Have you ever found yourself in an argument where you are behaving rationally and logically and coming up with some really valid points only to find that the other person resorts to cheap jibes and personal remarks? We all have at some point in our lives and this sort of arguing is called ad hominem and is derived from the Latin term to mean ‘to the man’ or rather ‘to the person.’ This form of arguing can be incredibly frustrating for the rational minded person on the other side of it as it disregards facts and reason in favour of more personal attacks on the individual’s character in an attempt to disregard their arguments. Ad hominem therefore detracts from the core issues and can arguably suggest that the person is clutching at straws because they are unable to provide a rational response to their opponent. Ad hominem is most commonly seen to be used in individual debates and arguments, in a courtroom scenario, and of course, politics. The mode that this takes is usually an attack on an individual’s personal, social, political, or religious opinions and viewpoints. The arguer who opts for this level of debate demonstrates their own weakness so it is a useful approach to keep in your mind should you ever confront it. As well as attacking person’s views, it is also used to attack their arguments based on race and ethnicity as well as their social class, and so it is a form of prejudice which is still widely accepted today. If one needs to stoop to saying ‘You would believe that because you’re a woman’, then there is a clear fault in that persons arguing and this sort of thinking can generate closed minded individuals who are not prepared to face the issues that are presented to them. Although these forms of argument highlight the speakers lack of supporting claims, it starts to get serious when it is taken as a valid form of argument to those that are observing it, whether that be a domestic disagreement, or whether someone’s life and freedom hand in the balance in a court rooms scenario. It is also work noting that ad hominem is a rather childish and benign form of debate which still has a rather strong effect when used in a public forum or debate. It relies heavily on emotions to degrade an individual who may or may not be making a valid case for your argument. The examples below will demonstrate ad hominem in context that you will understand and that you have probably encountered yourself from time to time.
Ad Hominem Examples
Disregarding an individual’s arguments on raising children and education on the grounds that they do not have children themselves. ‘I sorry, but if you had kids of your own then I might be inclined to listen.
When a lawyer launches a personal attack on an individual they are questioning rather than addressing the case at hand. ‘If you look at the defendant you will see that they are in a mild state of poverty and so they are more than willing to steal in order to secure finances that they need.
When it comes close to elections, politicians are seen to launch attacks on one and other when it comes to certain policy. ‘Well, it was this party that got us into this mess ten years ago!’
Disregarding someone’s argument based on their education. ‘You’re too stupid to understand these issues.’
Using someone’s sexual orientation as an attack on their argument. ‘It’s just a phase and you’ll grow out of it.’
Attacking someone’s arguments based on their religious beliefs. ‘You’re a non-Christian so I wouldn’t expect somebody like you to understand.’
Using race as a means to restrict the argument of an individual, whether they are part of a minority or not. ‘After your race has gone through slavery then you can tell me how unfair your life has been.’
Using generalisations towards somebodies political beliefs to assume that their argument is wrong. ‘Well, all you socialist think the same.’
Claiming that a person’s age restricts them from making a meaningful and intelligent argument. ‘When you’re older, you’ll understand.’
Using marital status as a podium for your superior knowledge of a subject. ‘You can’t say that they have marital problems when you have never been married yourself!’
The use of geographical location as a means of disregarding an individual’s judgement ‘You don’t know the first thing about country living because you live in the city!’
Restricting an individual’s judgement based entirely on that person’s gender. ‘As a man I really don’t see how you can talk about women’s issues.
Using someone’s known background or beliefs to respond in a way such as ‘Of course you would say that, because you believe _____.’
Demeaning a teacher’s decision on grading by insulting their intelligence, e.g., ‘Well, it’s not like you graduated from the best school, so I can see why you wouldn’t know how to properly grade a writing assignment.’
Stating that the ethnicity of the opposing individual keeps him from formulating a valuable opinion, e.g., ‘You are from Great Britain, so you could never understand what it’s like to live in a country like that.’
Relying on socioeconomic status as a means to undermine an opposing individual’s opinion, such as, ‘You wouldn’t understand since you’ve never worked a day in your life.’
Using someone’s lack of interest in sport as a means to attack their arguments on whether their country should host the Olympics. ‘I know that you said that we can’t really afford it, but you don’t like sport so you’d come up with any excuse.’
These example cover the most common forms that you are bound to encounter every once in a while. The truth is it takes nothing to make those sorts of comments, and you can see for yourself that they only serve to stop an uncomfortable conversation from continuing. Try not to stoop down to this level if you can, and if you you’re losing an argument then just admit it.