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"Accuses Secretary Dulles," Library of Congress, P & P Online, LC-USZ62-132247Ad Hominem

Abstract: The argument whereby attention is drawn to a person's character or circumstances rather than evaluating that person's claims is characterized with examples and shown to be sometimes persuasive but normally fallacious. Related appeals in reasoning examined here include the ad personam, tu quoque, ex concessis, poisoning the well, guilt by association, ad feminam, and genetic fallacies, among others. Nonfallacious uses of argumentum ad hominem are also examined.

  1. ad Hominem Fallacy: (abusive and circumstantial): the fallacy of attacking the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a statement or an argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument. Often the argument is characterized simply as a personal attack.

    Informal Structure of ad Hominem Fallacy

    Person L proffers claim C.
    Person L's circumstance or character is unsatisfactory, or L does not act in accordance with C.

    Claim C is implausible or unlikely.

    1. The ad hominem abusive is the fallacy that that an agent's belief has not been proved (or is mistaken) because that person is somehow deficient as evidenced by some undesirable aspects of that person's characteristics, personality, motives, morality, or competence.[1] Consider this example:

      “After a 35-year career in agriculture, which took me to all corners of the world in segments ranging from animal productivity to plant protection, genetics, and biotechnology, I … reviewed Prince Charles' speech. I found foolishness and arrogant condescension.”[2]

    2. The ad hominem circumstantial is the fallacy that someone's belief is mistaken because that person's position is motivated by actions or personal circumstances which most likely bias that person's judgment. This is a fairly typical example:

      “[Alger] Hiss still has a ragtag remnant of defenders, historical illiterates who are disproportionately academics. They often are the last to learn things because they have gone to earth in the groves of academe in order to live in an alternative reality.[3]

    3. Since the circumstantial variety of the ad hominem fallacy can often be regarded as a special case of the abusive in that it is an indirect personal attack, the distinction between the ad hominem abusive and the ad hominem circumstantial is in some contexts ignored as an inconsequential distinction.

  2. Argumentum ad Hominem : reasoning by appealing to the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a claim in order to determine the plausibility of that claim. The argumentum ad hominem is not always fallacious, an individual's personal character and circumstances are sometimes logically related to the issues under discussion.[4]

    1. The informal fallacy of argumentum ad hominem occurs when an examination of issues is discontinued in pursuance of an irrelevant personal attack — e.g., impeaching the testimony of a reliable eye witness to a felony.

      1. When an examination of issues is logically benefited by reference to the character or circumstances of an individual, no informal fallacy occurs — e.g., impeaching the testimony of a visually impaired eye witness to a felony.

      2. Note that for the argumentum ad hominem fallacy to occur, (1) an irrevelant appeal is made and (2) a (logical) argument must be present.

    2. The commonsensical assumptions upon which the argumentum ad hominem is based generally include the belief that flawed persons are not credible and logical as well as the belief that decent persons are trustworthy and reasonable.

    3. The fallacy version draws its appeal from the technique of “getting personal.” But the fallacy does not occur when the evidence adduced for the accused character of circumstances is logically independent of the argument being adduced by the accused. If the grounds for the claim are logically independent of the antagonist's argument, then the claim, not being relevant, is to be assessed in accordance with other (relevant) reasons.[5]

  3. Logicians today distinguish several prevailing indistinct varieties of fallacies related to the argumentum ad hominem fallacy:

    1. In the ad personam fallacy the statement or argument at issue is dropped from consideration or is completely ignored, and the adversary's character or circumstances is subjected to personal attack.[6] Recently in several logic textbooks, the ad personam is taken to be a name replacement for the traditional ad hominem because the meaning of ad hominem, which is “‘to’ or ‘toward’ a human being (or the person),“ might be misinterpreted, if the phrase is translated from the Latin as meaning “to or toward the man.” This latter translation may well be part of the reason some recent writers have added the separate fallacy of ad feminam to their list of informal fallacies[7], a fallacy defined as an attack on a woman's character or circumstances in order to cast doubt on her claims.

      1. Consider this example of an ad personam (which can also be classified as either an ad hominem abusive fallacy or a name calling fallacy):

        “Secretary of State John Kerry says that there is less violence than usual in the world right now. Meanwhile the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, says the opposite, that terrorism is more violent and dangerous than ever. Since Clapper is Director of National Intelligence, maybe Kerry should have the title Director of National Stupidity.“[8]

      2. A well known ad personam example of the ad hominem (circumstantial) variety is Voltaire's criticism of Rousseau's Emile, or Treatise on Education by reason of the author's dereliction of his own children:

        “Excessive pride and envy have destroyed Jean-Jacques, my illustrious philosopher. That monster dares speak of education! He abandoned his children and the tramp with whom he made them.”[9]

    2. The tu quoque fallacy, where the locutor responds to an ad hominem attack with the same accusation against the person to whom the locutor is confronting, is a narrower form of the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. In other words, rather than trying to disprove an accuser's proposed argument against one's own position, one responds by asserting that the same kind of argument applies to the accuser. The inconsistency of a claimant is shown by accusing the claimant of the same sort of allegation for which a locutor has been denounced.

      Whenever the response in kind to a locutor's claim or argument does not involve a personal attack either of character or circumstances, the tu quoque fallacy would not be considered a type of ad hominem fallacy.

