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Media and Communications

The Ad Hominem Fallacy

The Ad Hominem Fallacy


SPEAKER 1: Ad Hominem is the
name of a well known fallacy type. The name is derived from
Latin, meaning to the man or to the person. It’s the fallacy of rejecting
a claim or an argument given by someone because
we don’t like something about the person. We’re mistaking
criticism of a person with criticism of a
claim or an argument. There are several different
kinds of ad hominem fallacies. In this video, we’ll look
at the most blatant form of ad hominem, the
abusive ad hominem. Here’s the most blatant form
of this most blatant form of ad hominem. Your argument is bad
because you suck. This is a fallacy, because even
if it’s true that you suck, your sucking isn’t
relevant to the goodness or badness of your argument. If your argument
is bad, it’s bad because it has a
dubious premise or it has weak logic or some
other necessary condition for an argument to
be good is violated. Your sucking might be a reason
not to like you personally, but it’s not a reason
to reject your argument. Here’s a less blatant and
more challenging example. In his book, Mein
Kampf, Adolf Hitler gives his account of race
in history and famously argues for the superiority
of the Aryan race and the inferiority
of Jewish people. Now, what if I said
that we should reject Hitler’s arguments
because he was a mass murderer, or an
insane megalomaniac, or racist and anti-Semitic,
or whatever other nasty thing you want to say about him. Let’s say that these
nasty things are all true. Would these true facts
about Hitler’s character give us good reason to
reject Hitler’s arguments about racial differences? And here’s a case where a lot
of people, maybe most people, will say that this does
give us good reason to reject his arguments. But if we accept that the ad
hominem is indeed a fallacy, that it’s a mistake to reject
an argument based solely on qualities of the person
giving the argument, then we have to reject
the argument given here. This does not give
us good reason to rejected Hitler’s arguments. Now, I think Hitler’s
arguments are bad, and I’m hoping that most
people viewing this do too. But the point is that they’re
not bad because Hitler was bad, they’re bad because
they violate one or more of the necessary conditions
for an argument to be good. This works the other
way too, of course. If Mother Theresa
gives an argument for giving charity
and aid to the poor, and we think Mother
Theresa is a moral saint, that shouldn’t by
itself count as a reason to accept her argument for
giving aid to the poor. We wouldn’t normally call
this an ad hominem fallacy, of course, since
the term is usually associated with criticism
rather than praise. But it’s still a fallacy, and
for the exact same reasons. The problem isn’t with
criticism or praise, it’s with confusing
the judging of a person with the judging of an argument. Now, let’s look at this example
from an argument analysis perspective. Let’s ignore the fact
that we’ve already labeled it an ad hominem
fallacy and ask ourselves how we would normally
assess the argument using the tools we’ve learned so far. Well, there are two
basic questions to ask. Does the argument satisfy
the truth condition, and does it satisfy
the logic condition? In other words, number
one, are all the premises true and plausible? And number two, is the
argument is valid or strong? If the answer to either these
is no, then the argument is bad. Well, premise one
is clearly true. And premise two,
while it uses a lot of loaded and
judgmental language, would be regarded as true
or at least defensible by many people. As the argument is
given, the problem isn’t with the truth
of the premises. As given, the problem
is with the logic. If those two premises
are true, the conclusion doesn’t follow,
either with certainty or with high probability. In other words, the
logic of the argument is neither valid nor strong. It’s weak. So one way to
evaluate this argument is simply to say that
as given, it’s bad because the logic is weak. And that’s true. But I want you to recall now
the discussion about putting arguments in standard
form way back in the first tutorial course
on basic concepts and logic and argumentation. There, we emphasized
that arguments are often presented as incomplete and
rely on background assumptions to be interpreted correctly. An argument might
be weak as given, but it might be relying on
a background premise that would make it strong or valid. So in general, you’re
always encouraged to look for implicit background
assumptions like this and only evaluate the
argument after you’ve reconstructed an argument. That means making explicit
any background assumptions that the argument is relying on. Only then should you
go ahead and evaluate whether the argument
is good or bad. So does this argument rely on
a background premise that makes the argument valid or strong? Well, it’s not hard to
see what would be required to make the logic work. Let’s shrink this up so
we have more room to work. You can often use a
simple conditional claim, if A then B, or
a generalization, like all A or B, to fix
the logic of an argument. So here you might add a
conditional claim like this. If Hitler was a murderous
megalomaniacal anti-Semite, then his arguments
on racial superiority are very likely bad. If you add the very likely, then
the argument is just strong. If you take it out,
then it’s valid. It’s acceptable to add an
assumed premise like this, because it’s clear
