We need a term for the opposite of ad hominem arguments

November 22, 2007 | By | 11 Replies More

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.


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Category: Communication, Language

About the Author ()

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 lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Catherine says:

    I love this new coinage and agree completely with that it was needed and why! I'm going to start using it, and maybe it will meme itself into the OED. I'd love to see that happen 🙂 I'll introduce it in my blog sometime in the near future (if that's okay with you).

    i heart worthy neologisms!!1!

  2. Lynet says:

    'Ex hominem' is strongly related to 'argument from authority' — though I can see that there is a difference in emphasis.

    • Evi1M4chine says:

      Exactly what I wanted to say.
      I can define the difference too though:

      …from authority:
      What A says was always accepted as correct.
      A says X.
      Therefore, X is correct!

      ex hominem:
      Person A is great / has great qualities!
      A says X.
      Therefore, X is correct!

      So the difference is, that ex hominem doesn’t even care if the statement maker was ever correct before, and diverts solely to the person’s *unrelated* properties. While a “authority” at least was correct on that subject in the past, and therefore has a fighting chance this time, a ex hominem is utter nonsense.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I think that is covered by the "Reality distortion field"


    • Evi1M4chine says:

      That’s a classic case of being highly delusional and having a god complex in the presence of spineless insecure losers (what most geeks or non-very-pretty women think they are).

      The field is easily either short-circuited by a spine or blocked by balls. ^^
      (Brains [in that sad loser state] unfortunately are part of the problem, for a chance.)

  4. Cathyby says:

    Sounds very like the Halo Effect.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Cathyby: Halo effect seems to work. Thanks.

  6. Jay says:

    It’s pro hominem. Which is a variant of hominem and not the opposite.And the opposite. And ab homuncule is the actual opposite…staying the argument’s merits instead of attacking the nature of the speaker.

  7. Michael says:

    If Tommy is preaching temperance, cleanliness, and healthy diet practices, then pointing out his “big fat slob[iness]” is neither irrelevant, nor fallacious.
    The ad hominem is very effective rhetoric, for all that we may denounce it in these detached discussions. People of the left (contemptuous of liberty and unable to grasp principles) would be utterly silenced without it.
    What do we do when we cannot demoralize by calling someone a racist? What better way to ruin a speaker’s point than by yanking the rug from under him?
    No, ad hominem is just fine, and it is fair, you fat slob. 😀

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