Definition Ad Hominem
The ad hominem fallacy uses a personal attack to undermine an opponent’s argument, rather than addressing the point that was made. Ad hominem is Latin for ‘to the person’.
Focusing on the character or motives of a person draws attention away from the issue at hand. It’s a distraction tactic, which also may dent the self-confidence of the opponent. It can therefore be a very effect method to silence someone in a discussion. It is very common on social media forums.
An ad hominem attack is targeting the person,
not the message.
Example AD HOMINEM
Someone offers a strong, controversial opinion on a social media platform, and miss-spells a word. If he or she is subsequently criticized for the typo, it’s an ad hominem tactic. It focuses on the person (you’re stupid, you don’t even know how to spell), rather than addressing the substance of the comment.
You may recognize this. Perhaps you have even made fun of someone online yourself, to disqualify someone’s opinion. You may have done so without evil intent, but it was probably not helpful for the discussion.
HOW TO DEAL WITH AN AD HOMINEM ATTACK
So, next time someone attacks you for a typo, it is better not to react to sneers about it. That would probably sooth your ego, what would be understandable. It wouldn’t help you to win the argument, though.
Experienced trolls play the ego card all the time.
Experienced trolls play the ego card all the time. It is more effective to ignore such a comment or point at the fallacious nature of it, restate your position and bring the discussion back to the point you want to make. Mention your position each time a fallacy is thrown at you. If the goal is to silence you, they won’t succeed.
AD HOMINEM ATTACKS AND PARTISAN POLITICS
It is quite hard to separate the message from the messenger – particularly after a few bad experiences. When we dislike or distrust the person who makes the argument, we often stop listening. We all do this to a certain extent. That is why we like to stay in our echo chambers: we don’t have to listen to these disliked and distrusted persons.
Ad hominem reasoning thrives in a partisan environment. Conservatives may disqualify news anchors of certain networks, without even hearing their words. Progressives may ignore anything claimed on a conservative network, just because we distrust the shows’ hosts.
Typically you would say or think that anything this right-wing idiot or lefty communist says cannot be trusted, because, … well, he is that right-wing idiot or lefty communist. Yet, that is faulty reasoning too and may lead to the wrong conclusion. Even a broken clock is right two times a day.