"If a crazy serial killer who believes he is surrounded by Teletubbies argues that if you drop a ball, it'll fall to the ground, because gravity will pull the ball towards the Earth, is he wrong? Do the arguments become less valid because you think there's something wrong with the person behind the arguments? Will the ball start falling upwards from now on?"Refuting an argument by attacking some aspect of the person making it, rather than addressing the content of the argument itself. It can consist of an attack on the person making the argument; the source of their information; their circumstances; their previous position; or a discrepancy between their actions and their argument. Ad hominem is very often mistakenly claimed in cases where an argument's opponent attacks its proponent in addition to presenting a valid counterargument. "You're stupid, therefore your argument is invalid" is an ad hominem; "your argument is invalid, therefore you're stupid" (or "Your argument is invalid and you're stupid") is not. Similarly, some people seem to think that Ad Hominem is necessarily abusive, which it isn't. "You've used the 'Four Terms' fallacy, you stupid idiot, therefore you're using faulty logic" is not Ad Hominem (although it might be Fallacy Fallacy if done badly). "Mike has clearly put a lot of thought into whether we should buy a pool, but he is a convicted felon" is. Types of Ad Hominem:
- Direct-An attack directly on the person making the argument themselves.
- Circumstantial-The attack is on the circumstances surrounding the person making the argument.
- Poisoning the Well-The attack on the person is intended to call into question everything they say.
- Tu Quoque-The attack is that the person making the argument does the same thing they're arguing against themselves, or that they, at some previous time, held a different opinion.
- Style Over Substance-The attack is not on the person making the argument, but on the manner in which they presented it.
Direct ad hominem:The attack is made directly on the person making the argument. Here's a standard hypothetical example:
- Adolf Hitler: This is an irresponsible fiscal policy because the budget deficit is too great.Politician: I won't listen to you! You're Hitler!
- Bob: Evolution is a flawed theory because no amount of natural selection could possibly result in so many complex and intricate life-forms.Alice: But we've all seen the movies! Everybody knows you creationists are ignorant bigots!"
- Most people can recognize a simplistic ad hominem attack as humorous, but that didn't stop DirecTv from flipping out at a spot by Time Warner asserting that "DirecTv hates puppies"
- The white nationalist community likes to allege that the term "racism" was coined by Leon Trotsky, and therefore all opposition to racism is a communist plot.
- Read an article about social justice and related topics. Now read the comments about how often the entire argument is somehow rendered meaningless because of who said it. If you get in any debate about social justice, expect to see this thrown around a lot from both sides.
- Related: Politics in general - "You're a liberal/conservative, what do you know?"
Looks like this fallacy but is not:
- When the rebuttal is insulting but relevant and true: "You can't be a member of Mensa as you claim, because your IQ tests indicate that your IQ is 70".
- When an insult is present but is not used as a component of a logical argument. Simply saying "You are an idiot, because your logic is fallacious" is not polite, but unless there's a "therefore" step to a conclusion, it is not a fallacy. On the other hand, "Your logic is fallacious, because you are an idiot" is.
- Attacking a person for having some character flaw that does not adversely affect or negate the things that he or she is famous for. Therefore, something like "He's not the Pope!" or "He's not Jesus!" is not a valid comeback; at issue is not whether the person has a right to be famous, but whether he or she can be considered a good role model due to that fame (Pete Rose's gambling, Mel Gibson's alcoholism and racism).
- When it is in response to an explicit or implicit appeal to the authority of the speaker:
"I studied law at Harvard, and I can see that this law is clearly unconstitutional.""You studied law at Harvard, but you never got a degree."
- The validity of this counterargument can be summarized thus: "Your credentials aren't as impressive as you say, so you're going to have to prove that rather than tell us to take your word for it."
- Additionally, Super Doc, Open Heart Dentistry, and Omnidisciplinary Scientist are averted in real life, while Not That Kind of Doctor is not. This is a response to an implicit or explicit appeal to an illegitimate authority.
Dr. Smith: Procainamide is clearly indicated in this patient.Dr. Jones: Nonsense, he should receive amiodarone.Patient: With all due respect, Doctor Smith, you hold a PhD in biochemistry, and Doctor Jones, you are a gastroenterologist. I'm waiting for my cardiologist.
Circumstantial ad hominem:When the circumstances of the arguer are held to affect the truth of the argument. It's frequently rolled out against people who have any kind of motive for making their argument (the "he would say that, wouldn't he?" defense), often intended to imply that "he" is an incredibly selfish/malicious person for even looking at the idea with an open mind (or, alternatively, that his mind isn't as open as "he" claims it is). In reality, it's more unreasonable to expect someone to have no reason to hold their viewpoint; their vested interest does not automatically invalidate their criticism. Impugning motives is a common form of this. A speaker resorting to impugning motives attacks the speaker's personal reasons for supporting a position rather than their arguments in favor of supporting the position. Of course, the underlying motives of a person making an argument do not affect the truth or validity of their argument. Furthermore, it's not necessary to impugn a speaker's actual motives - a person using this type of ad hominem often ascribes motives to their opponent and then impugns them.
