“Murder is wrong.”
We all know that.
But imagine if it was Saddam Hussein who told that to you directly. Would it change the truthfulness of the statement?
No, clearly it would not.
Sure, for him to tell you would be hypocritical. He gassed his own countrymen and ordered mass murders of entire villages as the political head of Iraq. But even he had the ability to tell you murder is wrong.
When you discredit or discard an argument based on the person saying it, you are guilty of a logical fallacy (or a bad argument). Particularly, you are guilty of an ad hominem argument or attack.
The term ad hominem comes from the Latin phrase meaning “to the man.” This “argument” is made when a person personally attacks another person, instead of addressing the matter raised.
Recently, in response to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case decision, I got into an online debate. Another conservative man teamed with me against two abortion supporters.
The other conservative pointed out simply that he had heard Rush Limbaugh make a good point in response to the Hobby Lobby case.
One of the liberal men in this discussion couldn’t let a Rush Limbaugh quote go by without committing a common logical fallacy.
He told this man, “You should never use Rush, a known drug addict as a source for anything. He has cochlear implants as a result of his long-term drug addiction with oxycodone, so he is in no way a credible source for anything other than comedy bits” (emphasis added).
There you have it. A classic ad hominem attack.
Because a man supposedly had a drug addiction, he is not qualified to speak intelligently on any issue. Or, is this guy saying that those who have hearing aids are, by definition, barred from being listened to? It’s hard to say.
In other words, rather than consider the argument made and refute it on its merit, a personal attack was made. As if that was supposed to settle the matter.
So often, this is what abortion advocates are reduced to.
THE FOUR TYPES OF AD HOMINEM ARGUMENTS
Let us show the four variations of the ad hominem fallacy, in the example of abortion.
Let us say that pro-lifer, Maryann makes the following argument to her abortion-supporting friend, Natalie:
Maryann: “Natalie, surgical abortions can be done as early as six weeks gestation. By then, the baby’s heart will have been beating for over three weeks. Since surgical abortion stops a beating heart, it is murder.”
Okay, now let us imagine Natalie’s response in the four different forms of the ad hominem argument.
1. Abusive Form
This is a personal attack against someone’s character as a means to discredit what they say.
Natalie: “Yeah, but you have unpaid parking tickets, so it can’t be true.”
Natalie may be right that Maryann has unpaid parking tickets, but this is not an argument. Maryann’s lack of paying fines has nothing to do with the stopping of a beating heart in an abortion.
2. Circumstantial Form
This is an attack on an argument because the argument-maker appears to be making it out of self-interest.
Natalie: “The only reason you’re calling it murder is because you your dad owns a diaper factory.”
Again, Natalie could be correct again in pointing out that Maryann’s dad makes diapers to pay his bills. He and Maryann may very well stand to gain if more babies were around, since they would sell more of their product. But where Maryann’s father works does not change the validity of Maryann’s argument.
3. Tu Quoque (“You Also”) Form
This is an attack on someone’s claim because the one making the argument either (a) was inconsistent in what they said previously, or (b) is inconsistent in their actions.
Natalie: “How can you say abortion is murder? I remember in middle school you gave a speech in class saying abortion was okay.”
Maryann is allowed to change her views. Maryann’s current argument still has not been adequately addressed. Natalie is merely pointing out what appears to her to be hypocrisy.
Hypocrites can even speak truth. As in the example of Saddam Hussein, earlier.
Or as in the example of late-term abortionist, Curtis Boyd.
Boyd admits, “Am I killing? Yes, I am.” Even he can say abortion is killing. And even if he is an ordained Protestant minister, as he says he is.
Take a listen yourself:
4. Guilt By Association Form
The final form of the ad hominem argument is the logical fallacy that a claim can be rejected simply because it is held by others who are disliked.
Natalie: “Oh, so you’re pro-life? Like that virgin quarterback, who can’t find a team to take him, Tim Tebow?”
Tim Tebow’s inability to find work in the NFL has nothing to do with Maryann’s argument. Natalie may think virgins are losers; however, that does not disprove Maryann.
PRO-LIFERS NEED TO BE CAREFUL TOO
This is not to say that abortion advocates are the only ones who commit logical fallacies. Far from it.
Here are a couple examples of ad hominem arguments I have seen pro-lifers make.
“Anyone who supports abortion is supporting child murder. Therefore, you are a jerk for supporting death to babies.”
This is the abusive form and it will win over zero people to the pro-life movement.
“How can you say it is okay for your friend to have an abortion, when you chose life for your child?”
This is the tu quoque form. Just because one person chose life, in itself, does not automatically prove that everyone must choose life for their children. Don’t get me wrong, abortion is never, ever justified. But our stance is not reduced to saying that what is good for a few must be good for everyone.
For instance, I do not own a cat and will never own a cat (mostly due to my allergies). But just because I am not a cat owner does not automatically mean no one is allowed to own a cat.
I hope this will help us all to recognize ad hominem arguments in our discussions over abortion. Now you will be better prepared to not allow others to use these forms against you and claim victory.
Stay tuned, as I plan to write more on logical fallacies, in order to strengthen our arguments.
What are your thoughts on the ad hominem argument?
Where have you seen it employed and was it caught in those discussions?
What are logical fallacies would you like to see addressed?
Please sound off below!