An ad hominem attack occurs when a person attacks the character of a person rather than attacking what that person said. Here’s an example:
“Don’t listen to Tommy. He’s a big fat slob.”
This argument is not valid because the attack has nothing to do with the content of Tommy’s statement (whatever it was).
Tonight I was wondering whether there was a term for the opposite of an ad hominem argument. In other words, what do you call the fallacy where you support and defend a person’s statement (whatever it was) on the basis that you admire a person and you refuse to see his or her mistakes and faults.
Here’s an admission that Rush Limbaugh was often engaging in “ad hominem” arguments in favor of Republicans (he made this statement immediately after the 2006 election):
I’m just going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried.
This statement of Limbaugh shows that his arguments for the alleged correctness of various Republican positions had nothing to do with the merits of those positions. He simply liked Republicans (or maybe he liked other Republican positions).
I’ve searched the Internet for a term to represent this logical fallacy of arguing for a person’s position because one favors that person. I have come up empty. Here’s what I propose, based on no formal training in Latin (but making reference to this resource): ex hominem instead of ad hominem. “Ex” means “out of, from; by reason of; according to; because of, as a result of.”
My preacher says that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. This is true, because my preacher is a holy and decent man.
If you listen for them, you’ll hear as many ex hominem arguments as ad hominem arguments. Many of our justifications for believing experts is based upon this fallacy, because we don’t really know enough to know whether experts are on-target with their conclusions. We are often evaluating their opinions on things like their honesty or their mannerisms, because we don’t really know enough to judge them on whether they are carefully coming to the proper conclusions.
When you hear any such arguments, feel free to identify them as “ex hominem” arguments. When you get those puzzled looks, remind the people that “good” and “smart” people can say incorrect things just as “bad” or “ignorant” people can sometimes speak the truth. That’s why we need ad hominem and ex hominem labels to describe these two related fallacies.
About the Author (Author Profile)Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.
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