- Bob: "This bill will be expensive and will not work, therefore you should vote against it."Alice: "Bob is employed by a company which stands to lose money from this bill, therefore Bob will lose money and perhaps his job if this bill passes. Of course he would oppose it."
Looks like this fallacy, but is not:
- If an individual is supposed to be in a position that requires them to be objective, such as a judge or a journalist, pointing out a conflict of interest is a valid argument, especially if they haven't properly disclosed their affiliation.
- When used to argue that a person may deserve a higher degree of suspicion than others due to some relevant circumstance. For example, I can logically conclude that someone who's been accused of embezzlement is a bad person to hire for my bank, and it's obviously relevant when I'm making a decision under uncertainty about who to hire.
- Pointing out that a person is too emotionally invested in something to be objective.
Colonel Mustard: "It couldn't have been Miss Scarlet!"Professor Plum: "You would say that because you love her, but face facts. She had the revolver which has been fired, she hated Boddy, she was seen entering the Ballroom where Boddy was shot, and there are bloody footprints of high heels matching her shoes next to the corpse."
- All instances of "What they don't want you to know..." have at least a tacit form of the impugning motives form of an ad hominem. For example, "What doctors don't want you to know..." tacitly assumes all physicians have a vested interest in keeping you from learning about some miracle cure and are willing to ignore their Hippocratic Oaths to do so. Even if this were true, which it is not, it would be up to the "Miracle Cure Salesman" to prove his or her All-Natural Snake Oil actually works better than the standard science-based alternative.
- Expect an immediate case of Special Pleading to follow.
- This commonly comes up in any discussion of police or the military overstepping their boundaries, especially in any highly-charged case. If an investigation turns up nothing, regardless of whatever internal investigations were done, there will be cries of "They just want to cover for each other and hush it up!" Of course, the Fallacy Fallacy also applies-it may indeed be true that there was a cover-up. Real life examples should probably be left to the reader's imagination.
- The Daily Show had a great example of one on their March 31st, 2014 episode. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey as of the time of writing (April 2014), was embattled in a scandal regarding blocking a bridge out of spite. Governor Christie announced the result of an inquiry done by his own hand-picked legal team. The report exonerated Christie. Jon Stewart dismissed the report just on the grounds that it came from Christie's office. That is a clear case of this fallacy. However, it would be a case of the Fallacy Fallacy to say that Jon's ad hominem proves Governor Christie is in the clear, as it's certainly reasonable to be suspicious.
- Advertisers have a vested interest in convincing you their product is what you want. It is poor logic to dismiss a claim on the grounds that "They want to sell me something," which is not to say that in the real world that can't raise one's suspicion. There's a difference between deception and bad logic.
Poisoning the Well:This fallacy can be one of two types, either discrediting the opponent before they even begin to make their argument, usually by a direct ad hominem against them-"And might I just remind the audience before Alice speaks that she is a convicted felon?"-or by calling the validity of their sources or standing into question after they have made their argument. More or less the converse of Appeal to Authority; here, the attempt is to make an audience reject a claim because of the speaker's alleged lack of authority.
- "You'll find Bob talks about law an awful lot for a guy who got his degree from Eastern Iowa State University."
- Men can't talk about abortion because they don't get pregnant. note
- American whites can't talk about slavery because they never experienced it. note
- Rich people who help poor people can't truly sympathize with whom they're helping, so they must be doing it for some selfish reason. note
- "You cited the Encyclopedia Britannica. A recent study found that Encyclopedia Britannica had 123 errors of fact — in only 42 articles."
- Most accusations of white knighting are intended to discredit the accused by making it seem as if they have a self-interested reason to hold their stated position. While this may be true, it does not make said position any less valid.
- Reefer Madness: The Musical features a propagandist who uses this when a parent objects to the propagandist's absurd story about marijuana abuse. He starts by using an Appeal to Wealth and Appeal to Authority to point out that William Randolph Hearst agrees with his position, then demands to know where the man matriculated. When the man doesn't know the word matriculate, the propagandist goes in for the kill and makes the man admit he never went to college. The propagandist then dismisses the man entirely. Later, he takes it a step further by claiming the man's views are "extreme" and "Un-American."
Tu quoque ("You, too!"):Another type of Ad Hominem, Tu Quoque refers to the attempt to deny an argument by asserting that the person presenting the argument either suffers from the same flaw (i.e. they do not practice what they preach) or has held an opposing view in the past. The fact that such a person is a hypocrite if he criticizes others for bearing the same flaw he does in his personal life is actually not related to actual objective facts about said flaw or his line of reasoning in condemning that flaw.
- Bob: "Smoking and alcoholism are well-known as risks for cancer."Alice: "But you yourself smoke and drink a lot! You're wrong!"
- Bob: "This bill will be expensive and will not work, therefore you should vote against it."Alice: "But you supported the bill last month!"
- This is a favorite tactic of politicians and political dissidents who want to discredit an opponent; they usually call it "flip-flopping" or "waffling" and use it to imply that the opponent can't make up their mind.