      1. In cross examination or in debate, the tu quoque fallacy is sometimes depicted as “My argument might be bad, but yours is worse.” Thus, the conversational implication is my argument is good by way of comparison. Note that this fallacy is usually only rhetorically effective in the presence of a third party.[10]

      2. If the basis of dispute is the criticism of a someone's argument, the fallacy can be summarized as “O.K., I understand your criticism of my contention, but the same criticism you point out applies to your thinking as well.” As Aristotle wrote, “[F]or it is the absurdity of impudence to arraign others for the very same things of which we ourselves have been guilty,”[11] and again, “The second way is, when a defender discredits his accuser, by retorting his own accusations.”[12]

      3. E.g., consider this anecdote told by an early feminist social reformer:

        “In the discussion after a Forum lecture in Boston, an address on some aspect of the Woman question, a man in the gallery, who evidently took exception to a dull rose fillet I wore in my hair, demanded to know how women could expect to equal men ‘so long as they took so much time fixing up their hair and putting ribbons in it’? There was some commotion, and cries of ‘Put him out!’ but I grinned up at him cheerfully and replied, ‘I do not think it has been yet established whether it takes a woman longer to do her hair than it does a man to shave.’ This was not an answer at all, but it seemed to please every one but the inquirer.”[13]

        Notice how the lecturer recognizes the irrelevancy of her response to the man in the gallery's impertinent remark.

    3. The argument from commitment or ex concessis argument is a purported proof relative to a specific person. The fallacy occurs whenever an opponent is charged with taking a position or acting in such a manner which conflicts with, or is inconsistent with, some previous position to which the opponent has accepted. The basis of the fallacy is the comparison of two conflicting positions of the locutor with whom someone is deliberating. The mistaken reasoning is that since the two positions differ, the later position must be mistaken.[14]

      1. So, this form of the fallacy is committed when someone is accused of being hypocritical and is personally accused of not believing in, or not acting in accordance with, commitments he has taken on another occasion. Nevertheless, even hypocrites are capable of espousing a good argument.[15]

      2. E.g., in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus attempts to justify to a group of Pharisees a task of healing on the Sabbath as follows:

        “2 And, behold there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy.
        3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?
        4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightaway pull him out on the sabbath day?
        6 And they could not answer him again to these things.”[16]

    4. Obviously, a simple inconsistency in thought or action is not a fallacy unless the inconsistency is part of the same argument under consideration. The ex concessis variety of the ad hominem fallacy occurs when the previous commitment or position is not specifically germane to the specific subject under consideration.

      1. The ex concessis form of the fallacy is committed when an interlocutor states that his opponent's argument must be mistaken because his opponent has previously given an argument which is inconsistent with the present argument. But the fact that the opponent might, at one time, have believed something different from what the present argument provides, does not necessarily imply the present argument or claim is mistaken.

      2. Schopenhauer clarifies another variant of this form of fallacious reasoning: “Should your opponent be in the right, but luckily for your contention, choose a faulty proof, you can easily manage to refute it, and then claim you have refuted his whole position. This trick … is, at bottom, an expedient by which an argumentum ad hominem is put forward … ” [17]

      3. Here's a typical example of the Ad hominem ex concessis fallacy:

        “[An] octogenarian professor from the University of Texas named Lino Graglia … dutifully informed the committee that ‘a law ending birthright citizenship should and likely would survive constitutional challenge.’ But consider the source: a man who by his own account takes ‘a very limited view of the power of the Supreme Court‘ and breezily dismisses contrary precedents.”[18]

  4. Other fallacies associated with or overlapping the main types of ad hominem outlined above include the personal attack, name calling, and poisoning the well, guilt by association, and the genetic fallacy.

    1. The personal attack fallacy is normally regarded as a harsh ad hominem abusive fallacy. Note the disproportionate criticism in the following example:

      “We hold that the deceitful and vacuous writings presented by Lyotard, and by many of his fellow postmodernists, are texts that purposely lead their readers to stray into errancy. … Often, they reject all and any truth, and merely spread ignorance and mendacity. Hence, these deceitful vacuous writing belong in the dustbin of history!”[19]

    2. The fallacy of name calling, also a variant of the ad hominem abusive fallacy, occurs on those occasions where loaded or negatively-slanted epithets or appellations characterizing a locutor are used to cast doubt on the worth of the locutor's beliefs. Often such insults are used to devalue another's arguments or beliefs.

      1. For the name-calling fallacy to occur, the locutor must have used irrelevant name calling as a reason for doubting the locutor's argument or conclusion. Thus, any evidence of the name's propriety is not evidence against the argument or conclusion itself.

      2. The following point of view is a typical example of name calling:

        “I don't get to write the following words very often, but Justice Antonin Scalia was right. Not about gay marriage, of course. Scalia is so antediluvian he has trouble forcing himself to call it by its proper name.”[20]

        The ad hominem fallacy occurs here since the writer asserts that the reason Supreme Court Justice Scalia does not use the proper term for same sex marriage is that the Justice is antediluvian.

      3. Note that simply using abusive names to belittle a person is not fallacious in itself. Occasionally name calling is done in order to divert attention away from the argument under discussion. The following passage seems fallacious, but it is an instance of nonargumentative name calling. Lexically, the example can be properly termed an ad hominem, but, logically, not an ad hominem fallacy.

        “Politicians and lawyers pretend they are important people doing important work, but often they're important because they are parasites. They feed off others, wile creating no wealth of their own.[21]

    3. The fallacy of poisoning the well is, in a sense, a kind of preemptive ad hominem argument. In poisoning the well, a disputant claims that an adversary's arguments cannot be trusted to be credible because of an adversary's prior fixed opinion or previous commitment. Such a person is said to be untrustworthy in present assertions because, it is claimed, that person has always been prejudiced and narrow-minded. In nearly all poisoning-the-well examples a person's motives are used to attempt to discredit the claims of that person and so are instances of the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.[22]

      1. Since we normally assess the truth of a claim by a body of existing beliefs, if the existing belief-set is suspect, then our ability to assess the claim is seriously undermined. So in the fallacy of poisoning the well, odious information about an adversary is preemptively adduced in order to discredit any possible response made by the opponent.