that we’re not putting words in the arguer’s mouth. We have every reason
to think that someone advancing this argument would
accept a premise like that. So with this reconstruction,
we fixed the logical problem. It’s not appropriate anymore
to say that the argument is bad because the logic is weak. The logic is fine. The problem now is
with the plausibility of that assumed premise. If this argument
is bad, it’s bad because this assumed
premise is false or dubious. Now, this is a hard
case for some people, because it’s still
very tempting to think that this kind of
character flaw is relevant to assessing
the goodness of the arguments given. But now I hope it’s clear
why this is a mistake. An argument is a
collection of claims linked by relations of
logical entailment or support. The plausibility
or implausibility of those claims and the
validity or invalidity of the argument given
isn’t determined by facts about the moral
character of the person asserting the argument. I grant that in
cases like this, it’s tempting to make this slide
from criticism of a person to criticism of an argument. But that’s a mistake. The value of discussing
a hard case like this is that if you can see
the fallacy here, then you’ve probably understood
the essence of the fallacy. Facts about someone’s moral
character by themselves don’t make it any
more or less likely that their arguments
are good or bad. So our final assessment is
that this is a bad argument. And it’s bad because the
background assumption necessary to make the
argument valid or strong is false or dubious, so it
violates the truth condition as we’ve defined that term. This might seem like
a long-winded way of saying that the
argument is fallacious. But the point of this discussion
is to show why it’s a fallacy. Why ad hominems in
general are fallacies, by showing how the
argument violates one of the basic conditions
for an argument to be good. To sum up, we can say
a few things in general about ad hominems. When you reconstruct
them, ad hominem arguments typically rely on the following
types of assumed premise. Almost any claim
that a person makes about topic X is probably
false because of some feature of that person, or
almost any argument that a person gives
about X is probably bad because of some
feature of that person. If you include the
terms in brackets, you get a more qualified
version of the premise that would make the argument
strong rather than valid. Now, the characterization
given here is somewhat broader than your
typical abusive ad hominem. You get your typical
ad hominem when you base your objection
on a criticism of someone’s character. But this broader
characterization is helpful, because it also
covers ad hominem cases that don’t necessarily involve
insulting a person or criticizing their
character, as we’ll see in the next
couple of tutorials. Finally, I want to
direct your attention to the “whenever” in that
final statement on the bottom. You commit an ad
hominem fallacy when you give an argument that
relies on premises of this type, but it’s only a fallacy
if the premise is false. I want to point this out,
because as most textbooks will tell you, premises of this
type aren’t always false. And in these cases,
the arguments don’t commit the
ad hominem fallacy. Here’s an example. Johnny is on the witness stand
testifying against Mrs. Jones in a murder case. He says that he saw Mrs.
Jones stab her husband. The argument for her guilt
relies solely on his testimony. Now, in a case like this,
when argument relies on trusting someone’s
testimony, facts about a person’s
character and motives are relevant to
assessing the argument. It’s true that our
Johnny is a known liar, and he has a motive
to lie in this case. Maybe he himself is a
suspect in the murder. Then it makes perfect
sense to reject an argument that is based
solely on Johnny’s testimony. So while this argument for
rejecting Johnny’s testimony does rely on claims
about Johnny’s character, it doesn’t commit the
ad hominem fallacy. Because in this case, the
claim about his character is relevant to
assessing the argument. This example shows why
we needed to qualify our characterization of the
ad hominem in previous slide. Let’s go back to that. We commit the ad
hominem fallacy whenever the argument relies on
premises like these, and the premises are false. It’s a fallacy because the
argument violates the truth condition. But premises like these
aren’t always false. In this case, the
implicit assumption we’re making about
Johnny’s testimony is that it’s probably false. At least we don’t have good
reason to think it’s true, because Johnny has a
record of false testimony and a motive to
lie in this case. And in this case, it’s
a perfectly reasonable assumption. So the argument doesn’t
violate the truth condition, and consequently, doesn’t
commit the ad hominem fallacy. Now, this discussion
raises the question of whether there are
any general rules for deciding when the relevant
assumptions are true or false. Well, to my knowledge,
this is still a subject of debate among
experts in the philosophy of argumentation. But on a case by
case basis, it’s not hard to spot
exceptions to the fallacy. So your best guide, I
think, is to look at cases as they come up,
and ask yourself whether the truth
or plausibility of a central premise
in the argument really does turn on
facts about the arguer. The best examples are
arguments that rely solely on the authority or
testimony of an individual, but context matters
a great deal too.

