Ad Hominem Argument
What Is an Ad Hominem Argument?
The Quick AnswerIn Critical Thinking, an ad hominem argument is one that attacks the person rather than their argument.
So, an ad hominem argument occurs when someone dismisses or discredits an argument by attacking the person presenting it, rather than providing counterarguments or addressing the logic and evidence supporting the argument. Instead of addressing the actual claims or ideas put forth, the focus is shifted to the person making the argument.
Here is a quick example:
To avoid falling for the ad hominem fallacy, it is crucial to focus on the content of the argument and evaluate it based on its logical coherence, evidence, and reasoning. Engaging in personal attacks does not contribute to a meaningful discussion or the evaluation of ideas on their own merits.
Easy Definition of Ad Hominem Argument
Don't attack people's personalities or beliefs to undermine their arguments. That's called an ad hominem argument. Stick to the facts in the argument.
Academic Definition of Ad Hominem Argument
An ad hominem argument (ad hominem is Latin for "to the man") occurs when someone tries to contest a claim by highlighting the negative characteristics or beliefs of the person making the claim rather than contesting the claim itself.
Examples of Ad Hominem ArgumentsThere are many different types of ad hominem argument, but they all share the same idea: they're all an attack on the person and not an attack on the facts of the claim. Here are some examples:
- You're fat and ugly; therefore, your claim is wrong.
- You're not an expert in this subject; therefore, your claim is wrong.
- It's in your interest to think that; therefore, your claim is wrong.
- That's not what you said last week; therefore, your claim is wrong.
- You're a proven liar; therefore, your claim is wrong.
- You're a lower rank than me; therefore, your claim is wrong.
A common form of ad hominem argument is countering a claim based on who the claimant is. (This is often called the "shut up" fallacy.) This idea is well captured by military's version of the game "paper, scissors, rock," which is called "paper, scissors, rank badge," which is often used as a decision-making tool. In the military version, the highest rank badge trumps everything!
A Practical Application for Understanding the Term "Ad Hominem Argument"
Put 'em back in their boxKnowing about ad hominem arguments is far more useful when you're on the receiving end of the attack. Most people are programmed to attack the presenter of the argument rather than the argument itself. (It's far easier for a start.) Attacks with words like these are pretty common:
- You don't have the experience.
- What do you know about this subject anyway?
- Well, you would say that, wouldn't you? (i.e., it's in your interest).
"Your attack on me doesn't change what I'm saying."
(If you don't want to come across as snotty.)
"Please stick to the point. Your ad hominem attack on me is fallacious reasoning and only serves to cloud the issue."
(If you want to put your attacker back in his box and you don't mind coming across as snotty.)
Summary of an Ad Hominem ArgumentIf you think someone has attacked a person's evidence based on that person's looks, expertise, motivation, beliefs, actions or status, tell them their ad hominem argument fails to address the pertinent issues.
Critical Thinking TestAre you good at spotting the biases, fallacies, and other cognitive effects? Can you spot when statistics have been manipulated? Can you read body language? Well, let's see!
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