        The fallacy is illustrated in the following example where a conservative British politician's assesment of the European Union referendum and Brexit are thwarted by this criticism:

        “The poisonous rancour of Norman Tebbit is nothing new, but even their lordships gasped at his complaint about ‘looking after foreigners and not the British.’”[23]

      2. E.g., consider the following example of accusing an opponent of the kind of fixed bias implicit in poisoning the well:

        “Michael closed his eyes as if to shut out the world around him. ‘You'll never understand what it means to swear allegiance to the flag and to your country. You'll never understand what it means to be a soldier.‘
        [Samantha] ‘You're right, Michael, I don't understand, and I will never understand why men have to kill each other. It is beyond my comprehension why you had to fight in this useless war. A war that is so wrong and should have never happened.’”[24]

        Michael's argument here is that since Samantha cannot understand what it means to be a soldier, she cannot understand the values of a soldier.

      3. In gender studies, for example, it is sometimes assumed that women and men will never understand each other's point of view because of their inherent differences. From the outset, this assumption forestalls the possibility of a common neutral understanding and sets up an irremediable barrier to meaningful interactive discourse. When examined, such a presupposition would imply that no one could ever understand anything inherently different from one's self. Ultimately, examples such as this one are fraught with difficulties similar to the intractable problem of other minds.

    4. The fallacy of guilt by association, a fallacy resembling in some ways poisoning the well, often makes use of ad hominem considerations. In the fallacy of guilt by association, the contentions or arguments of a locutor are judged on the basis of the locutor's discredited or suspicious affiliations. Thus, the adversary's position is attacked on the grounds that the adversary belongs to some kind of questionable or suspect social group. The allegation is as follows: because an agent is somehow affiliated with a discredited enterprise, the agent's claims are not credible. Here's an example:

      “In several letters to high-ranking government officials, [Rep. Michele] Bachmann has raised questions about Huma Abedin, a Muslim-American, who is deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Bachmann's concern is Abedin's relatives in the Middle East some of whom — such as Abedin's mother — she claims ‘are connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations.’ Abedin's job, according to Bachmann, ‘affords her routine access to the secretary and to policy making.’ And, as a result of that access, says Bachmann, ‘the State Department, and in several cases, the specific direction of the secretary of state, have taken actions recently that have been enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests.’” [25]

    5. The genetic fallacy can occasionally converge with the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. The genetic fallacy is the irrelevant attempt to refute or base a claim or argument on the basis of its origin or history. The mistake in reasoning occurs because of the confusion of temporal order with logical order.[26] Nevertheless, the source as to how evidence is obtained is often irrelevant to its logical significance.

      If the origin of an argumentative claim arises from an agent of some kind, the cogency of that claim is not justified when the source is not logically related to the claim. A claim should be justified on the basis of its own merit. Here's a brief allusion to a fallacy which can be properly reconstructed as an ad hominem circumstantial fallacy or a genetic fallacy:

      “Would one regard a theorem in mathematics less praiseworthy because its discoverer was uneducated, or otherwise disreputably credentialed?”[27]

  5. Several considerations for evaluating ad hominem passages deserve comment:

    1. When examining scientific, literary or philosophical works, looking at the author's character or circumstance can sometimes provide insight into that person's standpoint. In other words, ad hominem considerations can show motives and can sometimes provide a frame of reference for deeper comprehension. However, these perspectives do not ordinarily demonstrate the truth or falsity of the ideas. Consider the following passage:

      “John Stacy … made the connection between the radical power of Byron's poetics and his Satanic as well as melancholic genius. Accusing Byron of a ‘misanthropy run mad,’ of trying ‘to make the world believe he is miserable, and to persuade it to be as miserable as himself’, the author writes ‘I grant him genius …, an eloquence of poetry …’”[28]

      The suggestion that the brilliance of Lord Byron's poetry might be due to his manic-depressive illness is a literary insight into the possible literary effect of specific characteristics of Byron's personality. No fallacy occurs because no argument is present.

    2. The character of a person is often relevant for an evaluation of the sincerity of views being offered and so can be relevant for pragmatic decision-making.

      E.g., D. M. Varisco explains the necessity of having awareness of Edward Said's circumstances in order to make sense of Said's 1978 polemical book Orientalism objecting to the presumption of Western superiority in patronizingly describing the Eastern World:

      “From the start the reactions to Orientalism ranging from the ad hoc to the ad hominem, read into Said the critic as well and as poorly as into what the critic was saying. Said's origins and political activism as an Arab-American intellectual can hardly be left out of analysis.”[29]

    3. A fallacy might occur in passages such as these if the work were to be considered misguided and discredited solely because of the degenerate character and circumstances of the author. The essential question in judging whether or not an ad hominem argument is a fallacy is whether or not the author's character and circumstances are logically relevant to the assertions or the arguments in the work itself.

  6. Non-fallacious uses of the ad hominem can occur in diverse descriptive and rhetorical contexts. When evidence about a person's character or circumstances is adduced to disclose the motive for that person's assertion, rather than to dispute the assertion itself, such instances often involve the presence of a causal explanation rather than the presence of an argument.

