Ad Hominem. You think you’re better than I am.

ad hominem
Just one level better than name calling.

The ad hominem fallacy is a category of fallacies in which an argument or claim is rejected not on the merits of the argument or claim, but instead on the basis of a non-relevant fact or opinion about the person advancing the argument or claim. As demonstrated in the above chart, it is the 2nd least effective way to refute an argument, with number one being outright name calling. The fallacy occurs when the non-relevant fact or opinion is used to de-legitimize the claim or opinion. For you visual people out there, it goes like this:

1.Person A makes claim X.
2.Person B makes an attack on person A.
3.Therefore A’s claim is false.

I wrote previously on a specific flavor of ad hominem, the tu quoque argument, which generally describes the “you can’t have an opinion because you’re not perfect/you did the same thing” approach. The ad hominem is effectively a sleight of hand or a diversion away from the merits of a dispute to focus on the person making a claim.

What I find interesting is why the person using the ad hominem wants to focus on the person rather than the merits. Just speculating here, but whenever I use an ad hominem or someone uses it against me I realize that whomever uses the ad hominem really wants to have a conversation about how crappy they think the other person is and has no or little interest in the topic at hand. That’s just bad faith. Another common reason why an ad hominem is used is that during the course of the argument, someone’s feelings got hurt or they weren’t getting their points across and they want to come out as “the victor” on some level. Again, that’s bad faith.

So, I encourage you to take notice when you use this fallacy or see it used against you. If someone uses it against you, do not let them change the framing of the debate to your perceived personal failings. Those are immaterial. Take it as “some evidence” that this person does not really like you that much or respect you.**

If you find yourself using it, ask yourself why you’re going down that road. Are you being bested? Do you not like this person? Is there a better way to make your point? Do you care about making your point? You may be surprised by your answers.

**I’m not saying that mockery has no place. I’m saying that it is not a good way to prove your point. It is an excellent way to avoid improper framing as I detailed here. There’s a difference between mocking because someone doesn’t get it and not agreeing to their framing and going ad hominem from the beginning. 🙂


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One thought on “Ad Hominem. You think you’re better than I am.

  1. Looking for forward to looking at extra of your stuff in a while!? Im generally to writing a blog and i actually respect your articles.

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