Today’s post will be on the ad hominem fallacy.
This fallacy occurs when someone attempts to persuade by attacking their opponent’s personal character rather than responding to their argument. Here is an example:
Even if it turned out to be the case that the pro-life protester had a foul body odor, it would have nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the pro-life position. The same goes for similar attacks, such as the objection to Christianity on the basis of hypocrisy, dismissing someone’s personal opinion because of their level of education, or the accusation that someone who is outspoken in their stance against homosexual behavior must be a closet homosexual.
It should be pointed out that not all personal attacks commit the ad hominem fallacy. When the opponent’s character is the argument, pointing out character flaws may actually be justified. For example, arguing that a person with a history of automobile accidents should not be hired as a bus driver is not fallacious and is probably the most logical conclusion.
In our search for truth, we must be guided by the facts. Even if the person making a truth claim is arrogant, abusive, unintelligent, smelly, or otherwise deficient in character, we must judge the claim based on its own merits. The personal character of the claimant is (usually) irrelevant to the truth of the claim.
The next post will be about a very similar mistake, the genetic fallacy. Now that my daughter has been born, I should be writing regularly again, so stay tuned to Think On These Things blog.
Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV
Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.