88 thoughts on “The Ad Hominem Fallacy

  1. Abe Lincoln argues that McDonalds makes the best burgers
    Honest Abe does not lie
    Therefore McDonalds makes the best burgers

  2. @marredsun Well, maybe not. How is it not ad hominum when they spend a lot of well wasted time talking about a candidates religion, which is completely arbitrary to the running of a country. Such issues like abortion, or gay marriage which does not directly influence "politics" more of an influence of culture. Perhaps you have a better understanding then I do.

  3. @marredsun Humanoid reptiles? and I don't support freemasonry, I collect Freemason antiques…
    LOL HUMANOID REPTILES? I want the drugs you are on, my dear sir.

  4. @marredsun Ad Hominem is often occurs in "politics" I'm afraid. If you want an example, go look around for some "debates". You just have to look.
    @subarkts Marred is quite correct on his words. I don't know who you are personally, but the mere fact that you take conspiracy theories to the word is a little unsettling. I myself have a friend who believes in CTs… I don't hold it against him, but sometimes it makes me laugh and cringe when his "ideas" are indeed just regurgitations of others 🙁

  5. @zachflame123 It may be that one's sucking when it comes to collecting information and handling it once it has been gathered has led to a flaw in that individual's argument, but then the proper approach would be to point out the flaw and not the personal characteristic which caused him to make that mistake.

  6. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (aka "Mother Theresa") isn't really better than Adolf Hitler. Why would you take her as an example if you already used Hitler?

  7. @jshowa4 Yes but if they are lying expose them objectively via logic and the actual evidence, simply accusing them of lying is baseless and avoids the actual subject of debate. Hope this helped, Hare Krisna.

  8. Dude you are so boring…
    Also, I am pretty sure that if someone is racist that does allow you to disregard their ideas about racial differences.

  9. @MrShogunfish You can reject their arguments, but you should reject them based on the problems with the arguments themselves rather than the qualities of the person giving them. If Nelson Mandela suddenly began arguing that White People are inferior, we wouldn't accept it beacuse he is "good", we would reject it based on the argument. We should also reject arguments from "bad" people based on the argument, not on their qualities.

  10. 1) Ray Comfort says banana is a proof of intelligent design
    2) We all know Ray Comfort is a cretard
    Therefore:
    3) Ray should shove the banana, where the sun does not shine.

  11. Recently saw the best example of this argument since "Obama is speaking to a large crowd. You know which other popular elected leader rallied a large crowd with a speech?"

    Billboards are coming out that have the Unibomber on them, and say he believes in climate change, I think, so why shouldn't you? It was like the most naked form of lying ever conceived. I'm not even sure if I can call that lying, since it's so transparent that large numbers of people won't even get fooled by it.

  12. Hey, get me some of that stuff too, i could use it to drown out the sound of idioicy i can see from people using the fallacies demonstrated in this video that i see all the time IRL 😀

  13. or maybe biology does not support intelligent design because there is no evidence for intelligent design. There is no evidence for a designer.

  14. I love this example. Hitler's arguments are flawed because his reasoning is flawed, not because his ideology is evil.

  15. reminds me of this debate I saw b/w Richard Dawkins and this woman who said he was using ad hominem arguments on her b/c he was saying she was being irrational (or something along those lines.) haha…

    so the liar thing… would it follow to make a similar claim that someone's arguments are probably bad most of the time because they're mentally and/or emotionally unstable and it's likely they can't form a reasonable argument in the first place? lol.

  16. "that shouldn't by itself count as a reason" IN MY OPINION, it shouldn't count, AT ALL. It is irrelevant of of who presents the argument. What should matter is the reasons behind the argument. Example : A priest is in favor of abortion. The reasons are : risk of both mother and child dying during labor. It is irrelevant if a priest presented this argument, a cat presented this argument or the door, because the argument is presented with circumstances.

  17. Still wouldn't prove intelligent design now would it? Hasn't irreducible complexity been debunked via biochemical experimentation? Must we bring up this pseudo science, known as intelligent design, at every you tube video?

  18. " How is it not ad hominum when they spend a lot of well wasted time talking about a candidates religion, which is completely arbitrary to the running of a country."