    1. In arguments where the character or circumstances are relevant to the substance of the argument, no fallacy occurs. E.g., the following passage is not fallacious:

      “If [Thomas] Jefferson's relationship with [Sally] Hemings began in the late 1780's, it would mean that he began to back away from a leadership position in the anti-slavery movement just around the time that his affair with Sally Hemings started. Jefferson's stated reservations about ending slavery included a fear that emancipation would lead to racial mixing and amalgamation. His own interracial affair now personalizes this issue, while adding a dimension of hypocrisy.”[30]

    2. Moreover, if a speaker merely responds to an accusation pertaining to his character or circumstances by retorting that the accuser also has the same or similar character or circumstances, no fallacy necessarily occurs if there is no (logical) argument present. In other words, if a disputant's rejoinder of the same non-argumentative accusation exhibits the rhetoric of tu quoque, it is not necessarily an instance of the tu quoque fallacy unless the claim is implicit that the rejoinder is intended to disqualify some sort of argumentative criticism from the accuser.

      Consider this example of a non-fallacious tu quoque and simple name-calling from a play:

      “BLONDEL (indignantly).—You are not one of my century, or you would not be so discourteous. Sir, you are an anachronism. TELL.—Sir, you are another.”[31]

    3. The truth or falsity of a what is said does not depend on the character of the person saying it, unless what is said is directly applicable to the person saying it. E.g., William James famously distinguishes two philosophical temperaments:

      “The history of philosophy is a clash of human temperaments. … Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries, when philosophizing, to sink the fact of his temperament. … Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. …I think you will practically recognize the two types of mental make-up that I mean … by the titles ‘tender-minded’ and ‘tough-minded’ respectively.”[32]

      If James were to claim that all philosophers were either tender-minded or tough-minded, but as a philosopher, he is not, then the argumentum ad hominem against him would not be deemed fallacious.

    4. In brief, if the characteristics of a person constitute a disconfirming instance of what that person claims, then an argumentum ad hominem is not a fallacious. If the persons making a claim individually embodies a counterexample which disproves that person's own claim, then it is not a fallacy to point out this fact to that person.

    5. A number of logicians have argued that the argumentum ad hominem is not a fallacy. They argue the ad hominem has been thought fallacious because its instances do not meet the conventional logical standards of deductive validity or inductive correctness or probability. On this view, since, in most everyday contexts of reasoning, validity or inductive plausibility is inapplicable, ad hominem considerations do render some evidence, however weak, and so should not be presupposed as errors.[33] This standpoint serves to emphasize the constitutive contextual nature of informal fallacy identifications.

    6. When the character or circumstances of an individual are relevant to what that persons advances as a claim, the fallacy of ad hominem does not occur. Douglas N. Walton has proposed re-naming the ad hominem abusive as the ad hominem direct to reflect the fact that the argumentum ad hominem describes both fallacious and non-fallacious arguments.[34]

  7. The following examples of the argumentum ad hominem are fairly straight-forward and require only brief explanation. Note whether or not in each case the character and/or circumstances of the individual being depicted are germane to the claims made.

ad Hominem Examples

  1. “Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State, responding to a question about former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's criticism of her in his memoir: ‘Don can be a grumpy guy. We all know that.’”[35]

    Comment: Rather than addressing Mr. Rumsfeld's criticism, Ms. Rice imputes ill-temper to him.

  2. “[W]hen consultant/pundit/Democrat Hilary Rosen commented on CNN that Ann Romney had never held a job (and therefore was ill-suited to advise her husband on women's employment concerns), … the Catholic League … tweeted: ‘Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.’”[36]

    Comment: The allusion to whether reared children were adopted or not is not directly relevant in the context provided to deliberation about women's employment concerns.

  3. “In America, the go-to guy on ADHD is Dr. Russell Barkley … Barkley is on record saying that although behavior therapy (behavior modification) can be a useful supplementary treatment, no approach to ADHD has ever or is probably ever going to completely replace pharmaceutical therapy. In this regard it is significant to note that Barthe developer of the popular ADHD drug Strattera.”[37]

    Comment: Normally the evidence for the truth or falsity of the claim would be, strictly speaking, independent of Dr. Barkley's past connections. However, Dr. Barkley's expertise cannot be entirely disregarded since his testimony and experience is relevant to the issue being discussed.

  4. ”President Trump is apparently convinced that his son-in-law, who serves officially as a senior adviser, can fix anything. Make that everything. … Kushner is supposed to bring the mindset and practices of the business world to the public sector. Given that his father went to jail for crimes including tax evasion, and that his boss declared four businesses bankruptcies, we can only hope Kushner looks far afield for role models.”[37]

    Comment: The implicit argument is that Jared Kushner is unlikely to be successful in his duties by reason that his father is a felon and Donald Trump declared bankruptcies. Hence, the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy is committed.

  5. “Once he [Benjamin F. Butler] was cross-questioning a witness in his characteristic manner (with him politeness, or even humanity, was out of the question). The judge interrupted to remind him that the witness was a Harvard professor. ‘I know it, your Honor,’ replied Butler; ‘we hanged one of them the other day.’”

    Comment: Mr. Butler argues that his rude cross examination of a Harvard professor is unexceptional since a Harvard professor was hanged recently — implying the witness' character is determinable by association with other Harvard professors.

  6. ”[The New York Times] chronicled the enormous benefits French citizens receive. Paid child care, free higher education, free health care, a mandatory five weeeks of paid vacation, monthly government payments for each child … There comes a point when ideology has to be put aside and what's good for the country must be embraced. France is a selfish nation that is going down the drain economically because the folks there want stuff and economics be damned.”[40]

    Comment: Although Mr. O'Reilly gives cogent reasons that government regulation and high taxes are part of an unsustainable economy, assessing reasons for this conclusion by attacking the character of the French people as wanting stuff, not caring about economics, and being selfish, is fallacious.

