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.
- 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:
- 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
- Begging The Question
- Biased Sample
- Burden of Proof
- Circumstantial Ad Hominem
- Confusing Cause and Effect
- 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
- Straw Man
- Two Wrongs Make a Right
Not all of these are absolutely bad tactics of debate but most, when treated as stand alone tactics used later for an overall judgment on a serious issue can turn out bad results.
For example, in the Two Wrongs Make a Right argument, (concept by which some countries enforce capital punishment on certain individuals) - the conclusion causes actions notable for being "not the best courses of action but the best people could come up with."
You'll probably be familiar with many of the above argument types - they are used regularly in courts of law all over the world - "circumstantial evidence" is often disguised as "circumstantial ad hominem" from the above list. Also, "guilt by association" lands many innocent people in jail.
Thank you for arguing
Appeal To Authority and Related Authority Points In Argument: In Latin - Ad Verecundiam
These Statements/Arguments based on Appeals To Authority come in several types - and are generally known as fallacies of defective induction.
What "Appeal To Authority" might look like:
- Person A is said to be an authority on subject J
- Person A makes claim X about subject J
- Person A states, "Therefore, X is true."
You can see how Person A would need to say more on subject J or X here and how J doesn't make X true.
One could fix this argument (if statements are, indeed, valid and in context) and put it into 'fine form' or proper form if Person A makes additional valid statements about both X and J to show more clearly how these are related...however, most people go with "bad form" minimizing the amount of information needed to show that X is true. Then again, the final statement would take a different form, too and be something like,
J authority is proven to be valid by R, V and (as many "truths" or proofs as is necessary to show that J authority is a valid source) W, and J has said X on the subject, which pertains to the X statement I am also making - therefore X is true, as far as this J authority and connected proofs show to date.
Obviously...using authority in argument is much more complex an affair to do properly than is usually done in argument.
* Note - "X" might, indeed be a proper statement or claim - however, the way one has arrived at the concluding statement is faulty...X statement will have to be proven as "true" or valid through other means or statements other than the appeal to authority. That J said something doesn't make X true - but some other proofs might show that "X" claim is true or valid.
There are other "Authority" based fallacies in argument, other "Appeals to Authority," too, which are considered faulty in arguments.
Appeals to false authority. Here's an example:
- Mythbuster from Hubpages, the famous author, has determined the works of the author of Luke in Scriptures to be fraudulent text written by a fraud claiming to be Luke.
Okay, first off, my authority is in question - I'm not any sort of famous author lol but the main point of fallacy here is that I am not qualified to say what I have about the author, Luke or whether certain scriptures are fraudulent writings. Even if people who like some of my hubs consider me a "notorious" or "known" author in a very small circle and enjoy my articles, when it comes down to it, I'm not an expert authority on Scriptures, the author, Luke, etc.
I study urban myths and various kinds of narrative. I also study Scriptures (because many of them are narratives) but my area of greatest expertise is NOT in determining paleographical or bibliographical details of text, but in understanding and explicating points about NARRATIVE VALUE in texts like Scriptures. I could arrange a pretty sound argument based on "historical narrative" information that I'm familiar with processing and by a number of other ways I treat text but none of them are valid for the argument presented in the example. The main issue here is in saying Luke isn't the author of certain portions of text. My form in the example is all wrong and leads to fallacy.
Also, just to set the record straight, the example statement is just an example.
There are 4 basic problems with Appeal to Authority fallacy tactics in argument which can lead to detrimental problems in discussion, argument and debate:
- the person is not an expert in the field
- the expert is not properly identified
- insufficient agreement or relation between topic and "expert"
- the expert opinion is clearly and heavily biased
Basically, without concerted effort placed on qualifying statements properly, providing additional proofs of the expertise and authority of the "authority" you wish to mention in argument, and without making sure that your expert is unbiased enough to be considered a reasonable expert, you've got problems when attempting to use authority bytes in argument. Also, if your "authority" is clearly an expert but the field of your expert isn't closely related to the topic you're making statements about, then appeals to authority aren't a good choice for conveying a reasoned argument.
Appeal To Belief
This fallacy is easier to explain than "authority" appeal issues are. With an appeal to belief, basically, one argues that most people believe something, therefore, it must be true.
This argument form looks something like this:
- Person A states, "most people believe that claim - Y - is absolutely true!"
- Person A continues: "therefore, Y must be true!"
