Skip to main content

Bad Argument Tactics: Ad Hominem and More

Argument and Debate


Ad Hominem Example. Obama commits Ad Hominem Fallacy, speaking against comments made by Sarah Pallin.

Against The Person

Ad Hominem is a Latin phrase which means, "against the person " or "against the man ."

This is a form of argument or an argument tactic that can lead to a number of detrimental effects as well as conclusions.

Firstly, Ad Hominem arguments and statements are a direct attack on a person's character, whoever the person is that is being pointed at via the ad hominem attack.

Next, but not lastly - the ad hominem statement is usually irrelevant to the topic matter that is being debated or discussed.

TECHNICALLY: the Ad Hominem is a form of fallacy and should be identified, then promptly removed from the debate, argument or discourse and conversation.

The ad hominem has no place in proper arguments, debates and - unless involved parties in the discussion or debate agree upon a side-event where "opinion" is allowed, ad hominem statements are, at best, unqualified judgments or opinions.

An example:

  • Speaker A makes claim Y
  • Speaker B inserts ad hominem attack against A
  • Speaker B follows up with the claim that "ad hominem" makes speaker A's claim false

No attention to claim "Y" here, the original issue. The fallacy statement (ad hominem attack) can lead to complete abandoning of the issues altogether.

This type of argument/statement is deemed a definite FALLACY because debates and discussions and ways of speaking in the format above rely on true/false details. The ad homimen attack DOES NOT LEAD TO A TRUTH or true statement as connected to the topic (Y) being discussed and is therefore aligned with falsehood, false conclusion, unfair conclusion and fallacy. Hence - ad hominem is a fallacy. (It makes statement about Y automatically disqualified in the argument).

The character or actions of a person (in almost all cases) cannot be put to bear on an argument where direct statements are made which are supposed to lead to a definite true/false conclusion. Ad Hominem attacks of any kind - no matter how flowery or impressive the words - will lead to a proper statement or conclusion.

However...many ad hominem attacks APPEAR fine - or well stated (if they're not made in a crude or entirely aggressive, malicious manner) - or they appear fairly logical in many cases. Partly, this appearance can be due to a ton of other elements in a discussion or debate which include "tone" of the speakers, deliberate attempts to conjure symbolic elements which reflect negatively on the attacked person, and many other intricate and covert word, speaking and body language tactics.

The bottom line is: ad hominem attacks are fallacies and cannot lead to a proper, logical conclusion.

The damage of their effect can be without limit, according to the audience who believes whatever the information is that is within the ad hominem statement, so the ad hominem attack can be a very, VERY serious way to use fallacy and manipulate both the debate opponent(s) and the audience...

We see ad hominem all the time in PROPAGANDA messages and documentaries which are broadcast to thousands of people at once in some of our daily news programming.

Before moving on, one last example of ad hominem (fallacy) in play:

  • John: It is my belief that abortion is wrong.
  • Jerry: Naturally you'd believe that because you're a priest!
  • John: But I gave you several points of argument on this issue already - take those into consideration and you'll see that abortion is wrong.
  • Jerry: Your arguments don't count because you're a priest and it's your duty to go be against on the issue of abortion and say abortion is wrong.

Here is how speaker A, speaker B and ad hominem Y fail to go to a technical, proper conclusion:

Scroll to Continue
  • John (A) issues a statement (Y) that abortion is wrong - he is against abortion
  • Jerry (B) brings out ad hominem against John (misdirecting away from the issue of abortion- Y) so that Jerry (B) says John (A) is wrong.
  • When John brings the argument/conversation back to the issue (abortion-A to Y again)
  • Jerry (B) claims that ad hominem - John is wrong because (still doesn't pertain to Y or the issue of abortion) he's a priest, etc

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

Ad Hominem Tu Quoque

This Latin wording is best described as "You TOO Fallacy." Again, commiting an ad hominem tu quoque statement misdirects away from the possibility of coming to a proper true/false claim or conclusion. This is why it is, like ad hominem above, called a "FALLACY."

Here's how it works:

  • Speaker A claims that "Y" is true
  • Speaker B puts forth that A's actions or a previous statement from A is inconsistent with "Y"
  • Therefore, B asserts that "Y" is false

Again, calling out an irrelevant other action of speaker A or detailing an inconsistent statement elsewhere of A does NOT necessarily make things so that Y is not true or that the original speaker's statement is untrue.

* Note - in a pair of inconsistent statements, only one statement can be true but both can be found false. Therefore, even bringing in an additional statement of any speaker is a more complicated matter than just to call a statement from a set argument or viewpoint invalid via outside statements. (If anything, you can bring something into question, in a situation like this but not negate or conclude against speaker A's first claim).

Many more steps in an argument must occur - and with great care and assurance that an additional statement outside the one argument can be proven to negate the current statement - in a series of sure steps...many more steps than in this simple argument format. An inconsistency certainly doesn't make the 1st speaker's claim automatically untrue here, however, many people argue in this format, using this fallacy type of tactic - all the time.

Part 1 - Top 25 Logical Fallacies

Part 2 - Top 25 Logical Fallacies

Fallacy and Truth

Basically, there are only two ways for things to be qualified in an argument - true or false, according to the starting statement. There's a third result but this is one of an argument being "inconclusive," whereby it is neither true nor false.

I should re-word this better: There are only two ways for a conclusive argument to end up. With truth or fallacy statements formed as a conclusion to an original/starting resolution. Otherwise, an argument is considered "inconclusive."

Types of argument, many (but not all) of which are Fallacies (and mistakes) committed in arguments include:

  • Ad hominem
  • Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
  • Appeal To Authority
  • Appeal To Belief
  • Appeal To Common Practice
  • Appeal To Consequenses of Belief
  • Appeal To Emotion
  • Appeal To Fear
  • Appeal To Flattery
  • Appeal To Novelty
  • Appeal To Pity
  • Appeal To Popularity
  • Appeal To Ridicule
  • Appeal To Spite
  • Appeal To Tradition
  • Bandwagon
  • Begging The Question
  • Biased Sample
  • Burden of Proof
  • Circumstantial Ad Hominem
  • Composition
  • Confusing Cause and Effect
  • Division
  • False Dilemma
  • Gambler's Fallacy
  • Genetic Fallacy
  • Guilt By Association
  • Hasty Generalization
  • Ignoring a Common Cause
  • Middle Ground
  • Misleading Vividness
  • Personal Attack
  • Poisoning The Well
  • Post Hoc
  • Questionable Cause
  • Red Herring
  • Relatavist Fallacy
  • Slippery Slope
  • Special Pleading
  • Spotlight
  • Straw Man
  • Two Wrongs Make a Right