  7. “Marvin Greenberg … spent many painful years in the garment business. As he sees it, consumers willing to pay more for better — and American — made clothes will remain a definite minority. The vast shopping public demands basement-scraping prices on two-for-one deals. Patriotism ends at the cash register. He's seen it happen. ‘Back in the '50's there was a union protest in Fall River (Mass.) about saving jobs, stopping imports,’ Greenberg recalls. ‘People carrying signs were wearing imported clothes.’”[41]

    Comment: Assuming an implicit argument, the conversational implication is that American will not pay more for American apparel manufacturing to help American workers because even garment workers themselves do not do so. Also the reasoning is based on one group of workers to a conclusion about all Americans and converse accident is suggested. Nevertheless, the implicit argument qualifies as a weak inductive argument rather than a clear fallacy.

  8. “The recent hype about global warming comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change. Most of its members are serious scientists. But reporters don't realize that those scientists, like bird flu specialists, have every incentive to hype the risk. If their computer models (which so far have been wrong) predict disaster, they get attention and money. If they say, “I'm not sure,” they get nothing.”[42]

    Comment: Ad hominem fallacy occurs since Mr.Stossel ignores the empirical issues relating to global warming to claim that conclusions of the scientists on the Intergovermental Panel are not so much empirically based as they are based upon securing recognition and government funding.

  9. “Actress Salma Hayek has just been honoured at Equality Now's ‘Make Equality Reality’ event, for co-founding ‘Chime for Change’, which fights for women's rights around the world. At the ceremony, which also honoured Gloria Steinem, Hayek said: ’I am not a feminist. If men were going through the things women are going through today, I would be fighting for them with just as much passion. I believe in equality.‘ … This is about the astonishing persistence of what I'd term small-f feminist-woman. … The kind of woman, such as Hayek, who accepts an award for helping women at an event also honouring Gloria Steinem (Gloria Steinem!) and then has the graceless gall to use it as an opportunity to announce that she isn't a feminist … You have to wonder — what's with these women and their seemingly all-consuming need to distance themselves from feminism? An unworthy thought crawls through my brain: is this a man-pleasing exercise … Or does it go yet deeper, darker, than that, into the realms of female self-hatred? … While some may view this as an overreaction to some red carpet waffling, to me, this is about small-f feminist-woman and how her unique brand of self-hatred is taking far too long to die out.”[43] Comment: In addition to the verbal disagreement concerning the meaning of feminism, Ms. Hayek is accused of either “man pleasing” behavior or “female self-hatred” for her statement that she is not a feminist.

  10. “Norman Vincent Peale, a broadcast preacher and author of The Power of Positive Thinking … said [Adlai] Stevenson was unfit to be president because he was divorced. Stevenson said: “I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”[44]

    Comment: Mr. Peale and Mr. Stevenson both commit the fallacy of ad hominem. Mr. Peale's personal attack turns on a non causa pro causa that being divorced is a cause a being unfit for the presidency, and Mr. Stevenson's name-calling is his response to the adequacy of Mr. Peale's argument.

Online Quizzes

Test your understanding of ad hominem arguments with one of the the following quizzes:

Ad Hominem Examples Exercise
Fallacies of Relevance I
Fallacies of Relevance II
Fallacies of Relevance III

Some judge of authors' names, not work, and then
Nor praise nor blame the writings, but the men.

Alexander Pope, The Works of Alexander Pope, vol. II, An Essay on Criticism (London: Longman Brown, and Co. 1847), 357.


1. Many textbooks state the argumentum ad hominem fallacy as concluding the opponent's case is false, but the non-deductive intent of such arguments makes the ad hominem “an inferential failure” whether the opponent's claim is called unproved or thought to be false. [John Woods, ”Lightening up on the Ad Hominem,” Informal Logic 27 no. 1 (2007), 124-125.]

2. Alan Koepcke, “Aristocratic Agriculture,” Baron's 92 no. 43 (22 Oct. 2012), 54.

3. George F. Will, “The man who helped kill the Soviet Union with information,” The Washington Post (accessed 8 Aug. 2015).

4. Note that this definition of argumentum ad hominem departs from most current logic and critical thinking textbooks which still follow Roy Wood Sellar's influential and originating definition: “In this fallacy the argument is directed against the character of the man who is the opponent instead of adhering to its proper task of proving the point at issue.” Sellars insightfully points out, “[S]uch arguments … are more non-logical than illogical.” [Roy Wood Sellars, Essentials of Logic (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1917), 153.]

5. Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst rightly point out that in the standard treatment of fallacies, “the notion of logical relevance is left undefined and its connection with logical validity remains unexplained.” [Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst, “Argumentum Ad Hominem: A Pragma-Dialectical Case in Point,” Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Reading eds. Hans V. Hansen and Robert C. Pinto (Univ. Park: Penn State Press, 1995), 223]. Argumentum ad hominem examples are not necessarily deductive arguments, and for these, logical validity needs no explanation. Even so, an adequate explanation of relevancy remains a genuine problem for the standard treatment of informal fallacies. Eemeren and Grootendorst also distinguish ad hominem arguments as being rhetorical rather than dialectical since their effectiveness depends upon the presence of an audience ”in order to silence the other party.” [Frans H. van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst, Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris Publications,1984), 191.]

