Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

Yesterday I blogged about the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or post hoc, and how it is used, and why it is an illogical argument. Today I will be continuing the logical fallacy blitz with the fallacy known as an Ad Hominem attack. This is a common argument used by a lot of different groups, even including skeptics sometimes, so it is important to understand this fallacy to make sure you don’t use it someday when arguing with a conspiracy theorist or a UFOligist. It is also used in politics a lot, especially at the moment in Queensland where there is a political election coming up in a few days.

The most recent use of this argument is by the Labor party in the campaign for the up-coming election. Due to the fact that the Labor Party is fighting an extremely up-hill battle (the latest poll shows that they could win as little as 12 of 89 seats in parliament), they are resorting to attacking the politicians themselves rather than just putting forward good policies or proposed plans. The most common one is the ‘Campbell’s web’ advertisement, which attacks Campbell Newman (the leader of the LNP) and his personal finances not the policies he is proposing or the political view-point he argues for.It is a prime example of an ad hominem attack, because they are attacking the arguer, and not the arguments.

I also mentioned that skeptics fall into this trap often. This is one reason why it is important to know about logical fallacies. The first is that you can call your opponent bluff when he uses one, the second is that you can also question your own arguments with them, to make sure your logic is valid, os that you can correct them, and not the person you are arguing with.

Skeptics often use this logical fallacy when they are arguing with people such as UFOligists, conspiracy theorists and homeopaths. They often fall into saying things like “This is just stupid, how could you honestly believe that what you are saying is true, it is ridiculous!”, or something of the like. This is a logical fallacy. You cannot just simply disregard an argument because it is silly, it is a logical fallacy. However, it is not a logical fallacy to say “The notion of homeopathy is just outrageous, and here is why.” That is not a logical fallacy. If you explain your ad hominem attack with logically sound arguments, then it is not a logical fallacy, it is just good use of the arguing technique of ‘making the other person look like an idiot.’

Ad Hominem attacks are usually last gasp attempts to salvage some victories in the dieing moments of a debate when the fallacious arguer realizes that he is losing by a large margin.

That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Thomas H. Huxley, “Science is simply common sense at its best; that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.” Thomas H. Huxley, most often known of as Darwin’s bulldog and refiner of agnosticism.

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2 thoughts on “Ad Hominem Logical Fallacy

  1. My credentials:- I have a PhD in Philosophy, a moderately extensive experience of teaching logic to university undergraduates, and not least two teenage kids; all of which engenders in me a considerable respect for kids your age who embrace the deliverances of logic and reason as you do.

    Mostly, you have done a very good job. My only criticism relates to the following line which, if I understand you correctly, you give as an instance of the fallacy of argument ad hominem:-

    “This is just stupid, how could you honestly believe that what you are saying is true, it is ridiculous!”

    To my mind, this sentence exhibits the fallacy, not of argument ad hominem, but of petitio principii – begging the question.

    • I’m sure the fact you have 2 children makes you less closed-minded and bigoted towards the ideas of a young free-thinker, very rare on the internet, and I thank you for that.

      I see where you are coming from, and the quote you pulled from the article does have a question in it, however the question is a turn-of-phrase, and really isn’t intended as a question, kind of like rhetorical but a little different.

      You raise an interesting point though, and it serves to point out that all ad hominem attacks beg the question. Saying something is stupid is ad hominem, whereas if you explain why it is stupid after saying it is, it is no longer an ad hominem. The same with begging a question.

      Sorry for that example in the article, it was a bit misleading and harder to pick up the context or tone of the ‘question’ in text. Thanks for inquiring, as it brings up an interesting point I’d never realised.

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