Attacking the man rather than the argument – Ad Hominem Abusive Fallacy

9 Aug

Welcome again to another Fallacy Friday.  My goal in sharing common occurrences of  rebuttals NOT BASED ON REASON is  to increase the likelihood that you will recognize the ploy when used against you. Once you spot what your conversation partner (or someone in public) is doing, you are less likely to fall victim and move in the direction he/she is tactically leading.   In addition, you will be in a better position to challenge your interlocutor gently, encouraging him to move back to the arena of reasons.

Today we look at the fallacy called Ad Hominem Abusive.  It’s a personal attack on the person who is trying to present reasons for what they believe.  Here are 3 examples of someone committing this fallacy:   

  • Susie is a Trader Joe’s snob who knows nothing about having to make ends meet; therefore, her views on welfare reform mean nothing!
  • Don’t vote for Dan Do-Nothing Douglas; after all, he’s overweight AND he chews tobacco.
  • Malcolm is mean-spirited and doesn’t put more than $5 in the offering plate.  What does HE know about what our church needs?

Have you heard versions of these cutting remarks? They are explicitly meant to shut down and marginalize the views of someone who is trying to argue a case.

This kind of tactic is a way opponents seek to by-pass the arguments presented.  If they can attack you so that you’ll take the bait and move off topic, they might never have to return to the issues at hand. As a ploy to avoid reasoning, this move is called a Fallacy.  Fallacies, when used on purpose, are totally unfair and below board.  They deserve to be called out.  They can also be a sign of laziness due to poor ability and/ or marginal content on the part of your opponent.

Don’t fall for these attacks!  Don’t take the bait!   

Instead, gently communicate that you KNOW what they are doing.  Be direct but kind in your attempt to get back to the issue.

Here is what you might say in the above scenarios:

  • Even though Susie does shop at Trader Joe’s, let’s look at her reasons for supporting welfare reform.  She very well might be a snob, but that has nothing to do with what she is asserting.
  • Actually Dan Douglas might have some good ideas.  His personal nutrition and smoking habits might be off-putting to some, but they have no bearing on what he thinks he can do as our representative in Washington, DC.  Let’s hear him out and evaluate his plank on the merits of his arguments.
  • Just because Malcolm only puts in $5 in the offering plate, let us NOT be mean-spirited and refuse to consider his proposals.  What are his reasons for thinking that we need to expand our food pantry ministry?   Maybe his proposal makes sense!

Politics and religion are unfortunately filled with examples of the Ad Hominem Abusive fallacy.  These are attacks that should have been discarded once past 2nd grade!  

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