6. The characterization of the argumentum ad personam has a checkered history.

(1) In this example use from a parliamentary debate in 1884, the phrase is employed as a synonym for argumentum ad hominem: “… the speech of the honourable member for Selwyn, which was nothing but a constant application of the principle of the argumentum ad hominem, or the argumentum ad personam. It is nothing but a tissue of sneers and jeers and ridicule …” [J. Holmes, “Supply: Resumed Debate,” New Zealand Parliamentary Debates: Legislative Council and House of Representatives 48 (Wellington: New Zealand: G. Didsbury, 1884), 502.]

(2) Schopenhauer states in reference to the ad personam, “[I]n becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character.” [Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy and Other Posthumous Papers (London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1896), 46.]

(3) Schopenhauer, however, regards the ad personam and the ad hominem as different fallacies. Few logicians and rhetoricians today follow his separation of these two fallacies. He restricts the ad personam to the personal attack and the ad hominem to the ex concessis. [Schopenhauer, “Art of Controversy,” 46.] Bentham terms this version of the argumentum ad personam the argumentum ad odium. [Jeremy Bentham, Plan of Parlimentary Reform in The Works of Jeremy Bentham ed. John Bowring III (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838), 499.] Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca follow Schopenhauer's distinction. [

(4) The ad personam fallacy also has been occasionally defined as appealing to the personal interests of someone in order persuade someone to accept an argumentative claim. That is, rather than directing an argument towards the issue at hand (argumentum ad rem), the argument is directed not toward the issue but toward that which might influence a particular opponent (argumentum ad personam, [James Hervey Hyslop, Logic and Argument New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907),176] or defined as simply “an appeal to personal interest” [J. L. Mackie, “Fallacies,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy ed. Paul Edwards (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 3: 178].

In general use, however, ad hominem and ad personam are used synonymously. See for example Douglas N. Watson, Informal Fallacies: Towards a Theory of Argument Criticisms (Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing, 1987), 8.

. Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968) 800.

Historically, the phrase argumentum ad feminam has been used in several different ways. (1) With exceptions, most uses before 1940 refer to the methods of special pleading used to persuade a woman to accept some claim or point of view.

(2) According to the OED the earliest use for ad feminam as a means of discrediting a woman by reference to her character or circumstances is 1970. More recently the OED changed the first use to the mid 19th century. The entry for “ad feminam” is “after ad hominem adv. and adj., where this is (erroneously or facetiously) interpreted as a gender-specific term requiring a feminine analogue.” [“ad feminam, adv.,” (draft entry September 2006) Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)]. See also the online entry from English Oxford Living Dictionaries at

There are references to the ad feminam in the sense of attempting to discredit a woman before the mid 19th century, however. For example, in Sir Walter Scott's novel, Redgauntlet: “The argumentum ad hominem, the last to which a polite man has recourse, may, however, be justified by circumstances, but seldom or never the argumentum ad fœminam“ [(Boston: Samuel H. Parker, 1824) 114-115] where this definition is provided in the glossary of a later edition: “argumentum ad hominem, ad feminam, lit. ‘the argument to a man, to a woman,’ refutation of a man's argument by an example drawn from his own conduct.” [Sir Walter Scott, Redgauntlet (London: Oxford University Press, 1912), 501.]

In accordance with the proliferation of fallacies in the last fifty years, the argumentum ad feminam in the sense of attempting to discredit a woman's claim by appeal to her character or circumstances may well become mainstream. If so, then recognition might follow, as it has recently with the ad hominem, that the ad feminam argument would not be necessarily fallacious by definition.

8. Thomas Sowell, “ Random Thought on the Passing Scene,” Index-Journal 97 no. 14 (March 5, 2015), 6A. This example of the abusive ad hominem is sometimes called the name calling fallacy.

9. T. Besterman, Voltaire's Correspondence “Voltaire to d'Alembert, 17 June 1762 ” XLIX (Geneva: Institute et Musée Voltaire, 1953-1977), 34.

10. Tu quoque arguments are intrinsically rhetorical rather than dialectical since their effectiveness depends on the presence of spectators. F.H. van Eemeren and R. Grootendorst, Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions (Dordrecht; Cinnaminson, N.J., Foris Publications: 1984), 191.

11. Aristotle, A New Translation of Aristotle's Rhetoric trans. John Gillies (London: T. Cadell, 1823), 339.

12. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 339.

13. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Living of Charlotte Perkins Gilman: An Autobiography (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1935), 328.

14. Schopenhauer writes, “Another trick is to use arguments ad hominem or ex concessis. When your opponent makes a proposition, you must try to see whether it is not in some way — it needs be, only apparently — inconsistent with some other proposition which he has made or admitted …” Schopenhauer, Art of Controversy, 27-8.

In this regard, Muras explains, “T]here is an incompatibility between the thesis the adversary is now defending and the thesis he was able to defend previously [in] his words or in his concrete acts.” Stéphane Muras, Manuel de Polémique (Paris: Editions du Relief, 2013), 314.

15. Isaac Watts describes this type of ad hominem in this manner: “[Y]et if from the principles and concessions of your opponent, you can support your argument … this has been always counted a fair treatment of an adversary, and is called argumentum ad hominem, or ratio ex concessis.” Isaac Watts, The Improvement of the Mind 2nd. ed. (London: J. Brackstone, 1743), 165-6.

16. St. Luke 14:2-6 Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945).

17. Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy, 45. This mode of argumentation emerged from a different form of ex concessis where one uses the self-same prejudices of an individual in order to convince him something else is true even though one does not recognize the truth of that individual's assumptions.

18. Dana Milbank, “ House Republicans Want to Gut Key American Principle,” Index-Journal 97 no. 69 (May 1, 2015), 9A.

19. Hiam Gordon and Rivca Gordon, Heidegger on Truth and Myth (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006), 42.