    Nope. you can even see the vice presidential debate in which Ryan admits that his religion has everything to do with the way he runs things.

  19. logic is not a certain science. It would depend on the argument. if your only premises is that he has been wrong before it could well be an ad hominem because your not explaining why him being wrong before is relevant to his claim. He could of changed his mind and have a completely different conclusion than before.

  20. I remember looking up the ad hominem fallacy back in 2009 when I was first introduced to The Atheist Experience. I learned about many fallacies back then but I didn't use any of them in my day to day reasoning. I'm looking up fallacies again (now) since I feel I need to learn about reason and logic. Since I'm new to this, it is a little confusing. I guess it is like learning a new language or learning how to ice skate. Study and practice and you get it. I'll take a peek at your other vids.

  21. surely hitler being an anti-semite gives Hitler a motive to believe the ayran race to be superior making it less trustworthy

  22. Would it not be a strong argument to say, for example, Hitler was a murderous megalomaniacal anti Semite, therefore his arguments regarding racial superiority are likely fallacious? it's still saying he's wrong because he's a bad person but, this way of wording it seems pretty valid to me.

  23. I'm homeschooled and I have this history book that bashes architecture and painting just because Hitler wanted to do that, something like; "As a teenager, Adolf did not want to work for a living and therefore wanted to choose professions such as painting and architecture." I never touched this book again. It also said that Hitler's only success was something he did in high school… Many of the author's own opinions are stressed in this book as well. This is an example of the Ad Hominem, right?

  24. I don't think that would be a strong argument. I think it would be valid as something to consider when deciding whether we should trust Hitler as a good source of facts about racial superiority. Basically, anything he said about it would need to be scrutinized. And one may decide to not waste time with his statements at all. But investigating the truth of the claim is a separate issue and one would need relevant facts about the claim, not the person making the claim.

  25. I can see we're making 2 slightly different points. I'm not saying anything Hitler said is automatically wrong (not that opinions can ever be conclusively proven to be false or true), just that it probably is. His being a racist does automatically cast doubt on the validity of any of his claims regarding race. His being a bad person in this case raises reasonable suspicion of the dubiousness of any claims he makes on the matter of race relations.

  26. I understand. Your argument is to say that Hitler's arguments regarding racial superiority are LIKELY fallacious due to his known behaviour & prejudices. This is tricky. I agree with your statement but in this case "likely" & "probably" are subjective. I can see the value of your argument in determining whether we care to waste time on Hitler's assertions. The argument doesn't say Hitler was actually wrong but is untrustworthy as a source. It doesn't hold up against arguments of outside facts.

  27. I suppose what one considers likely is subjective. But if we can agree that a likely event is one that has a greater than 50% chance of occurring and we could analyze all of the statements Hitler made regarding race. I predict we would find that the majority of the time his opinions go against the majority of public opinion. And if we can agree that the majority of public opinion on race is the accepted "just" position then on average his claims regarding such would likely be worthless.

  28. Ayiyi …

    1. It would be quite illogical to accept that majority public opinion on race is correct or true. Such an assumption is easily disproven.

    2. If we analyzed each of Hitler's statements for verifiable truth and found over 50% were untrue, than there would be no point in presupposing his statements were unlikely to be true anyway. We would have already discerned all the truths and untruths.

    This seems to veer away from the simple use of logic & critical thinking. What is the point?

  29. There is little else to consider when dealing with matters of opinion. opinion, whether it be on race or anything else, can never be proven true or untrue. Thus it is a matter of necessity that we defer to some standard of right and wrong. majority rule being a simple means of doing so. If this is unacceptable please offer an alternative standard of morality.

    Also, perhaps analyzing ALL of his statements would defeat the purpose. Analyzing a reasonable selection and judging from that then.

  30. Oh I see, I did not know we were discussing morality. I thought perhaps you were referring to Eugenics (which I believe would be debated with facts, not opinions). I think in a logical debate, opinions really don't mean much of anything. "I think blonde haired people should be treated as upper class" doesn't hold any water anyway. The issue of morality is an INTERESTING one though … is there anything specific you're thinking of?

  31. Even the issue of Eugenics comes down to a matter of opinion at some point. Being stronger or faster or smarter may seem like objectively positive traits but it's possible not everyone agrees they are. And if it requires agreement to be true it is impossible to argue a position on it based solely on facts. If an argument of any kind is made that attempts to argue a point that isn't objectively verifiable then appeals to majority and/or emotion are almost all the arguments that are left.

