What is Ad Hominem?
Coming from the Latin phrase meaning "against the man," ad hominem refers to a specific kind of argumentative response, called an "ad hominem attack" or "ad hominem fallacy," in which the respondent uses personal criticism of her opponent to divert the subject rather than replying to the argument itself with a logical rebuttal.
Ad hominem fallacy can be a successful tool in disarming an opponent because it tends to trigger an emotional response that puts an opponent on the defensive even if her argument is valid. Because there is no substance to ad hominem replies, they are considered weak and disreputable in formal arenas such a debates and academic forums. That does not stop many politicians and lawyers from making them, however, and if the ad hominem attack serves the underlying goal to damage an opponent’s credibility, it is a powerful "win" for the attacker.
Sometimes ad hominem fallacy is grounded in our assumptions about things like race and gender. For instance, we have a tendency to judge female political candidates’s fitness for office more on personal appearance and style of dress than we do male candidates. Ad hominem fallacy plays a big role in advancing prejudice and bigotry. That said, ad hominem fallacy plays a big role in how ordinary people view those in the public eye; since their appearance and public actions are all that is really known about them, it’s easy to confuse appearance with character .
Examples of Ad-hominem Fallacy
1. "How can you support environmentalism when you drive an SUV?" Just because someone drives a vehicle that wastes energy doesn’t make the goals of environmentalism less valid.
2. "Woody Allen’s films are terrible because his adopted daughter, Dylan, accused him of abuse." Allen’s personal life has nothing to do with the merits of his films.
3. "You must be gay or lesbian because you support gay marriage."
4. "You’re not African-American, so you have no right to have an opinion about #blacklivesmatter."
5. "Are you sure you didn’t consent to have sex with Mr. Hadley? You were dressed very provocatively that night."
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