20. Eugene Robinson, “Surrender to the Inevitable,” Index-Journal 96 no. 132 (8 Oct. 2014), 8A.

21. John Stossel, “On Parasites: Or, About Lawyers and Politicians,” Index-Journal 95 no. 354 (7 Feb. 2015), 9A.

22. Just as in all fallacies of relevance, there are times when the recognition of an opponent's deeply rooted prejudice would be a relevant factor in discontinuing an open dialogue. E.g., there would be little advantage in attempting an open and honest political debate with someone espousing the following fixed opinion:

“[W]e must be closed to compromise. No one need try to convince me otherwise. The effort is futile; my conviction is absolute.” [Charles M. Blow, “The Death of Compassion,” The New York Times (23 Feb. 2017) (accessed 23 Feb. 2017)]. A stance such as this leads credence to the ad hominem charge of bias since the author is so deeply entrenched in a partisan issue that he refuses to consider any possible evidence for an opposing view.

Even so, to some extent, everyone has deeply rooted fixed opinions: “There is still another kind of prejudice similar to that just considered — namely, the judgments which are born of other minds and which, nevertheless, we come to appropriate as our own. the reasons in which such judgments are grounded we have never examined ourselves — possibly we could never understand even if they were presented to us with elaborate explanation; and yet the second-hand judgments cannot be eliminated wholly from our body of knowledge without an incalculable loss. ” John Grier Hibben, “A Defence of Prejudice,” Scribner's Magazine, 43 no. 1 (Jan. 1908), 118.

23. Polly Toynbee, “The Lords Exposed the Government's Hypocrisy After Protecting EU Citizens,” The Guardian 2 Mar. 2017 (accessed 2 Mar. 2017). Ms. Toynbee initiates distrust of Baron Tebbit in advance of his arguments.

24. Herbert Grosshans, Web of Conspiracy (While Bear Lake, MN: Mélange Books, 2011)

25. Cal Thomas, "Suppose Bachmann Is Right?" Index-Journal 94 no. 95 (2 Aug. 2012), 8A.

26. Cohen and Nagel first designated the genetic fallacy and classified it as a failure to make proper discrimination. Morris R. Cohen and Ernest Nagel, An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method rpt. (New Delhi: Allied Publsihers, 1968), 3 88.

27. Norwood Russell Hanson, “II. The Genetic Fallacy Revisited,” American Philosophical Quarterly 4 no.2 (April 1967), 101.

28. Dino Franco Felluga, Perversity of Poetry (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2005), 84-85.

29. Daniel Martin Varisco, Reading Orientalism (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007), 36.

30.Eric S. Lander and Joseph J. Ellis, “News and Views,” Nature 396 no. 6706 (5 Nov. 1998), 14.

31. Sophia Grace Toplis, Twelfth Night in Young England (London: Young England Office, 1833),121.

32. William James, Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1910), 6-11.

33. See for example David Hitchcock, ”Why There Is No Argumentum Ad Hominem Fallacy,” ISSA Proceedings 2006 in The Rozenberg Quarterly Magazine (accessed 11 March 2017). See also John Woods, “Lightening Up On the Ad HominemInformal Logic 27 no. 1 (2007), 111.

34. Douglas N. Walton, “Argumentation Schemes and Historical Origins of the Circumstantial Ad Hominem Argument,” Argumentation 18 (2004), 359-368.

35. “Briefing,” Time 177 no. 19 (16 May 2011) 177, 9.

36. Kathleen, Parker, "Girl Fight," Index-Journal 93 No. 355 (19 Apr. 2012), 8A.

37. John Rosemond, “ ADHD: You Are What You Eat,” Index-Journal 97 no. 187 (5 Sept. 2015), 7A.

38. Eugene Robinson, “Expected to Save the World, Kushner Will Surely Fail,” Index-Journal 99 no. 20 (2 Apr. 2017), 7a.

39. Francis L. Wellman, The Art of Cross-Examination (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 29.

40. Bill O'Reilly, “The French way,” Index-Journal 95 no. 191 (18 Nov. 2013), 6A.

41. Froma Harrop, “Will Americans Pay for American-Made?” Index-Journal 95 no. 204 (9 Dec., 2013), 9A.

42. John Stossel, “Earth Daze,” Index-Journal 95 no. 331 (14 Apr. 2014), 9A.

43. Barbara Ellen, “Faint-Hearted Feminists? What's Salma Hayek's Problem?The Guardian US edition (9 Nov. 2016). (accessed 16 Mar. 2017).

44. George Will, “The Apostle Mike Huckabee,” Index-Journal (12 May 2015) 97 No. 79, 6A.

Recommended Readings: Ad Hominem

“Ad hominem,” Wikipedia (accessed 7 March 2017).

Barth, E. M. and J.L. Martens, “Argumentum Ad Hominem: From Chaos to Formal Dialectic.” Logique & Analyse 20 no. 77-78 (1977): 76-96. (accessed 7 Mar. 2017).

Battaly, Heather. “Attacking Character: Ad Hominem Argument and Virtue Epistemology,” Informal Logic 30 no.4 (2010): 361-390. (accessed 2 March 2017).

Bondy, Patrick. “Bias in Legitimate Ad Hominem Arguments.” In Argumentation, Objectivity, and Bias, eds. P. Bondy and L. Benacquista OSSA (May 2016): 1-8. (accessed 15 Mar. 2017).

Bondy, Patrick. “Virtues, Evidence, and Ad Hominem Arguments.” Informal Logic 35 no. 4 (2015): 450-466. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Brinton, Alan. “A Rhetorical View of the Ad Hominem.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 63 no. 1 (1985): 50-63.

