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Fallacies: Introduction to Ad Hominem

In this video, Julianne Chung offers a brief introduction to ad hominem fallacies, or fallacies of personal attack. She surveys six different types (abusive ad hominem, circumstantial ad hominem, tu quoque, guilt by association, genetic fallacy, and ad feminam), offering examples of each along the way. For a more detailed discussion of ad hominem fallacies, please see the video on ad hominem fallacies by Paul Henne.

Speaker: Julianne Chung, Yale University.

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  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Intruder
    Can you give me the reasons for the ad feminam fallacy?
    I honestly don't see the need for it when the other fallacies seem to cover it, if that is a fallacy then why not the 'ad blackam', 'ad jewam' etc, etc,,, this honestly makes no sense to me... :S
    (12 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user Noble Mushtak
      Ad feminam is used very little in philosophy and it's a subset of the abusive ad hominem fallacies because it attacks the personal characteristic of gender. Prejudices against race and religion are also abusive ad hominems and they're no better or worse than ad feminam: It's just that people have made the ad feminam fallacy because they think people have historically used that fallacy a lot to undermine women. "Feminam" isn't a real Latin word, but that doesn't mean the fallacy doesn't exist. If you wanted to, you could make up "ad blackum" and "ad jewam" if you wanted to, but because you made those terms up, you would always want to define the terms in the beginning of the article/paper so people would know what you were talking about. In fact, I would suggest doing the same with "ad feminam" because it's almost never used.

      Again, "ad feminam" doesn't come up in philosophy much and personally, I would always use abusive ad hominem over ad feminam.
      (7 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Ziming Lan
    So what is the answer to the last question?
    (5 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user david
      I think it's Guilt by Association: If you argue AGAINST a viewpoint by claiming someone you DON'T like agrees with that viewpoint, then doing the opposite - arguing FOR a viewpoint by claiming someone you DO like agrees with that viewpoint - is the same fallacy.
      (7 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user ☣Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☢ Ŧeaçheя  Simρsoɳ ☢Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☣
    Is there anyone else who found "Ad hominem" ti be your favorite fallacy? It has always been mine. There a lots of ways to engage in fallacy, but among them is there any better than Ad Hominem?
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Agent Smith
      My favorite is the fallacy fallacy where you erroneously claim that, just because your opponent committed a fallacy, that s/he is wrong. A fallacy only shows the evidence doesn't support the conclusion...something wrong with the argument. It cannot reveal the truth or falsity of a claim.
      (13 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Makiaveli
    Is it just me, or is she heavily biased in favor of altruism? Shouldn't these videos, especially the introductory ones, be neutral and focus on the concepts, not a particular philosophy?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Paul Tyshevskyi
      Perhaps, you mean that example about money and charity? You can think so, yeah. Anyway, it seems inevitable because those fallacies can easily be connected to ethical questions. It's one way or another, but I don't think that content creator was making it intentionally.
      (4 votes)
  • spunky sam green style avatar for user Harry Curtis
    P1: A characteristic is defined as a 'distinguishing attribute, quality or trait'[1].
    P2: Gender is a 'distinguishing attribute'.
    P3: An ad feminam argument is one which attempts to ignore a person's argument on the basis of their female gender.
    P4: An abusive ad hominem argument is one which presents a person's characteristic as a reason to ignore their argument.
    C1: Therefore, gender is a characteristic.
    C2: Therefore, an ad feminam argument is an abusive ad hominem argument.

    [1]. The definition of a characteristic according to Collins dictionary. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/characteristic
    (3 votes)
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  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Gregory
    Are there any examples of fallacies similar to ad feminam, but pertaining to race, religion, sexual orientation, or something of the like?
    (2 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Mikko Kangassalo
      They are all potentially ad hominem. Ad hominem is latin, literally meaning "to the person". Appealing to 'race' (a problematic concept to begin with), sexual orientation, or sex/gender would all be arguments directed "to the person" instead of the topic of discussion. That is, saying "your argument is bogus because you are black/female/straight" would be an ad hominem.

      If the topic of discussion is religion then one can present arguments for and against it, but one shouldn't say that because an opponent subscribes to religion X therefore their argument is suspect (that would be an ad hominem). But saying religion X has a feature Y which is troublesome for reasons Z would be fine – there nothing is argued "to the person" but to the topic of discussion, which is a certain ideology that happens to be one that the opponent (currently) subscribes.