This is a rather easy fallacy to spot in argument, discussions and debates, so watch for it next time a heavy discussion is in progress.
Appeal To Common Practice
Here's a bad one that is really common. You've probably seen/experienced this one time and time again. Teens use the appeal to common practice all the time on parents - as well as on peers to push peer pressure and coax other teens... "But everybody's doing it" is a statement in line with "appeal to common practice."
Here's how this one works:
- Y is a common practice, action or activity
- Therefore, "Y" is moral, correct, acceptable, justified, reasonable or the right thing to do
If you're against Y in the first place, you've probably thought of a comeback for this fallacy statement - something along the lines of, "If everyone did Y and Y was jumping off a bridge, would you do Y, too?"
In very few instances, the appeal to common practice can actually work out into proper conclusions but this will happen only if the common practice can be proven to be a moral and reasonable activity/practice. In this case, then - yes, "Therefore Y is considered a correct, reasonable, justified action/practice." This is one that has to be examined carefully.
The problem is, this argument, the appeal to common practice - IS NOT often used critically or carefully...it's usually stated as a convenient, quick sort of pseudo-argument.
Appeal To Consequenses of Belief - argumentum ad consequentiam
Argumentum ad consequentiam - argument to the consequences.
This kind of argument concludes a belief (premise) to be either true or false based on whether or not the premise leads to either desirable or undesirable consequences. This sort of argument also uses "appeal to emotion" for added effect.
This argument should be quickly discarded when recognized because the wanted or unwanted consequences of something cannot determine the truth value of the thing/topic/belief/premise in question.
Considered a very subjective viewpoint/argument.
If the premise's desirability is a main factor in the argument rather than its truth value, this sort of argument or debate should be discarded.
In the field of ETHICS, however, we do often find valid arguments related to outcome and consequences, however, these involve the "truth value" most often and not the desired or not desired outcome of premises.
Appeal to consequences generally show up in two forms, a positive and negative form.
- If A, then B will happen
- B is desirable
- Therefore A is true.
- (A) Santa exists
- He brings presents each year (looking forward to gifts each year - B)
- Therefore (providing that you really did get presents in the past, marked "From Santa"), Santa exists - A is true.
(backtrack here... A is still not true... A is "also desirable" if it leads to/facilitates B. Or - "Therefore, to get B (desired item), also accept A to get to B." Much different than the actual argument above, right?).
This example is more about the desire to have the belief in Santa exist. The statements are extremely far away from proving that Santa actually exists.
(this argument setup - the statements are much like another argument form called "wishful thinking" which is also fallacy)
- If D, then F will occur
- F is undesirable
- Therefore D is false
Appeal To Emotion
Appeals to emotion often lead to fallacies in argument. An appeal to emotion makes use of the arguing person's use of information which affects the audience's emotions. Naturally, emotions don't have to be based in fact and emotions are RESPONSES to information. Appealing to emotion is to honour irrationality and irrational response in arguments.
Basically, the person making an appeal to emotion provides an argument designed to elicit emotional response in the audience and, in turn, use this emotional reaction to gain support for the preferred conclusion.
Lawyers often use appeal to emotion in court but the area we're mostly likely to encounter appeal to emotion arguments and suggestions is in advertising.
Check out an effective Pepsi ad from the 1980s - appeal to emotion in the slogan "A New Generation." "The Pepsi Generation" and similar slogans are full of symbolic and emotional pull as mass audiences associate such slogans with "new-ness," "family groups/values," "breaks from tradition," and - when combined with images of mass crowds, dancing, etc., these are all an appeal to emotion or an attempt to evoke a lot of emotion from audiences. ie: "if you drink Pepsi, you are new, connected with humanity/family, but are breaking from tradition (suggestiong: to something better)..." Not a single one of these things, emotions, values, perceptions has anything at all to do with Pepsi, drinking Pepsi - but for some strange reason (the irrationality of our own minds) these images and slogans DO prompts hundreds of thousands of people to purchase and consume Pepsi products.
Appeal to emotion arguments use emotion-inducing information in place of evidence information, thus creating response in the audience NOT BASED on proper context or on valid evidence...
The result: whatever conclusion is drawn will be a fallacy.
Appeal To Fear
Argumentum Ad Metum or Argumentum In Terrorem are both known as "Appeal To Fear," and lead to fallacy.
A person utilizing appeal to fear arguments will play on the prejudices and fear of an audience in order to get the audience to reach a desired conclusion.
