Ad Hominem means “against the person.” It is an attack on an aspect of someone rather than on the argument of that person. These often emotional attacks are usually against the character, background, or belief of a person.

Examples:

  • Oh, so your statistic shows that plumbers are successful 95% of the time? That’s obviously false because you got that from The Plumber’s Digest magazine.
  • The only reason that he thinks that Republicans are against the government is because he’s a Democrat.
  • Kid talking to teacher: “You just want me to do my homework because you’re a teacher.”
  • Susan thinks that George Washington could not have owned slaves, because Wikipedia says he did, and she thinks that Wikipedia is biased.
  • A son speaking to his mother: “Of course you want me to stay out of the street. You’re my mother, and mothers always want their kids to stay out of the street.”

Sometimes a person’s background or belief is actually relevant to the argument. The difference is that ad hominem fallacies are often emotional attacks, or claim a causal relationship when one doesn’t exist.

Examples when background is relevant: A reporter says to a lawyer, “You’re only arguing that your client is innocent, because you’ve been hired to be his lawyer.” The lawyer responds, “Well, that is my job.”

Farmer speaking to friend from the city: “You don’t know what it’s like to raise cattle. You’ve lived in the city your whole life. (It is a valid point that if he’s lived in the city, he probably hasn’t raised cattle.)

Examples of attacks or when background is not relevant: A reporter says to a lawyer, “You think that your client should go free because you’re nothing but a sneaky lawyer.”

Farmer speaking to friend from the city: “How could you possibly like the show, Hee Haw, when you’ve lived in the city your whole life?” The city friend replies, “They air Hee Haw in the city, and I’ve never missed an episode.”

 

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