Logical Fallacy>Informal Fallacy>Red Herring>Argumentum Ad Hominem

Argumentum Ad Hominem literally translates as “argument to the man” or “argument against the man.” Rather than attacking the argument itself, the personal making the argument is attacked, in an attempt to discredit the source. Perceived failings of the adversary become the issue, rather than the merits of the case.

Form of Argument Ad Hominem Fallacy

  1. Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
  2. Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.

Ad Hominem Fallacy Variants

Abusive Ad Hominem

Belittling or attacking the opponent personally, instead of the argument,  as a means to invalidate or discredit the argument.

Circumstantial Ad Hominem

Appealing to a person's beliefs or circumstances rather than the merits of the proposition. Asserting that the opponent is disposed to accept a particular position because of circumstance.

Tu Quoque

Literally meaning “you also,” tu quoque claims that the source of the argument has acted or spoken inconsistently with the position taken, and therefore the position must be false.

Poisoning the Well

This is a pre-emptive ad hominem attack against the opponent. The method is used to prime the listener with with negative information in an attempt to discredit the opponent's claim when it it presented.

Ad Feminam

This is an ad hominem attack used, in particular, to defeat a woman's argument and to inject systemic tendencies to dismiss women's opinions.

Ad Hominem Fallacy Examples

Abusive Ad Hominem

Early Sunday morning, I posted an article titled “A Sad and Tragic Day for Our Nation – A Response to Jo Ashline.” Within just a few hours “Casey” responded with a classic abusive ad hominem.

Bullshit. Get over yourself, really. It’s embarrassing to read from an otherwise intelligent individual.

This was a timely comment to help with this post! Ignore everything said, just jump in and call the other person an idiot. Booyah!

 Newt Gingrinch's economic plan won't work. He cheated on his wife.

This is particularly interesting to me because I won't vote for adulterers. Period. (Unless/until the sad day when every stinking candidate is a known adulterer.) I did not support Bill Clinton, Teddy Kennedy (or…ahem…any Kennedy), John Edwards, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Hart, and on and on, in part or in whole because they are adulterers.

So is my argument against voting for these men fallacious? No. I'm not using the fact that they are adulterers to try to discredit a particular policy or position. I simply believe that leaders should be honest in their dealings and should be the kind of people we can depend on to keep their word. In other words, if their spouses don't trust them, neither will I. And if I don't trust them to keep your marriage vows, I sure as heck don't trust them to keep a campaign promise.

Circumstantial Ad Hominem

I wish it were possible for men to get really emotionally involved in this question [abortion]. It is really impossible for the man, for whom it is impossible to be in this situation, to really see it from the woman's point of view.

Since men can't get pregnant, their positions and opinions about abortion are rendered irrelevant. The implications of this illogic astound me. Do the women who take this position believe that only men can discuss the consequences of rape, since women have a really hard time raping someone? (Please, let's not get into the definitions of various types of rape. You all know what I'm talking about.)

Tu Quoque

When asked if he was sponsoring terrorism, Osama bin Laden responded thusly:

Wherever we look, we find the US as the leader of terrorism and crime in the world. The US does not consider it a terrorist act to throw atomic bombs at nations thousands of miles away, when it would not be possible for those bombs to hit military troops only.

Completely obfuscating and dodging the question at hand, bin Laden turns the question back on the US, trying to make the questioner defensive.

Poisoning the Well

I won't even discuss Sarah Palin's gun-toting, backwoods ways.

Nothing to see her. She's clinging to her guns and Bibles so she isn't worth listening to.

Ad Feminam

You're crazy. It must be your time of the month.

Classic and unbelievably common.

The day after the above mentioned abusive ad hominem comment was submitted, another ad hominem comment came in.

Take a xanax, a nap, and come up for air.

This comment isn't purely ad feminam on it's face, but using perjorative language having to do with the need to relax, think clearly, or be in control extended toward women tends to have extra bite. Given the historically subordination of women and the cultural idea that men think and women feel, this kind of statement has a more demeaning quality when said to a woman. (Perhaps not fair, but true.)