- A German politician once said "I don't care about the shit I said last week!"
- A common version used against complaints is for a debater to bring up a separate event which they feel their opponent should have had the same reaction to; the "Where were you when..." argument is always invalid. Whether the opponent should have been equally outraged at another event has no effect on whether their outrage at this event is valid.
- A good example of this was the controversy over Resident Evil 5's alleged racism. A common rebuttal was that those complaining about a white man shooting black people did not complain about the previous game where a white man was shooting Hispanic people, so a) their complaints were not valid, or b) shooting black people was somehow considered "worse" than shooting Hispanics.
- John Maynard Keynes's often-quoted response to such tactics:
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?
- Used in an episode of Scrubs, when Eliot railed at the "hypocrisy" of Dr. Cox advising someone to calm down for the sake of his blood pressure, or Dr. Kelso telling a patient to stop smoking. When she herself got a patient who was fainting due to being slightly less underweight than she was, she initially tried to build her own weight in concert with the patient, but eventually realized "This is about you, not me."
- "A strong leader is expected to maintain steadfast resolve in his opinion even if the environment changes or he gets new information. In any other context, that would be considered the first sign of a brain tumor."-Scott Adams
- During an Australia vs. England Cricket match, Mike Atherton edged the ball to wicket keeper Ian Healy, but was given "not out", prompting the following exchange:
Healy: You're a fucking cheat.Atherton: When in Rome, dear boy...
- The ever-persistent "You criticize X, but you're using something provided by X!" argument.
- When fanfic writer pstibbons was called out for writing a fanfic whose only purpose was to have Hermione torture and humiliate Ron, he cited an earlier work of his where Ron is brutally murdered by Harry, claiming that since people didn't raise a fuss back then, they are clearly sexist. note
- Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion illustrated a striking example used by a member of the Cult of John Frum, a real-world Cargo Cult. The cults have numerous forms, such as those that proclaim Frum is the King of America and that he will come in an apocalyptic cataclysm with deliverance and tons of material goods. A researcher asked a believer, "Isn't nineteen years a long time to wait for John Frum?" The believer replied, "If the white man can wait two thousand years for Jesus Christ..."
- This was a favorite propaganda technique of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the West, it was nicknamed "whataboutism" since such arguments often began with the words "what about". In Russian Humour, this was parodied with the Stock Phrase "and you lynch blacks" ("а у вас негров линчуют"), which was sarcastically used as a catch-all to dismiss criticism of the Soviet Union in situations where American race relations were not relevant to the issue.
- This is a favorite technique of men's rights activists who claim that feminists are "misandric".
Looks like this fallacy but is not:
- Double Think. At first, ignoring the speaker's hypocrisy seems to mean accepting any contradictory actions he performs. However, accepting Tu Quoque as a fallacy does not mean accepting all Double Think spewed out by hypocrites and abusers of Screw the Rules, I Make Them! as logically valid. Tu Quoque is when the speaker's hypocrisy is used to discredit any objective real-world facts he says, but Doublethink means accepting all logically fallacious contradictions he says.
- About the earlier "You criticize X, but you're using something by X" argument: If this is used to discredit any facts he says, then it is wrong (for example, you support human rights but continue to use Apple products that you know were made through Chinese slave labor. That does not mean you are automatically wrong about your human rights opinions). If this is used to point out that the speaker's recommendations should not yet be trusted, then it isn't AHTQ. (For example, it is not a fallacy if you ask first why Luddites keep using computers instead of living without such things. If the conclusion is that "this hypocrite can't be trusted", then it can bring up a valid question. If this is used to mean "Luddites are completely wrong about everything", then it is AHTQ).
- When the value of the speaker's word is being considered in order to evaluate his statements as testimony. It is not fallacious for a court to consider the reliability of a witness doubtful if they find he has a history of committing perjury or has accepted money in exchange for his testimony; it is only fallacious if his testimony is discarded out of hand on this basis, regardless of what it actually is.
- When the speaker is arguing that the opponent is treating something as uniquely wrong, yet has done the same thing themselves. For example, if a boy is sent to his room for being the only person in his house to ever raid the biscuit tin, it would not be fallacious for him to point out that he did it because he saw his father doing it, therefore it is hypocritical to punish him on that basis.
Style Over Substance
- If You Can't Say Something Nice
- Appeal To Brevity
- Too long; Didn't read (tl;dr or "teal deer")
- Grammar Nazi
- Sock Puppet
Looks like this fallacy but is not:
- When the presentation is so unclear that it is genuinely impossible to follow the reasoning.
- When the errors are pointed out simply for the sake of pointing out the errors, rather than as evidence that the arguer is wrong.
- When the opponent is using a fallacious Proof by Verbosity (aka the Gish Gallop); firing so many weak points off that it is impossible to respond to them within the format of the debate. In essence, the opponent may have nothing but mud to sell, but by piling it up so thick so quickly they hope to pass it off as rock solid. This comes from Duane Gish, who used the tactic frequently. The Proof by Verbosity is an informal fallacy.
- Yer mum 'ad all a them phalluses!