Argumentum ad Hominem, a Latin phrase which means an argument to the person. I often find myself caught in various arguments with various type of people for various reasons. Quite so often i come across some people who tend to use forms of argumentum ad hominem or commonly known as a personal attack. They usually cook up a logical fallacy by attacking the character or circumstances of their opponent, which may come in forms of insult, questions of personal conduct, character, and motives. Generally it is done in the course of insulting or belittling one’s opponent to invalidate the opponents argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument.
Allow me to demonstrate the logic of its operation.
A makes a claim, say the claim is X.
There is something objectionable about A, be it his/hers conduct, character, or motives.
Therefore claim X is suppose to be false/weak/groundless.
It is very common to find such arguments in the Malaysian court rooms, the upper and lower house of the Malaysian parliament, political speeches, school debates, arguments between couples, and there is plenty of it here at loyarburok, especially at the comment section of interesting posts. These arguments usually has got nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the opponents proposition. Apart from being guilty of mala fide it is also of no benefit and very unprofessional in nature. Generally there are three types of ad hominem’s, which is ad hominem abuse, ad hominem circumstantial, and ad hominem tu quoque.
Ad hominem abuse usually occurs when the counter argument is about the character or a personal quality of the opponent. Such an argument is designed to either humiliate or ridicule the opponent, as that would distract the opponent from the essence of the argument because the opponent may feel necessary to defend themselves or simply embarrassed and loose the whole argument. Yes, very sneaky and evil indeed.
Now some examples of ad hominem abuse :
Martin : The proposed policy would encourage economic growth.
Bond : Nonsense! You flopped your economy in high school!. / Yeah right! where did you get your economic lessons from? Rina Cheah?
* Note that the statement/rhetoric by Bond has got nothing to do with Martin’s claim.
Ad hominem circumstantial occurs when one points out that the stance the opponent takes is due to the circumstance he/she is in. The fallacy claims that the only reason why one argues as he/she does is because of their circumstances.
Example of ad hominem circumstantial :
Lings : Loyarburok is a revolutionary idea, it encompasses the essence of a free spirit!
Cantona : Of course-lah you say like that, your writing for them mah!
Ad hominem tu quoque, it literally means you too! also known as the “hypocrisy” argument. In this form of attack, one argues that the opponent does not practice what he/she preaches.
Example of ad hominem tu quoque :
Bush : The Malaysians are very ridiculous, they have preventive detention laws, how draconian!
Bond : Eh, you also same what! You got the PATRIOTS act!
Now this form of personal attack is somewhat a legal principle by itself. In equity there is a maxim which states that one may not go to the courts with unclean hands. The court would not grant the applicant’s request if he has done something just as equally wrong towards the respondent. For an example, say you cheated on your wife and she finds out and files for divorce, now if you can prove that she has also cheated on you then the court might just reject her application on the grounds of tu quoque!
This argument however was rejected before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former state of Yugoslavia in several cases when the accused tried to justify their act by insisting that the opposing side had committed similar crimes. However the ICTY held that the argument of tu quoque, is completely irrelevant by international humanitarian law standards. However, at the Nuremberg trial of Karl Donitz tu quoque was accepted not as a defense to the crime itself, but as a defense only to the punishment.
In conclusion argumentum ad hominem is generally something to be avoided in proper arguments. Here at Diskopi, at least i think that arguments should be beneficial, although i am guilty of personal attacks myself at times. However i keep in mind not to resort to such arguments as it renders the whole point of the debate pointless and it is somewhat unethical. I hope people at Diskopi, reader and writers would depart from argumentum ad hominems. Let us all argue appropriately, for the benefit of all.
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