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Ad Hominem (Abusive)

argumentum ad hominem

(also known as:  personal abuse, personal attacks, abusive fallacy, damning the source, name calling, refutation by caricature, against the person, against the man)

Description: Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.

Logical Form:

Person 1 is claiming Y.

Person 1 is a moron.

Therefore, Y is not true.

Example #1:

My opponent suggests that lowering taxes will be a good idea -- this is coming from a woman who eats a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each night!

Explanation: The fact that the woman loves her ice cream, has nothing to do with the lowering of taxes, and therefore, is irrelevant to the argument.  Ad hominem attacks are usually made out of desperation when one cannot find a decent counter argument.

Example #2:

Tony wants us to believe that the origin of life was an “accident”.  Tony is a godless SOB who has spent more time in jail than in church, so the only information we should consider from him is the best way to make license plates.

Explanation: Tony may be a godless SOB.  Perhaps he did spend more time in the joint than in church, but all this is irrelevant to his argument or truth of his claim as to the origin of life.

Exception: When the attack on the person is relevant to the argument, it is not a fallacy.  In our first example, if the issue being debated was the elimination of taxes only on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, then pointing out her eating habits would be strong evidence of a conflict of interest.

Tip: When others verbally attack you, take it as a compliment to the quality of your argument.  It is usually a sign of desperation on their part.

References:

Walton, D. (1998). Ad hominem arguments. University of Alabama Press.


Registered User Comments

Anthony Locke
Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 02:03:40 PM
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche often attacked his opponents on the basis of some personal criteria. For example, he said of Socrates that because he was an ugly man (in appearance), He sought to escape this world and posit a transcendent one wherein objects and their ideas (forms) were perfect. This type of analysis seems to posit a psychological basis for the reasoning being advanced. Must an argument be explicit in its structure of premise and conclusion in order for one to determine whether or not it has committed the Ad hominem fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 02:28:21 PM
It is not often clear. Sometimes the fallacy can be explicit when someone says "X's argument is wrong because X is an idiot/moron, etc." Most of the time, it is more subtle and more debatable. If someone is probably displaying a strong cognitive bias and making an unfalsifiable argument, then pointing out why they are probably wrong due to their bias is not fallacious. This is what your example of Nietzsche seems to fit better than a fallacy.

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Krista Neckles
Thursday, March 14, 2019 - 03:31:14 PM
Hello Sir,
Is the following passage from the logic textbook an ad hominem circumstantial AND ad hominem abusive, or just one of them:
"Senator Chris Murphy's arguments for the protection of wilderness areas should be ignored. Murphy is just another one of those tree-hugging liberals who supports such legislation only to please the environmental nuts in his home state of Connecticut".
Thank You Sir.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, March 15, 2019 - 06:08:37 AM
Could be both

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D Heighton
Monday, March 11, 2019 - 03:49:38 AM
How do you judge a statement that goes: "Oh and just one more question for you and your infinite wisdom, ..."?
Is this a type of Ad-Hominem fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, March 11, 2019 - 06:27:40 AM
This might be best described as "poisoning the well" if other people are part of the exchange, otherwise, just good ol' fashioned sarcasm.

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Catherine Hauer
Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - 05:18:13 PM
Thank you not only for providing such clear definitions of so many fallacies but also for providing such useful examples for each!

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Gus del Valle
Friday, January 04, 2019 - 05:46:24 AM
Definition of an Ad Hominem argument: A form of discourse normally engaged in by Donald Trump.

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Beverly McCaffrey
Saturday, October 28, 2017 - 11:10:52 AM
What does Argumentum Ad Ignorantium mean?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, October 28, 2017 - 11:19:36 AM
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