I don’t think I could explain this fallacy any better!
Ad Hominem simply means personal attack. It is the argument that someone is wrong because there is something wrong with him/her. This fallacy is essentially the fallacy of attacking the arguer instead of the argument.
Example: This is a paragraph of a blog post by a user named “The answer girl”. She obviously is far from having any answers, because of the following post, which is about the rejection of homosexuality being natural:
“But the proof offered, my dear friends, needs to be towards the unbiased side of the spectrum. This means that those pro-homosexuality and/or LGBT supporting websites shouldn’t be part of your argument, since – in most cases – the information is biased and misleading. A friend of mine told me she was reading a book on this type of research, for example, and the authors were a homosexual couples. One would assume that information might have been mishandled or the research conducted might have been leading (i.e. forced), for example.”
One must be very careful regarding the notion of “bias”. In research method there is indeed a serious case for being biased, but the nature of the research itself is very determining in such cases. As you can see above, our answer girl is not trying to go after any evidence to suggest the results of research done by LGBT supporting websites or books are indeed biased, she is doing the very basic case of Ad Hominem attack: The information is biased because it is given by LGBT supporters.
It does not matter who gives the information, a Nazi may claim racism true, but he or she is not wrong “because” he is a Nazi. If we wish to prove anyone wrong, we need to prove their claims or arguments wrong.
This fallacy could be very tricky at times. In a lot of TV shows we can more or less hear things like “You are a member of party X, obviously you agree with anything that your party says!” Of course, a person’s political party is irrelevant to the truth value of the claims they make, or the structure of their arguments. The following conversation between Rachel Maddow and Nick Gillespie in an episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher”:
“You will always take the side of a Democrat over a Republican,” Gillespie replied.
“No, I won’t,” Maddow shot back. “You don’t even know me.”
“I’ve seen your show,” Gillsepie said.
The first line has nothing to do with the truth value of the claims given in one’s show or made in any other program, aside from the fallacious line of reducing one’s arguments or claims (in this case in their show) to their position or political party.
Thought on Homosexuality. The Answer Girl. 12/1/11. [ http://theanswergirl.tumblr.com/post/8790361207/thoughts-on-homosexuality]
Rachel Maddow, Nick Gillespie Have Intense Argument On ‘Real Time’ (VIDEO). huffingtonpost. 06/23/2012. [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/23/rachel-maddow-real-time-nick-gillespie_n_1620826.html]
The fallacy that the notion X is true, only because authority Y says so. No matter who the authority is, God, Prophet, holy book, the President, or Mr. John Smith; the authority still needs a reason to believe the notion, and that reason has to be clear. Sometimes, the reason is perfectly clear. A doctor has a specialty and a definite insight into the illnesses s/he has specialized in. It is perfectly reasonable to assume a specialist has good reasons for her claims. Therefore it won’t be fallacious to back a claim about one’s health and cite the doctor as the source of it.
To make this more clear, we could put it this way: Authority cannot be replaced as a premise of an argument, or as the reason behind a claim. However, a legitimate authority can be put as the source of reasons behind a claim.
Example: There is quite an interesting issues on morality which could be pointed out under this fallacy. A lot of moral claims given by fundamentalists turn out to be purely fallacious, on both fronts: replacing the authority with reason, or appealing to an authority which by no means is even remotely close to being a specialist on the subject of moral claims. Sometimes it is even worse, the authority turns out to be completely devoid of any sense of morality.
One of these particular issues is the law itself, when the law is presented as the only reason for the correctness of a notion. In a back and forth conversation with some pro-guns after the shooting in Sandy Hook elementary school (in 2012), they kept pointing out that “We have the right to have guns, our constitution is clear about it.” and I kept asking them “It’s true that the law in US allows people to have weapons, but why do you think it’s the right thing to do? Why the law is right? What is the reason?”
The law does not make a notion automatically right simply because it is “the law”. There are reasons behind what our politicians decide to legislate, and simply pointing at a certain law does not make a similar claim right.
Perhaps the worst of all appeals to authority are the claims from religious fundamentalists on the subject of moral values. In arguments with religious fanatics, “X is wrong” is a notion that is usually backed up by “Because God has commanded it”. Obviously God (any God) is by no means a legitimate authority on moral subjects. Most of it could be because God never seems to clearly answer questions about his reasons for a particular commandment. And moreover, by reading most religious books we immediately realize that most Gods are worse than psychopaths, how could they ever be a legitimate authority on moral subjects?
 Compare this with the case of legitimate authority who specializes on a subject. For example a scientist on his/her specialty A legitimate authority is always prepared to provide reasons for what s/he believes.
