Ad Hominem – Bowen and Sam
Definition: An ad hominem argument is one that is used to counter another argument, but it is based on feelings of prejudice (often irrelevant to the argument), rather than facts, reason or logic. It is often a personal attack on one’s character rather than an attempt to address the issue at hand. This type of fallacy can often be witnessed in individual debates, in court or in politics. Often, the attack is based on one’s social, political, or religious views, or on lifestyle choices of the person being attacked using ad hominem. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage with it.
Good example of Ad Hominem: Tu Quoque. An example of this fallacious strategy is if someone was trying to argue that a restaurant need to decrease the amount of fat and sugar in their menu due to high rates of obesity in America, but the Restaurant says that their point is not valid because they were seen eating a burger and drinking soda just the other day. This is Ad Hominem as the restaurant are trying to degrade a perfectly sound argument just because of the persons actions. The response of the restaurant isn’t at all approaching the statement. Ad hominem results in the speaker having to defend their own character, instead of their idea being made.
- A lawyer attacking a defendant’s character rather than addressing or questioning based on the case – in a case of theft pointing out the defendant’s level of poverty
- A politician degrading another politician during a political campaign when asked about a specific policy – “Well, I think we need to look at the other candidate’s failures regarding this topic.”
These examples of ad hominem arguments show that various forms of verbal attack can be used in this type of argument to appeal to emotion and prejudice. Being aware of how an ad hominem argument works can help us judge when we should ignore its use and when we should consider it appropriate. When might an ad hominem argument be justified? It may be perfectly reasonable when a person’s good character or credibility is relevant to the argument.