Ad hominem arguments try to discredit a claim or proposal by attacking its proponents instead of providing a reasoned examination of the proposal itself. Hence, "ad hominem" literally means "against the person." Ad hominem arguments come in at least five varieties, viz., abusive, guilt by association, tu quoque, vested interest and circumstantial arguments. In this paper I shall analyse the five different ad hominem arguments and argue that although the majority of ad hominem arguments are fallacious there are cases where it is justified and not fallacious. And, accordingly I shall argue that ad hominem arguments are related to the human condition, and so, put forward a way of dealing with them.
Ad hominem abusive arguments attack a person's age, character, family, gender, ethnicity, social or economic status, personality, appearance, dress, behavior, or professional, political, or religious affiliations. And, this list is by no way exhaustive. This argument often occurs in the political arena where a politician's reputation can be the difference between being re-elected or not.
A simple ad hominem abusive argument:
Daisy Tinkerbell Earthsaver advocates recycling all household goods.
Daisy Tinkerbell Earthsaver is a hippy.
We should not recycle household goods.
Just because Daisy is a hippie, this has no bearing on whether we should recycle or not. To dismiss Daisy's argument simply because she is a hippie, that is, to dismiss her argument because of whom she is rather than what she says is to commit the ad hominem abusive fallacy. The conclusions of such arguments are often left implicit, or conveyed by innuendo. Some arguments against the person are based on libel, slander, or character assassination. In such cases the premises are false as well as irrelevant. Arguing in this way often occurs in court cases where conclusive evidence is in short supply. A lawyer may...