2014, 5:26 pm wrote:ComplexityofChaos,

Yeah, I think we're on the same page; just semantic stuff.

As mtbturtle pointed out, not any attack against a person is necessarily the ad hominem fallacy. It's only ad hominem to say that their logic must be wrong because of who they are.

Examples of personal attacks that aren't ad hominem [which I write out because it's probably a decent contribution to the thread]...

Liars: Say somebody of questionable integrity makes an argument.

Ad hominem:
  • They must be wrong because they're a liar.
Not ad hominem:
  • They may be intentionally messing up the logic in their argument.
  • The premises on which their logic is based may be falsehoods.

Too unintelligent/uneducated/unstable: Say somebody of questionable intelligence, education, or sanity claims to have invented a Theory of Everything.

Ad hominem:
  • They must be wrong because they're unintelligent/uneducated/insane.
Not ad hominem:
  • It's so overwhelmingly likely that they're wrong that we are probably better off disregarding their argument in favor of doing something else with our time.

In general
In general, it's not ad hominem to judge another's argument as likely to be incorrect or otherwise not worth evaluating based on who they are (e.g., dishonest, insane, unintelligent, uneducated, misinformed). Ad hominem is specifically the notion that an argument must be wrong because of its source.



Well, hang on. IF it is not a fallacy to point out that the source is unreliable, then how can it be a fallacy to make a personal attack that is used to say the person is wrong? That doesn't make any sense. Any argument, once it is accepted as relevant, may be relied upon to win the day. If I cross-examine a witness and show that the witness only testifies for the defense in personal injury cases, and for that reason, is likely to be biased, then the witness's entire testimony may be rejected for that reason alone. Now, if it is not a fallacy to make the personal attack, i.e., show that the witness is biased, in the first instance, then how can it ever be a fallacy to ask someone to rely upon that argument?

The fallacy of the personal attack really should be confined to a small number of cases, like where someone simply cusses or uses name calling.

If someone testifies for tobacco companies that smoking does not cause cancer, and it is pointed out that the witness was paid a million dollars for the testimony, how is it irrational to reject the testimony for that reason alone, yet, rational to take the payment into account in judging the testimony?
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