The Ad Hominem Attack

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By aaron

The ad hominem is a fallacy in which someone attacks the moral character of the person making an argument rather than the validity of the argument itself. Here is an example:

You claim that global warming is caused by humans. How on Earth would you know, you're a high school dropout!

This is an ad hominem fallacy. The level of education obtained by the debater has absolutely no relevance to whether or not humans cause global warming. Attacking the personal achievements of the arguer does not make you more right and it does not make them more wrong. It is just plain irrelevant to the debate topic.

Ad hominem attacks are a favorite tactic among politicians, so let's look at an example from the political world:

Senator 1: It is time to increase funding for ebola research!
Senator 2: Seriously? I can't believe you would think that. You are a fool!

In this argument, Senator 2 is committing an ad hominem fallacy. Calling the other Senator a fool does not refute her claim that it is time increase funding for ebola research. In fact, it doesn't contribute anything to the discussion. Whether or not the Senator is a fool will depend on who you ask, and either way, it has no relevance to the debate topic.

There are some important considerations to make when someone's personal character is brought in to a debate, because statements about a person's character are not necessarily a fallacy. For example, if you are in a debate over who the next President of the United States should be, then you might actually gain some insight by looking at each candidate's history. If one of the candidates has a history of vandalism, arson, and destruction of property, they probably aren't the best person to be given authority over nuclear weapons. In this case, those character defects are legitimate discussion points.

So how can you tell when someone's personal character is a valid discussion point? The best way is to consider the relevance of those facts. In other words, when the moral character or actions of the person are the issue in question, then their previous behavior can likely be used as a valid argument, as long as those facts are true. But if those points are wrong or irrelevant, you are committing an ad hominem fallacy. #logic #skepticism #critical thinking #fallacy #fallacies

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