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Ad Hominem Definition
Short for argumentum ad hominem, ad hominem is a Latin expression that literally means “to the man” or “to the person.” As a literary device, it refers to the act of commenting on or against an individual, usually an opponent, to undermine him/her instead of his/her arguments. The intention is to personally attack the opponent by shifting the focus from the substance of his/her arguments to his/her character, motive or attribute.
One of the most common ad hominem arguments is abusive fallacy wherein the responder attacks the person making the argument based on the former’s emotions, special interests, or prejudices instead of his/her intellect, reasoning, or logical thinking. In most cases, the attack is totally irrelevant to the argument that the latter is making. The logical form looks like this:
- Even if Person 1 claims that [argument]
- Because Person 1 is a nitwit
- Then [argument] is false.
Other terms for ad hominem include personal attacks, damning the source, personal abuse, refutation by caricature, genetic fallacy, name calling or guilt by association.
Ad Hominem Functions
Ad hominem arguments are commonly used by arguers who are not familiar with the fundamentals of constructing a logical, valid argument. They usually use this fallacy tool to divert the listener’s’ attention to the unfavorable character of the person making the argument, with the ultimate objective of deceiving the audience. Even though it may work, this is a logical error since a person’s character is not enough to evaluate the soundness and validity of the argument that he/she presents. Typically, even the arguer is aware of this.
Although a fallacy tool, the use of ad hominem also has certain advantages. For example, knowing an author’s background, traits and experience can be helpful in judging or reviewing his/her book. If the author’s attributes significantly qualify him to make the arguments presented in his/her work, it helps the readers understand the feelings or motives behind those arguments and maybe eventually concede.
Types of Ad Hominem
Ad hominem abusive is the most common variety of ad hominem. It involves personal attacks, i.e. assassinating the opponent’s character, ignoring his/her credibility and status to the audience, in order to invalidate his/her arguments. This commonly includes name calling, implying that the opponent is immoral, ignorant, or insane, to convince the audience that he/she is non-credible.
Ad hominem circumstantial is somewhat similar to abusive, except it does not directly attack the integrity of the opponent. It simply attempts to raise suspicions about the bias of the speaker, focusing on the situation surrounding him/her. This type is typically used in law, journalism, politics and even business contexts, where conflicts of interests are common. For instance, journalists working for the same establishments that pay their salaries or politicians receiving campaign donations from companies who have vested interests are prone to circumstantial arguments.
Tu quoque (Latin for “you too”) is a form of ad hominem fallacy wherein an argument is considered incorrect if the accuser or source of the argument has previously been accused of the same case before. This is usually used to deflect the ad hominem attack back into its source, instead of refuting the truth of the accusation. For instance, a father who smokes advises his son to not even try smoking, but the son tells him “practice what you preach,” this is hominem tu quoque. The son tries to invalidate his father’s advice by pointing out the hypocrisy, instead of focusing on the substance of the advice.
Poisoning the well is a special type of ad hominem wherein the arguer would spread adverse information about the opponent in a preemptive manner to influence or brainwash the audience. The objective is to discredit or ridicule whatever it is that the opponent is about to say. A classic example of this type of fallacy would be Parris’ lines in The Crucible: “Beware this man, Your Excellency. This man is mischief.”
Another form of this rhetorical device is called guilt by association. This is when the accuser presents a similar claim to the opponent, who is already viewed in a bad light. Since the latter has a negative background, the former’s argument is affected and becomes questionable as well, whether it is valid or not.
Lastly, ad feminam (Latin for “to the woman”) is a special type of logical fallacy that targets women, invalidating their claim using gender stereotyping. For example, a woman’s argument is incorrect because she was suffering from a premenstrual syndrome or was experiencing hormonal changes when formulating the argument, regardless if her point is legitimate or not.
Importance of Ad Hominem
Generally, ad hominem is a great persuasion tool — it leaves a great impression on the audience’s mind. This is why it is commonly used in the media, politics and real-life debates. When used to deliberately humiliate a person publicly (aka abusive ad hominem), it can smear that person’s reputation, although the personal attack might not even have a speck of truth in it. Its convincing power somehow makes the audience biased by judging the person not based on the logic of his/her claim but based on the criticism of the arguer.
Anyone thrown a fallacious ad hominem argument must be able to stand up for himself/herself as the impact of its humiliation may be irreparable. Audience should also be able to detect or determine ad hominem and other logical fallacies, so they do not get fooled and their judgment remains fair and accurate.
Ad Hominem Worksheets
This bundle contains 5 ready-to-use ad hominem worksheets that are perfect to test student knowledge and understanding of what ad hominem is and how it can be used. You can use these ad hominem worksheets in the classroom with students, or with home schooled children as well.
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Link will appear as Ad Hominem Examples and Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, July 13, 2017
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.