- Either A or B is true
- B is horrific and frightening/unwanted
- Therefore A is true
"we absolutely must raise taxes or else more hospitals will close." This appeals to the fear of having too few hospitals functioning in an area. Taxes don't make hospitals close. Many and other varied factos cause hospital closures.
Appeal To Flattery
When a person uses flattery to influence support for his/her side/views in an argument, this is called "appeal to flattery."
This type of argument really needs very little description or explanation. We've all seen it, we've all used it.
Appeal To Novelty
Argumentum Ad Novitatem is known as Appeal To Novelty. In an argument of this type, the speaker attempts to convince the audience that a particular idea or position is correct or superior to other positions based only on the assertion that the idea/position is NEW. In most cases, this is like the opposite of Appeal To Tradition where something is claimed to be superior because it is old.
I HAVE FALLEN INTO USING THIS ONE A TIME OR TWO...but then I have to backtrack to find more valid proofs that a new concept or arguments for something new as superior are actually valid... I usually have to find, evaluate, and change my appeal to novelty statements... luckily, being wrong doesn't hurt too much - EVERY time lol
Aristotle's Concerns: 13 Fallacies in Argument
Originally, Aristotle outlines 13 fallacies in argument long before our modern laws were created. You'll see these 13 fallacies here, along with a fair number more of fallacious argument as later and modern authors have been able to establish that there are even more statements/arguments under the heading of "fallacy" than Aristotle was required to deal with in his era.
Something quite unique I will deal with late in the hub is a very modern fallacy many debaters and experts are calling "Appeal To Celebrity," It works much like one of the "Appeal To Authority" fallacies... I'm just mentioning it because it's a VALID fallacy to watch for in our day but its presence in our day doesn't mean that Aristotle's rather conservative, short list of 13 Fallacies is inferior and a very small list... it means, in part, people in Aristotle's time likely wouldn't have ever dreamed of using "Appeal To Celebrity" arguments. They used references to authority in debates, but wouldn't have referenced a popular celebrity in society unless this person was also considered some sort of expert...thus, their reference would end up functioning as an authority statement/concern.
Aristotle's 13 Fallacies:
- Composition and
- Division (Composition and Division usually heavily connected)
- Figure of Speech
- Affirming the Consequent
- In a Certain Respect and Simply
- Ignorance of Refutation
- Begging the Question
- False Cause
- Many Questions
Now, if these seem to have some strange "titles," don't worry. Some of these fallacies are, indeed, in our more modern lists concerning arguments/statements of fallacy under headings more easily understood in our times.
* Note - my referencing of Aristotle here (I'm asking you to trust what an authority - Aristotle - determined concerning argument positions/tactics) is my use of authority in argument, too... however, this is not fallacious argument as it is well established that Aristotle WAS an expert in several areas, including the arts of Poetics, Rhetoric, argument and debate, and many other things...
I'm inserting the note above because NOT ALL APPEALS TO AUTHORITY are bad... but in our modern day, appeals to authority are often done as "side-tracking" and distraction in debate/argument - or we often use questionable authorities in debate/argument which end up being "appeal to celebrity," "appeal to FALSE authority," and many other sorts of "pseudo-authority" appeals (pseudo=we THINK we're referencing an authority but these statements may still be erroneous or misplaced).
Had I said "Aristotle's 13 points are the ultimate list of argument tactics for all time," I would also have stated a fallacy, however, I QUALIFIED my statement a while back when I mentioned that we have need of a longer list in our times. As well, I offered an argument to defend the authority of Aristotle, stating that Aristotle and peers would not have used a modern (appeal to celebrity) version of fallacy/argument tactic like we do in our times. I've supporting Aristotle's 13 points as well as offering a way to keep modern thinkers from ignoring that Aristotle's statements in matters of argument are still valid in our day. In essence, I have not "Mis-used" or abused the name of Aristotle or used it in a misleading, fallacious way, so far as his name, history and person pertain to arguments and statements here.
Appeals to authority are considered "citations" and used by scholars all the time when they are used properly. These are, in fact, references to authority but can be held as positive influences in argument...so it's important to know that when an authority is mentioned, it's good to be "on guard" for fallacies concerning any statement, but that some use of authority reference is actually part of establishing VALID arguments - it just MATTERS THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS DONE...and it matters that the authority mentioned is actually a true authority, too.