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The Ad Hominem Fallacy

  1. May 15, 2012 #1
    People ought to read what this actually consists of, because I've noticed people mistaking mere insults for Ad Hominems.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

    Calling someone an insulting or abusive name is not an Ad Hominem. Generally, an Ad Hominem is an attempt to discredit someone based on something about them that is actually unrelated to the issue at hand. These are Ad Hominems:

    "Joe's political views are meaningless: he's an alcoholic."

    "Don't let Sam correct your grammar, he believes in Ancient Aliens."

    "It figures Thelma got sexually assaulted: she's been divorced twice and never goes to church."



    These following are not Ad Hominems, just insults:

    "Frank is a moron, and ugly on top of it."

    "She is nuts."

    "Edna is an ignorant hack."

    "You'd have to be crazy not to like Ed Smith."

    Therefore:

    "You don't vote Republican? You're an idiot!!"

    Is not an Ad Hominem, just an insult. It might take place during the course of an argument, but it is not, itself, an argument of any sort.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2012 #2

    256bits

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    So when not completely sure of an insult, or a witty retort back, someone will say " I think I just got insulted! ".
    With an Ad Hominem can one say " I think I just got Ad Hominemized !"
     
  4. May 15, 2012 #3
    Interesting that you start this thread Zooby, It's one of the roots of my enemy thread. Exactly that.
     
  5. May 15, 2012 #4
    I don't exactly follow. I was actually prompted by seeing someone in another forum misinterpret an insult (a pretty mild one, if it was one at all) as an Ad Hominem.
     
  6. May 15, 2012 #5

    D H

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    And another: "Ignore zooby's analysis of ad homs. Just one look at his avatar and you know he has to be wrong." :tongue2:
     
  7. May 15, 2012 #6
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?p=3913571#post3913571
     
  8. May 15, 2012 #7
    How about this: "You're just jealous because I know how to spell out my full name." Ad Hominem?
     
  9. May 15, 2012 #8

    D H

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    That is just an insult; your argument in the opening post is correct. Had you used my incomplete spelling as a reason for dismissing my claim, then that would have been an ad hominem attack.
     
  10. May 15, 2012 #9
    I try to avoid using Ad Hominem attacks. I might point out that Zoobyshoe is a stupid, ugly, fat, ignorant slob. But I would never give that as the reason that he is always wrong.
     
  11. May 15, 2012 #10

    D H

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    Whether zoobyshoe is ugly or fat is irrelevant to the correctness / incorrectness of his posts. That is what would make the use of these terms an ad hominem attack.
     
  12. May 15, 2012 #11
    Very good. Likewise, I would never allude to the fact you both are impossibly hideous, near-reptilian monstrosities, to explain why your utterances are invariably nonsensical and incoherent. It would be an Ad Hominem to do so, because the former has nothing to do with the latter.
     
  13. May 15, 2012 #12

    russ_watters

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    I disagree with this zoob - often the other half is just left insaid, for the reader to fill in.
     
  14. May 15, 2012 #13
    I guess, it doesn't need to be said that this thread is all about apophasis.
     
  15. May 15, 2012 #14
    So, in your example, if you use your insult to refute their statement, it is a logical fallacy (ad hom.), but if you deduce an insult from their statement (eg. you do not support Republicans, ergo you're an idiot.), then it is not a fallacious argument?!

    Call it what you want, but I still think the latter is fallacious argument. Maybe a non sequitur, but still fallacy.
     
  16. May 15, 2012 #15

    russ_watters

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    Hairsplitting? :tongue:
     
  17. May 15, 2012 #16

    Pythagorean

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  18. May 15, 2012 #17

    Pythagorean

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    hrm, interestingly, according to wiki, an ad hominem is considered an informal fallacy and nonsequitor is considered a formal fallacy.
     
  19. May 15, 2012 #18

    mheslep

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    I do see one common use of the ad homimem retort that is abused. A poster submits a link to an obscure or hopelessly biased reference that has no hint of rigorous or scholarly analysis of the subject at hand. If in response one declines to read or respond to the reference then the ad hominem retort is often tossed out, incorrectly since there is no argument at hand from the reference.
     
  20. May 15, 2012 #19
    If you can tell that is what is happening, you know which it is. My point is simply that an insult is not an Ad Hominem fallacy, that they're two separate things.
     
  21. May 15, 2012 #20

    Pythagorean

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    P1: define insult functionally
    P2: demonstrate that target participates in abnormality of function defined in P1
    C: therefore, person fits definition of insult

    viola! Look, we can make valid insults!
     
  22. May 15, 2012 #21
    It's not just a non-sequitor. It draws a false connection between one thing and another, implying that one thing causes the other. "Don't listen to Joe's political opinions, he's an alcoholic." His being an alcoholic does not necessarily have any bearing on his political views, but the Ad Hominem asserts that it does.
     
  23. May 15, 2012 #22
    And that's exactly what a non-sequitur is.
     
  24. May 15, 2012 #23
    I suppose that every logical fallacy has a non sequitur in it somewhere. If so, then it doesn't shed any light on the subject to note that Ad Hominem fallicies are also non sequiturs.
     
  25. May 15, 2012 #24
    The latter is a "bald assertion", an assertion made with no attempt to back it up or argue for its correctness. Therefore, it is not a fallacious argument because no attempt to make an argument is present. It is just an insult. The abusive label "idiot" may not actually apply to the person in any way, but that doesn't make it a logical fallacy. The formal logical fallacies have specific definitions, and this is about maintaining some rigor in understanding, and sticking to, those definitions, so that our logic is sound.

    Using an insult to try to discredit someone's views would also not be an Ad Hominem: "You don't vote Republican because you're an idiot!" is still just an insult, an abusive remark.

    The Ad Hominem that might arise here would be something like: "I'm not surprised you don't vote Republican. Your grades in school were consistently below average, and IIRC your I.Q. score was about 75." Here there's an attempt to argue that the person's party preferences are of no merit by falsely implying a correlation between his intelligence and his voting preference. It's an Ad Hominem fallacy.

    If we say to someone who can be said to be of low intelligence by objective standards (low I.Q. score), "You don't vote Republican because you're an idiot!", then what we have is probably BOTH an Ad Hominem and an insult, the latter being because their level of intelligence is referred to abusively.
     
  26. May 15, 2012 #25

    mheslep

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    If I may that's a bit off the mark. Listening to Joe's opinion and then asserting he's wrong because he is an alchoholic is indeed textbook ad hominem. However, this is not: I decline to take time to listen to Joe's opinion because I know he's intoxicated, though he *may* indeed be right, but it is more likely that he's incoherent and there is only so much time in the day.
     
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