Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

12/28/2004

Sometimes Ad Hominem is Needed and Justified

Definition:

The person presenting an argument is attacked instead of the
argument itself. This takes many forms. For example, the
person's character, nationality or religion may be attacked.
Alternatively, it may be pointed out that a person stands to
gain from a favourable outcome. Or, finally, a person may be
attacked by association, or by the company he keeps.

There are three major forms of Attacking the Person:
(1) ad hominem (abusive): instead of attacking an assertion,
the argument attacks the person who made the assertion.
(2) ad hominem (circumstantial): instead of attacking an
assertion the author points to the relationship between the
person making the assertion and the person's circumstances.
(3) ad hominem (tu quoque): this form of attack on the
person notes that a person does not practise what he
preaches.

Examples:

(i) You may argue that God doesn't exist, but you are just
following a fad. (ad hominem abusive)
(ii) We should discount what Premier Klein says about
taxation because he won't be hurt by the increase. (ad
hominem circumstantial)
(iii) We should disregard Share B.C.'s argument because they
are being funded by the logging industry. (ad hominem
circumstantial)
(iv) You say I shouldn't drink, but you haven't been sober for
more than a year. (ad hominem tu quoque)

Proof:

(If Possible) Identify the attack and show that the character or
circumstances of the person has nothing to do with the truth
or falsity of the proposition being defended.

References:

Barker: 166, Cedarblom and Paulsen: 155, Copi and Cohen: 97, Davis: 80

26 May 1995 / 06 January 1996