Trying to persuade other by an appeal to their feelings and respect for a certain tradition. In other words:
- X is traditional
- Therefore X is good (or acceptable)
The reason this line of argument is fallacious is a hidden premise: “Whatever is traditional is acceptable”. Immediately we realize such is not the case. Slavery and sexism were (and still are) traditions in different societies. We now do not consider them acceptable, and if we find them in a society today (such as Islamic societies) we condemn them. “Tradition” is not “reason”.
Example: During the course of her carrier, the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was questioned about the issue of gay marriage numerous times. Her replies were usually a matter of dancing around the question, starting with “Our position…” or “I and the Labour party have a clear position…”. She usually avoided answering “Why?”, instead repeated her disagreement in different ways.
However, there were some cases which she did try to answer, and that is when our first fallacy is clearly shown. As the Daily Telegraph report here reads, Ms. Gillard tried to justify her disagreement with gay marriage as follows:
“I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future,” she said. “If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now, I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.”
Surely, if we wish to agree with Ms. Gillard, as we saw above we may as well continue slavery and misogyny. After all, they were important parts of our culture and heritage. There is one more thing that is indeed not traditional: Women as prime ministers. I suspect Ms. Gillard should resign according to her own logic.
This fallacy is also important to note in defense of things that may actually be good. Take the whole different celebrations (such as Christmas) that most cultures have around the world. If one asks what is the point of celebrating Christmas (or any other celebration), one may wish to defend the so called “tradition” of Christmas simply because it is a part of the American culture or heritage. But such defence falls into the same category of fallacious argument: If Christmas (or any celebration) is “good”, that does not come from it being a tradition. Traditions are not reasons.
In such case we may wish to argue about the good effects that such celebrations can have on the society. Or perhaps based on the fact that having such celebrations can have positive impact on individual lives.
- Australian PM Julia Gillard: Gay marriage against my upbringing, The Daily Telegraph, March 21, 2011 [http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/pm-julia-gillard-gay-marriage-against-my-upbringing/story-e6freuy9-1226025009815]
We are human beings. We used to be Homo erectus, we surpassed our other homo cousins (such as Neanderthals), and now we are homo sapiens. Without a doubt, we progressed. A painful, slow and most of the time dangerous progress, but progress nonetheless. And now that we are here, we may as well ask the question which perhaps enabled our ancestors to reach here: “Why?”
There are a combination of reasons for why we progress; why we, human beings, are beyond any other living creature on this planet. Even the smartest species of mammals, even the closest to us, our Chimpanzee cousins, have not been able to know more and be more than our children of a very young age.
We may have gained a lot of advantages in our path of evolution, but one advantage remains the reason why we evolve, even today. That is our language, our ability to make a claim, say what we think, and reason for its truth value. The way of the argument and reason. The ability to agree or disagree with each other, to ask “Why?” and to answer it. It may have all started with that first homo who around two million years ago, suddenly ask that very same powerful question: “Why?”
Good vs. Bad argument:
A logical argument is not simply a discussion between two or more people, it is a set of statements together, but in a certain structure. It is the support of one statement (conclusion), based on some other statements (premises). A good argument is those set of premises which will necessarily result the conclusion, and has to meet certain criteria:
- Well formed structure,
- Relevant premises,
- Reasonable, clear and sound premises,
- Internally consistent,
A fallacy on the other hand is an argument that does not meet the criteria above. Any problem with what came above will result in a faulty argument, and faulty arguments do not result in giving an acceptable conclusion. Keep in mind that this does not mean the conclusion is necessarily “wrong”, it means that the conclusion cannot be accepted in the light of the presented argument.
Before going ahead with introduction of the logical fallacies, it is worth mentioning the number zero fallacy, and that is making a claim without an argument to support it. We all at some point have heard the phrase “But that’s just my opinion”. An opinion is not an argument, and that statement is in fact “the” none-argument. It s a way of running away for those who wish never to give any reason for what they perceive to be true. Those who only wish to have conclusions, and only wish to stop any progress which could be achieved through conversation.
Logical fallacies, bad arguments:
What comes in each of the next follow up parts is a rough list of the most common fallacies which we hear nowadays from homophobic groups, religious fanatics and of course politicians. Each fallacy is briefly defined and is accompanied with related examples. I have tried to find at least one example from the real world of news and politics for each section, since they are much more interesting than a made up example, and frankly easier to find.
 I do not know, but maybe he was washing himself and suddenly it clicked. Maybe he jumped up, and maybe, maybe, he shouted “Eureka! Eureka!”.
 “They” usually tend to be religious fundamentalists, fanatics or politicians. Of course it could indicate a comfortable delusion or utter dishonesty.
