An ad hominem
short for argumentum ad hominem
, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it. Ad hominem
reasoning is normally described as a logical fallacy.
arguments work via the halo effect
The halo effect is a cognitive bias whereby one trait influences another trait or traits of that person or object. This is very common among physically attractiveness...
, a human cognitive bias
A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations. Implicit in the concept of a "pattern of deviation" is a standard of comparison; this may be the judgment of people outside those particular situations, or may be a set of independently verifiable...
in which the perception of one trait is influenced by the perception of an unrelated trait, e.g.
treating an attractive person as more intelligent or more honest. People tend to see others as tending to all good or tending to all bad. Thus, if you can attribute a bad trait to your opponent, others will tend to doubt the quality of their arguments, even if the bad trait is irrelevant to the arguments.
Abusive ad hominem
(also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one's opponent in order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument, but can also involve pointing out true character flaws or actions that are irrelevant to the opponent's argument. This tactic is logically fallacious because insults and negative facts about the opponent's personal character have nothing to do with the logical merits of the opponent's arguments or assertions.
- "You can't believe John 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."
- "What would Mary know about fixing cars? She is a woman." (an example of Ad feminam)
An abusive ad hominem can apply to a judgment of cultural works or academic efforts based on the behavior or unconventional political beliefs of an artist, author, or musician, or the taste of an infamous person who loved a certain work.
- Jimi Hendrix
James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter...
died of a drug overdose, so his music was worthless.
- Leni Riefenstahl
Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl was a German film director, actress and dancer widely noted for her aesthetics and innovations as a filmmaker. Her most famous film was Triumph des Willens , a propaganda film made at the 1934 Nuremberg congress of the Nazi Party...
was a Nazi, so her film The Triumph of the Will is devoid of merit.
- Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer...
was a depressive who eventually committed suicide, so her works are unreadable.
- What Ted Kaczynski wrote about boundary conditions in mathematics is shown false due to his crimes.
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
The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from...
(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.
Mandy Rice-Davies , is a Welsh former model and showgirl best known for her role in the Profumo affair and her association with Christine Keeler, which discredited the Conservative government of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1963.-Early life:She was born Marilyn Rice-Davies in...
famous testimony during the Profumo Affair
The Profumo Affair was a 1963 British political scandal named after John Profumo, Secretary of State for War. His affair with Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of an alleged Russian spy, followed by lying in the House of Commons when he was questioned about it, forced the resignation of...
, "Well, 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, 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.
Conflict of Interest
: Where a source seeks to convince by a claim of authority or by personal observation, identification of conflicts of interest are not ad hominem
– it is generally well accepted that an "authority" needs to be objective and impartial, and that an audience can only evaluate information from a source if they know about conflicts of interest that may affect the objectivity of the source. Identification of a conflict of interest is appropriate, and concealment of a conflict of interest is a problem.
Ad hominem tu quoque
Tu quoque , or the appeal to hypocrisy, is a kind of logical fallacy. It is a Latin term for "you, too" or "you, also". A tu quoque argument attempts to discredit the opponent's position by asserting his failure to act consistently in accordance with that position; it attempts to show that a...
(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 fallacious because it does not disprove the argument; 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 A 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.
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.
Gratuitous verbal abuse
Verbal abuse is best described as a negative defining statement told to you or about you; or by withholding any response thus defining the target as non-existant...
or "name-calling" itself is not
an ad hominem
or a logical fallacy.
Questions about the notion of an ad hominem fallacy
Douglas Neil Walton is a Canadian academic and author, well known for his many widely published books and papers on argumentation, logical fallacies and informal logic. Walton teaches logic, published numerous books, and has written many papers...
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
Charles Margrave Taylor, is a Canadian philosopher from Montreal, Quebec best known for his contributions in political philosophy, the philosophy of social science, and in the history of philosophy. His contributions to these fields have earned him both the prestigious Kyoto Prize and the...
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
Naturalism commonly refers to the philosophical viewpoint that the natural universe and its natural laws and forces operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe that we know...
- And you are lynching Negroes
"And you are lynching Negroes" is an anecdotal counter-argument phrase often used by the Soviet propaganda in response to allegations that Soviet Union had violated human rights...
- Appeal to authority
- Association fallacy
An association fallacy is an inductive informal fallacy of the type hasty generalization or red herring which asserts that qualities of one thing are inherently qualities of another, merely by an irrelevant association. The two types are sometimes referred to as guilt by association and honor by...
- Character assassination
Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person's reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person...
Credibility refers to the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.Traditionally, modern, credibility has two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, which both have objective and subjective components. Trustworthiness is based more on subjective...
- Discrediting tactic
The expression discrediting tactics refers to personal attacks for example in politics and in court cases. Discredit also means to not give the credit that was deserved, to cheat someone out of credit.-In politics:...
- Fair Game (Scientology)
The term Fair Game is used to describe policies and practices carried out by the Church of Scientology towards people and groups it perceives as its enemies. Founder L. Ron Hubbard established the policy in the 1960s, in response to criticism both from within and outside his organization...
- Fundamental attribution error
In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors...
- List of logical fallacies
- Negative campaigning
Negative campaigning, also known more colloquially as "mudslinging", is trying to win an advantage by referring to negative aspects of an opponent or of a policy rather than emphasizing one's own positive attributes or preferred policies...
Reputation of a social entity is an opinion about that entity, typically a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria...
- Self-hating Jew
Self-hating Jew is a term used to allege that a Jewish person holds antisemitic beliefs or engages in antisemitic actions. The concept gained widespread currency after Theodor Lessing's 1930 book Der Jüdische Selbsthass ; the term became "something of a key term of opprobrium in and beyond Cold...
- Shooting the messenger
"Shooting the messenger" is a metaphoric phrase used to describe the act of lashing out at the bearer of bad news.In earlier times, messages were usually delivered in person by a human envoy. Sometimes, as in war, for example, the messenger was sent from the enemy camp...