The fallacy ad hominem gives form to that type of resource so common where someone chooses to attack us not because of the arguments we expose or defend, but because of what we are. The message stops importing to gain more importance our physique, our gender, personality, religion or any aspect outside the argument itself.
“Has Alejandro said that? Then it must be a falsehood only because it comes from him. ” These types of comments undoubtedly represent a reality type that is often seen in multiple contexts. It is that disrespectful attempt to discredit someone who defends an idea, by focusing on an irrelevant aspect, something that has nothing to do with the situation itself.
Thus, and beyond what we can think, the ad hominem fallacy is a strategy of rhetoric as powerful as it is gimmicky. Moreover, studies like the one carried out by Ralph M. Barnes and Heather M. Johnston, from the University of Montana (United States), point out that attacks on positions based on ad hominem fallacies are as effective as attacks based on in evidence.
If this is so, it is due to a simple reason: because of the impact it creates. It is known, for example, that it is common to use it in political media, as well as in judicial contexts and even in advertising campaigns. The objective is always the same: to discredit those in front of us, hence its Latin root and its meaning: ad hominem, against man.
There are different types of fallacies ad hominen, which constitute by themselves three types of abuse or personal attacks: there is the ad hominem abusive, the circumstantial and ad hominem tu quoque.
The ad hominem fallacy, the need to reflect a type of abuse
Trudy Govier, renowned philosopher of the University of Lethbridge, Canada and author of multiple works on logic and argumentation, points out something important. First of all we must understand what a fallacy is.
It is an error in reasoning, a failure that occurs when we give apparently credible arguments but in reality, are completely false. Likewise, fallacies can be committed by an involuntary error or by an obvious attempt to manipulate and dissuade others.
On the other hand, it is interesting to know that the ad hominen fallacy has been used since antiquity, but with a somewhat different sense to the current one. For example, Galileo used it often, as did John Locke or St. Thomas Aquinas. In all of them this fallacy came to represent rather that attempt to make the opponent see that his ideas were wrong. It was not intended to discredit him, but to make him see his own mistake.
Curiously, it is from the nineteenth century when this principle of logic begins to change. And it is done by the attempt to reflect behavior that is frequently seen. That where someone is attacked not to make him see the contradiction of his arguments. In this case the arguments are not taken into account because what is sought is to discredit the person at all costs. To do this, the point of attention is placed on superficial aspects, which are not very useful and are often meaningless.
It is clearly a type of abuse, a way of causing harm to the other.
Types of ad hominem fallacy
In political campaigns, ad hominem attacks are as common as expected. One example is that during the presidential campaign in the United States in 1800, John Adams was called “stupid, hypocritical, rude and an unprincipled oppressor.”
Another example. One of the most recurrent stratagems of Donald Trump is precisely the ad hominem fallacy. Thus, it is common that instead of refuting the arguments of their opponents with a minimum logic or evidence, resort to this principle of logic to discredit the person in the most unfounded way (remember for example how he attacked a disabled journalist from the New York Times, focusing only on this condition).
On the other hand, it is important to point out that we can differentiate three types of this principle from argumentative logic. They are the following.
Abusive ad hominem fallacy
The ad hominem fallacy seeks to produce direct damage to the person who argues an idea. There is a clear humiliation and a desire to harm the other. Thus, an example of this type of fallacy is the one that Donald Trump showed when making fun of the New York Times reporter.
Another sample would be the following:
I belong to an environmentalist party because I am concerned about the environment.
⇒ You are from an environmentalist party only because it is now fashionable, you do not have values or character and you let yourself be carried away only by current currents.
Circumstantial Ad hominem
In the ad hominen circumstantial fallacy seeks to attack a person by the circumstance in which it is (whether it is true or not). These would be some examples:
- We can not accept the arguments of politician X because it is financed by the Russians.
- It is better not to trust this doctor because he is overweight.
- You do not have to watch Tom Cruise movies because he practices Scientology.
Fallacy Ad hominem tu quoque (and you too)
The ad hominem fallacy is also known as the fallacy of hypocrisy. It is about attacking someone looking for their own contradictions, regardless of whether they have occurred or not. These would be a simple example:
⇒ “And you tell me to stop smoking? But until recently you smoked two packages a day! “
To conclude, as we see, this type of abusive argumentation occurs too frequently in many of our contexts. The worst of all is that they have an effect, create an impact and, in addition to harming the recipient, they usually praise the person who issues them, who uses and abuses the fallacies.