 Of course, politicians are a perfect source for fallacies. Their dishonesty is astonishing, their ability to deceive almost unmatched by any other profession.
I had a little bit of discussion with one of my new housemates the other night, and though he jumped through many things, one part was directly related to bad reasoning and bad defence of arguments.
First, he made the claim that we are decedents from an alien race that came to earth right before ancient Egypt was formed, and they mixed their DNA with apes to make us, human beings. When I asked what is his reason for this claim, he said that one particular theory about how Egyptians made the pyramid has been falsified, and since no scientist can explain how the pyramid were made, this is evidence for the alien race.
Of course now you think that I should have left it at that, since these claims are beyond repair messed up. But, well, not me. I at least try my best, so I told him that I do not know much about pyramids, but what he is doing is appealing to ignorance: He is backing up his claims not by providing evidence for them, but by saying that since other people are wrong, his explanation must be right.
At this point he did something that is the subject of this post, he asked: “Do you doubt that aliens might exist?”
The answer to that question as physicists have suggested is most likely no, aliens are highly likely to actually exist, but that doesn’t mean that they have ever visited us, or even to have survived long enough to realized that we exist.*
This is when I felt the need to explained something essential about reasoning: Conclusions (or different parts of them) may or may not be obvious, but no one can defend a fallacious argument based on partially obvious conclusions.
Take the following argument for example:
All insects have eight legs.
Spiders are insects.
==> Spiders have eight legs.
The conclusion is obviously true, but the argument is utterly false. If someone present such argument, and then when told that the argument is false defends it by saying “If you do not believe me, let’s go and see a spider for ourselves!”, they are abandoning the basics of reasoning.
* The following video is a good speech from Richard Dawkins in which he talks about this issue as well as science and fallacious arguments. (This particular issue comes up around 35:30)
Two arguments, two arguments that are going to make me puke if I hear them one more time! Well, I suppose not, but I will write this post. Maybe, maybe, those guys who humiliate themselves each time they through these kinds of nonsense out, will see it and stop being intellectually incompetent:
1: Fundamentalist religious people vs. gay marriage: Neither I, nor any other rational person in the world (which oddly includes sane religious people as well), cares what your God says about gay marriage. Logically speaking, one shall not give a tiny little piece of a rats “bottom” about what your Jesus, Allah or whatever the hell your God; is, does or orders. It is utterly irrelevant to this debate and this topic.
Stop appealing to your moronic “traditions”. This is about the law, which automatically makes it about rights, and yes: Human rights. There is absolutely no shred of reason in the arguments of fundamentalists based on their traditions against gay marriage, it’s all fallacious and it’s useless for you.
No studies in the world have found any shred of evidence that gay parents are worse than straight parents, and those who want to define marriage based on “reproduction” please note that aside from excluding straight parents that cannot have children or do not want to, it’s horrifyingly inhuman to define the “rights” of people based on a choice that they have to make on bringing another life into this world. Imagine a child asking his or her parents: “Why was I born?” and the parents answer would be: “Because we had to reproduce, honey!” What a shame!
And yes, gays can be families too. What else would you call a couple that have lived together for 20 years and have 2 children?!
That’s more or less all that I have seen from these guys, I wonder what kind of other reasons could they have for this irrational, immoral and imposturous stance on their discriminative Buffoonery?!
2: Kalam cosmological argument: A drastic change of subject, eh? But recently I have become aware that this really disgusts me. The reason is I had to shut up and sit through the same stupidity of the same type of arguments for “God” knows how long, and I had to read the same horrendous thing for my tests, that was compulsory for us during 8 years from the time that I was 14 to the time I was 22.
And the same I keep hearing. The following is how that argument goes, and its most important logical problem: (this one I found on wikipedia, the others have the same fallacies)
(1) Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence.
(2) The universe has a beginning of its existence.
(3) The universe has a cause of its existence.
Aside from all the things that had been said about it before, it suffers from a fallacy of composition. It may be true that all the things that we see have a cause, but all the things that we see happen in the universe. Universe is the sum of all those things, therefore it might be true that everything has a reason, but it is not true that “everything” itself has a reason. besides, it is usually not mentioned that “Everything that has a beginning of its existence” is of materialistic nature, and everything in there has a materialistic cause.
Also, Hume’s argument works applies to this situation: How did you found out the first premise of your argument? You observed the things around you for a period of time. Ok, how dare you suggest that it applies to the beginning of everything, including time?
Now that I think about it, I see that self humiliation is irrelevant here. After all Christians, especially fundamentalis ones, are very fund of it, aren’t they?