      Notably, race (as commonly understood) and sexual orientation (as commonly understood) are also biological properties one cannot help, but a religion is an ideology, which are always up for debate (with proper arguments, preferably).
      (2 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Justin
    With the genetic facility example of the criminal entrepreneur being used to prove that the business as a whole is corrupt, wouldn't the accuser be guilty of a fallacy of composition? If so, what is the difference between the two?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Agent Smith
      The genetic fallacy is committed when an idea/person/thing is erroneously judged as per its origins e.g. the idea of religious tolerance came from the Mongols who were a barbaric cruel people. Therefore, religious tolerance is a bad thing. The origin of a person/idea/thing has historic value and helps us in understanding a people, a religion, a worldview, etc. but this has no influence on the merits and demerits of an idea/person/thing.
      A fallacy of composition occurs when the collective WHOLE is erroneously said to possess an attribute of the PARTS. For example, atoms are invisible. I am made of atoms. Therefore, I am invisible
      (2 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Justin Hsieh
    Is the last example one of the guilt by association fallacy, used to support an argument rather than condemn it? Instead of attacking a statement by saying some unsavory person supported it, they are elevating it by saying a well-respected person supported it.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Lalitha Machiraju
    I think the answer to the last question is guilt by association. Am I correct? If not then please clarify.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, my name is Julianne Chung, and I'm a graduate student at Yale University. Today, I am going to talk about ad hominem fallacies. "Ad hominem" is a Latin term that can be translated into English as "to the man," which is a very literal translation, or "against the person," which is a bit more descriptive. Ad hominem fallacies are also very often called "fallacies of personal attack." This is because such fallacies are commited whenever one attempts to challenge a position by criticizing something having to do with its source, thereby shifting attention away from the points at issue, and focusing it instead on those who are arguing for them. There are many different kinds of ad hominem fallacies. We are going to briefly survey six here. They go by the following names. First, abusive ad hominem. Second, circumstantial ad hominem. Third, tu quoque. Fourth, guilt by association. Fifth, genetic fallacy. And sixth, ad feminam. Abusive ad hominem arguments present personal characteristics of individuals as good reasons to discount their ideas. However, although certain personal characteristics might give us reason for suspicion, they do not affect the virtues of claims considered on their own. Here's an example of such an argument: "We should never think that anything politicians ever say "is true, because they're all dirty, lying scumbags." It should be easy enough to see that this argument does not give us reason to discount everything that politicians say. Indeed, even those who are the least admirable likely say true things at least some of the time. Whereas an abusive ad hominem argument works by attacking an individual directly, a circumstantial ad hominem argument attempts to challenge a person's position by suggesting that she is advancing it merely to serve her own interests. Although this can be seen as abusive, circumstantial ad hominem arguments differ from abusive ad hominem arguments in that they focus on their target's situations, rather than on their personal characteristics. Once again, however, although such arguments may give us reason to question an individual's intentions, they do not impact whether her claims themselves are nonetheless worth taking seriously. Consider this argument: "Summer vacation should be abolished. "Any student who argues otherwise should not be listened to, "because he or she stands to benefit from its continuation." Although me might wonder whether a student who opposes getting rid of summer vacation is doing so solely out of self-interest, that has no bearing on whether it should indeed be eliminated or not, or whether such a student's arguments are any good or not. Plenty of excellent positions and arguments also happen to benefit those advocating them. That does not diminish their merit, however. Another tactic that is often used to attack claims by undermining their advocate's credibility involves allegations of a certain kind of hypocrisy. This fallacy goes by the name "tu quoque," which in Latin means "you too," or "you also." When one commits the tu quoque fallacy, one accuses the person of acting in a manner that contradicts some position that she supports, and concludes that her view is worthless on account of the fact that she failed to follow her own advice. However, whether someone is acting in a manner that is somehow in tension with the position she is advancing has no bearing on whether it is right or wrong, although it can admittedly strike us as somehow dishonest, or less than noble. Here's an example: "I can't believe you're trying to convince me "that I should give more money to charity, "when you don't give nearly as much as I do." Whether the person that this argument attacks (let's call him "person B") gives as much money to charity as the person advancing this argument does (let's call her "person A") has no bearing on whether person A should or should not give more money to charity. Presumably, that depends on other things besides what B is doing, say, for example, how much money person A makes, how much money person A presently gives, and so on. The guilt by association fallacy is committed whenever one tries to argue against a certain view by pointing out that some unsavory person is likely to have agreed with it, as in: "Chocolate chip cookies can't be any good. "My philosophy professor loves them, "and she is the meanest teacher I have ever had!" As we all know, chocolate chip cookies are delicious, despite the fact that some mean people think so as well. A claim can be true despite its being endorsed by someone we don't like. However, while arguments that commit the guilt by association fallacy aim to cast a claim into question by condemning someone who is likely to have agreed with it, the genetic fallacy occurs whenever an attempt is made to cast a claim into question by condemning its origin. Here's an example of an argument that commits the genetic fallacy: "The founder of organization X "served time in prison for embezzlement, "so we can conclude that the organization "must still be corrupt." We can imagine this argument being advanced in order to argue against a claim to the effect that organization X offers many excellent services and deserves financial support. However, the mere fact that the founder of organization X was a criminal does not show that the organization currently acts in a way that is morally unacceptable. Things could have changed a lot since then. As a note, arguments that commit the genetic fallacy can also be used positively, to support claims rather than undermine them. The last fallacy that I am going to talk about today goes by the name "ad feminam." Ad feminam arguments attempt to discredit a claim on the grounds that a female person proposed it. Such arguments often include statements to the effect of: "Why should I believe anything you have to say? "After all, you're just a woman." I take it to be more or less obvious as to why such arguments are deeply problematic. How about this example? Does it commit one of the fallacies just considered? If so, which one? "Ronald Reagan was in favor of similar policies, "so they must be the right thing to do." Subtitles by the Amara.org community