An ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"), short for argumentum ad hominem, means responding to arguments by attacking a person's character, rather than to the content of their arguments. When used inappropriately, it is a fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized. Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact or when used in certain kinds of moral and practical reasoning.
Abusive ad hominem usually involves attacking the traits of an opponent as a means to invalidate their arguments. Equating someone's character with the soundness of their argument is a logical fallacy.
Ad hominem tu quoque (literally: "You also") refers to a claim that the source making the argument has spoken or acted in a way inconsistent with the argument. In particular, if Source A criticizes the actions of Source B, a tu quoque response is that Source A has acted in the same way. This argument is false because it does not disprove the premise; if the premise is true then Source A may be a hypocrite, but this does not make the statement less credible from a logical perspective. Indeed, Source B may be in a position to provide personal testimony to support the argument.
For example, a father may tell his son not to start smoking as he will regret it when he is older, and the son may point out that his father is or was a smoker. This does not alter the fact that his son may regret smoking when he is older.
Ad hominem circumstantial points out that someone is in circumstances such that they are 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).
The circumstantial fallacy applies only where the source taking a position is only making a logical argument from premises that are generally accepted. Where the source seeks to convince an audience of the truth of a premise by a claim of authority or by personal observation, observation of their circumstances may reduce the evidentiary weight of the claims, sometimes to zero.
1. Mandy Rice-Davies's famous testimony during the Profumo Affair, "He would [say that], wouldn't he?", is an example of a valid circumstantial argument. Her point was that 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, provides little evidence 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 invalid evidence of the denial as valid evidence 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 is no less likely to deny an affair that never happened.
2. Glassner suggests that Bennett is somehow unqualified to criticize rap music because of positions Bennett has taken on other issues. However wrong Bennett may have been on other issues, such as the funding of public television or illegitimacy, that does not mean that his criticisms of rap were mistaken.
3. Consider the following circumstance as a clear case of an ad hominem argument: "David Duke says that white people are victims of police brutality just as often as black people... but honestly, would you believe a claim made by a racist?"
Guilt by association
Guilt by association can sometimes also be a type of ad hominem fallacy if the argument attacks a source because of the similarity between the views of someone making an argument and other proponents of the argument.
This form of the argument is as follows:
- Source S makes claim C.
- Group G, which is currently viewed negatively by the recipient, also makes claim C.
- Therefore, source S is viewed by the recipient of the claim as associated to the group G and inherits how negatively viewed it is.
An example of this fallacy could be "My opponent for office just received an endorsement from the Puppy Haters Association. Is that the sort of person you would want to vote for?"
Ad feminam is defined as appealing to irrelevant considerations about women, in particular, prejudices against them or stereotypes about them, rather than giving an answer to the contentions they made. Merriam-Webster attests the usage of the term since 1963.
Types of ad hominem reasoning
When an ad hominem argument is made against a statement, it is important to draw a distinction whether the statement in question was an argument or a statement of fact (testimony). In the latter case the issues of the credibility of the person making the statement may be crucial.
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.
The philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that ad hominem reasoning is essential to understanding certain moral issues, and contrasts this sort of reasoning with the apodictic reasoning of philosophical naturalism.
- And you are lynching Negroes
- Appeal to authority
- Association fallacy
- Character assassination
- Discrediting tactic
- Fair Game (Scientology)
- Fundamental attribution error
- Hostile witness
- List of logical fallacies
- Negative campaigning
- Poisoning the well
- Race card
- Self-hating Jew
- Shooting the messenger
- Straw man
- The Art of Being Right
- "Ad hominem". The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
- Dr. Michael C. Labossiere (2002–2010). "42 Fallacies: Ad Hominem" (PDF). p. 2. Retrieved 2013-10-17.
- Taylor, Charles (1997). "Explanation and Practical Reason". Philosophical Arguments. Harvard University Press. pp. 34–60.
- Walton, Douglas (2008). Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach. Cambridge University Press. p. 190.
- Bowell, Tracy; Kemp, Gary (2010). Critical Thinking: A Concise Guide. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 210–213. ISBN 0-415-47183-4.
- Copi, Irving M. (1986). Informal Logic. Macmillan. pp. 112–113. ISBN 0-02-324940-4.
- Walton, Douglas (1998). Ad Hominem Arguments. University of Alabama Press. pp. 18–21. ISBN 0-8173-0922-5.
- Curtis, Gary N. "Argumentum ad Hominem". Fallacy Files. Archived from the original on 20 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-10.
- "Ad feminam". The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.
- "ad feminam". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth ed.). 2000 (updated in 2009). Check date values in:
- Walton, Douglas (2008). Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach. Cambridge University Press. p. 170.
- Hurley, Patrick (2000). A Concise Introduction to Logic (7th ed.). Wadsworth. pp. 125–128, 182. ISBN 0-534-52006-5.
- Copi, Irving M.; Cohen, Carl. Introduction to Logic (8th ed.). pp. 97–100.
- Walton, Douglas (1998). Ad Hominem Arguments. Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press.
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- Ad hominem at PhilPapers
- Nizkor.org: Fallacy: Ad Hominem.
- Nizkor.org: Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem.
- Argumentum Ad Hominem
- PDF (70.2 KB)
- Logical Fallacies: Ad Hominem