Saturday, July 15, 2006

Logical Fallacies, Part 2: Ad Hominem

Even if you are unfamiliar with the term ad hominem, you have read or heard examples of it countless times. The Latin term has come to mean an attack against a person to discredit that person’s argument. In politics, it is so commonplace that we have become numb to it—but many careful readers see through the weakness of the position and judge the attacker accordingly. Examples:

Since Aristotle had a low opinion of women, his philosophical theories are without merit.

No wonder the Mayor is opposed to tax credits for families—he is a bachelor.

The CEO does not have a religious affiliation; therefore, her opinion on our merger with XYZ Corporation must be flawed.
Of course, attacking a person to advance an argument is not always flawed. Here are some perfectly acceptable examples:

We should not leave decisions about how to best run our school in the hands of an inexperienced Student Council president.

Since Mr. Camilleri us a political pundit, I would not trust him to have the final say on issues of national defense.

Check for the ad hominem attack in your own position papers and proposals. Attack the position, not the person.

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