Brinton, Alan. “The Ad hominem.Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Readings. Eds. Hans V. Hansen and Robert C. Pinto. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, (1995): 213-222.

Budzynska, Katarzna and Chris Reed. “The Structure of Ad Hominem Dialogues” Computational Models of Arguments (2012): 410-421. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Chichi, Graciela Marta. “The Greek Roots of the Ad Hominem-Argument.” Argumentation 16 (2002): 333-348.

Curtis, Gary N. “Argumentum ad Hominem,” The Fallacy Files (accessed 7 March 2017).

De Wijze, Stephen. “Complexity, Relevance and Character: Problems with Teaching the Ad Hominem Fallacy.” Educational Philosophy and Theory 35 (2003): 31-56.

Engel, S. Morris. “The Five Forms of the Ad Hominem Fallacy.” Inquiry 14 no. 1 (Autumn 1994): 19-36.

Hitchcock, David. “Is There an Argumentum ad Hominem Fallacy?” On Reasoning and Argument ed. David Hitchcock (Springer International, 2017), 409-419. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-53562-3_26

Hitchcock, David. “The Pragma-Dialectical Analysis of the Ad Hominem Fallacy.” In Considering Pragma-Dialectics. Eds. Peter Houtlosser and Agnès van Rees. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaus Associates, (2006): 109-119.

Hitchcock, David. “Why There is no Argumentum Ad Hominem Fallacy.” In Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation. Eds. F.H. van Eemeren and B. Garssen. 1 (Amsterdam: Sic Sat, 2007): 615-620.

Hoaglund, John. “Argumentum ad Hominem: Aut Bonum aut Malum?” Informal Logic 4 no. 3 (1981): 7-9. (accessed 12 Mar. 2017).

Jason, Gary James. “Is There a Case for Ad Hominem Arguments?” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 no. 2 (1984): 182-185.

Johnson, Christopher M. Johnson. “Reconsidering the Ad Hominem.” Philosophy 84 no. 2 (Apr. 2009): 251-266.

Johnstone, H.W., Jr., “Philosophy and Argumentum ad Hominem,” Journal of Philosophy 49 (1952), 489-498.

Krabbe, Erik C.W. and Doublas Walton, “It's All Very Well for You to Talk! Situationally Disqualifying Ad Hominem Attacks.” Informal Logic 15 no. 2 (1993): 79-91. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Mackenzie, P.T. “Ad Hominem and Ad VerecundiamInformal Logic 3 (1984): 9-11. (accessed 15 Mar. 2017).

McMurtry, John. “The Argumentum Ad Adversarium”Informal Logic 8 no. 1 (Winter, 1986): 27-36. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Mizrahi, Moti. “Take My Advice—I Am Not Following It: Ad Hominem Arguments as Legitimate Rebuttals to Appeals to Authority.” Informal Logic 30 no. 4 (2010): 435-456. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Meuffels, B. and F.H. van Eemeren, “Ordinary Arguers' Judgments on Ad Hominem Fallacies,” Advances in Pragma-dialectics ed. F.H. van Eemeren (Amsterdam: Sic Sat/Vale Press, 2002): 45-64.

Plug, H.J. “Parrying Ad-HominemArguments in Parliamentary Debates.” Proceedings of the 7th Conference of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation Eds. F.H. van Eemeren, et al. (Amsterdam: Rozenberg/Sic Sat.): 1538-1546. (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Raley, Yvone “Character Attacks: How to Properly Apply the Ad Hominem.” Scientific American Mind (accessed 7 March 2017).

van Eemeren, Frans H. and Rob Grootendorst, “Argumentum Ad Hominem: A Pragma-Dialectical Case in Point.” In Fallacies: Classical and Contemporary Readings, eds. Hans V. Hansen and Robert C. Pinto University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press: 1995): 223-228. Digital Text International (accessed 7 March 2017).

van Eemeren, Frans H. and Rob Grootendorst. “Relevance Reviewed: The Case of Argumentum ad Hominem.” Argumentation 6 no. 2 (1992): 141-159. (accessed 12 Mar.2017).

Walton, Douglas N. Ad Hominem Arguments. Tuscalooosa, AL: Univiversity of Alabama Press, 1998.

Walton, Douglas N. “Argumentation Schemes and Historical Origins of the Circumstantial Ad Hominem Argument.” Argumentation 18 (2004): 359-368. Available Google Scholar Search — (Creative Commons link). (accessed 14 Mar. 2017).

Walton, Douglas N. “The Ad Hominem Argument as an Informal Fallacy,” Argumentation 1 (1987): 317-331. (accessed 5 March 2017).

Walton, Douglas. “Formalization of the Ad Hominem Argumentation Scheme,” Journal of Applied Logic 8 no. 1 (Mar. 2010): 1-21. ScienceDirect (accessed 7 Mar. 2017).

Walton, Douglas N. “On a Razor's Edge: Evaluating Arguments from Expert Opinion,” Argument & Computation 5 no. 2/3 (2014), 139-159. DOI: 10.1080/19462166.2013.858183 Walton, Douglas N. “Searching for the Roots of the Circumstantial Ad Hominem.” Argumentation 15 (2001): 207-221. (accessed 15 Mar. 2017).

Walton, Douglas N. “Witness Testimony as Argumentation,” Witness Testimony Evidence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 12-61. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511619533.002 Woods, John. “Lightening up on the Ad Hominem.” Informal Logic 27 no. 1 (2007): 109-134. (accessed 13 Mar. 2017). Yap, Audrey. “Ad Hominem Fallacies, Bias, and Testimony.” Argumentation 27 (2013): 97-109.



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