  32. Yeah you're right. And what is positive and what is negative is a really good subject of discussion. On the earlier point, it really depends on the scope of the argument and what is being claimed. If it is just that "the white race is physically superior (faster, stronger, without defect)." then this is debatable without regard to positive/negative opinions. But yes, a larger discussion would be, what really matters and what do we want to strive for as a group.

  33. Even real empirical physical traits such as strength an speed are not so easily defined. If you say you are stronger or faster then I would say, at performing which task? perhaps one may be able to lift more but another might be able to remain standing under greater weight. one might be able to run faster but another might be able to swim faster. although, when you get down to it speed is based on the strength of muscles as well so they're really just two parts of the same thing.

  34. Some youtube commenters need to take a look at this video…you can't get a word in edgewise with some people without earning yourself a curse or insult in return.

  35. Logical fallacies are so laughably idiotic. Literally! Whenever I hang out with my friends we get into little play arguments just to fuck around with each other. We'll purposely not make sense talking to each other just as a joke. For example, we'll say things like: "You're wrong because YOU SUCK!"
    On the highway: "DUDE WHAT THE FUCK?! Why did you let that guy cut us off?"-as if he had control over it.
    At school: "Thanks for NOT helping on the test"-even though it was my fault for not studying.

  36. Character is always a big part of arguing. True, it might be, but we cannot over look the character or some person like Hitler. This is always good on paper, but applied to say no one one would look at what he's done and judge his words from that is preposterous.

  37. i have a question/request for a nother video/addition:
    some people denie an arguments validity because the don't want the conclusion.
    for example people often say they don't want to live in a world without god. they use this to justify their beliefs. is there a name for this fallacy?
    this is also a often used fallacy in discussions about eugenics, technological advancements, the use of nuclear physics (fusion bomb vs fusion reactor) and so on. did you cover this already in a video? i think this would also count under the Ad Hominem Fallacy, only that they dont disagree because of the opponents properties but because of the concequences if the claim were true.

  38. I don't know why many are trying to disprove god to the religious. Boredom and a realistic expectation of attention resulting from this action? Either way trying to pull a latin word out of your hat will not impress anyone, so if that is why you are listening don't waste your time.

  39. As true as all you said is in a pure logical sense: I'm convinced there are good reasons our mind works this way.

    Why? I'm limited in my knowledge and in my thinking, I makes errors.

    Even if an argument seems good to me, it could just be because i lack some essential piece of information or because i made a mistake.
    That is why I'm to a huge degree dependent on other people and their information – their confirmation.

    And because of that –> I'm dependent on knowledge about these people, too. About their history, their ideological beliefs, their biases, the way they got their knowledge, the way they argue and their honesty. 
    Moral is related to that, so it has it's part.

    Obviously an argument doesn't get bad just because the person who made it is a jerk – but it IS a reason to check it twice.
    And if you have no other information to help you, it is the only way to judge an argument unless it is flawed in its-self.
    "Ad hominem" is just too easily abused, to push people into something right away. 

    But isn't it sometimes the best thing you can get?
    Because confirmation is somewhat needed – I'm dependent on other perspectives. I don't know everything and I could be imagining things, I could be a victim of my own perceptive errors – the best affirmation i can get that i'm not dreaming, is a second person. Better a person i believe i can trust. And yes i could be imagining the person too =P

  40. So how is it that Hitler doesn't have the right to throw the Jews out of Germany but the Jews have the right to throw the Arabs out of Israel?
    What kind of fallacy is that?

  41. 5 people heard "hitler" and "that doesn't make his argument wrong" and shit their pants without listening to the content and disliked the video there.  peons.

  42. The Hitler example, about his views on Jews and the Aryan race, is a bit controversial, lol. There are many other sentences, but you chose that one? Lol

  43. At 4:20 the captions on the video says, "so general you're always encouraged to look for implicit background some shit" lol

  44. As mentioned in the beginning moments of the video, personal attacks do not necessarily become a fallacy. It becomes one only when one relies on personal hostilities as reasons to accept/reject an argument. I could say some random insults like "faggot loser haxor" to someone in an online video-game match, but that insult isn't meant to be an argument.

    Another example
    "I banned you from this game because you're a cheating maniac"

    Sure, the argument is plausible (assuming the cheater indeed used cheats/hacks) but the logic isn't, since his maniac attitude for cheating isn't relevant to the argument.

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