by Shem El-Jamal, September 22, 2017
Imagine a person who wants to convince an audience that a certain point or perspective is true. How might they do it? What methods could they use? Most people might take the facts of a situation and present them in the most straight forward and objective way possible. However, some tend to use other methods.
Suppose the first person meets another individual with an opposing opinion and still wants the audience to believe their own opinion despite the validity of the second. The first person could stick to their facts, or alternatively, they could demonize the character of the opposition to dissuade the audience from listening to the opposing perspective. This may seem underhanded, and in many ways, it is. However, some individuals still choose to use this method to convince their audience to agree with them.
Refutation by Character
The above example depicts a fallacy known as ad hominem. This method relates to the other fallacy of interest for this article, but before we get into those details, let’s get an understanding of the method of ad hominem or personal attack. Here is the website, Logically Fallacious, with the definition.
Ad Homenid Attacks
(also known as: personal abuse, personal attacks, abusive fallacy, damning the source, name calling, needling [form of], refutation by character)
Description: Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.
Logical Form:Person 1 is claiming Y.
Person 1 is a moron.
Therefore, Y is not true.
Example #1:My opponent suggests that lowering taxes will be a good idea — this is coming from a woman who eats a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each night!
Explanation: The fact that the woman loves her ice cream, has nothing to do with the lowering of taxes, and therefore, is irrelevant to the argument. Ad hominem attacks are usually made out of desperation when one cannot find a decent counter argument.
Example #2:Tony wants us to believe that the origin of life was an “accident”. Tony is a godless SOB who has spent more time in jail than in church, so the only information we should consider from him is the best way to make license plates.
Explanation: Tony may be a godless SOB. Perhaps he did spend more time in the joint than in church, but all this is irrelevant to his argument or truth of his claim as to the origin of life.
Exception: When the attack on the person is relevant to the argument, it is not a fallacy. In our first example, if the issue being debated was the elimination of taxes only on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, then pointing out her eating habits would be strong evidence of a conflict of interest.
Tip: When others verbally attack you, take it as a compliment to the quality of your argument. It is usually a sign of desperation on their part.
Variation: Needling is attempting to make the other person angry, taking attention off of the argument and perhaps even making the other person look foolish.
Many of us have seen this fallacy used on a regular basis either in school, or in other casual social situations. Two people may have a disagreement and one decides to win the dispute by any means necessary. They choose to divert from the topic in question and instead, they begin to put down the person they are arguing with.
The above method of fallacy is one of the more common tactics used in personal attack propaganda. In most political races, both opponents typically use this method to convince their audience to ignore the position of the other party. Logically speaking, there is no value to this technique of convincing. However, the act of smearing others does create the illusion of superiority of one argument over another. Unfortunately, despite the fact that this tactic is well-known, some audience members will still fall for it.
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