Ad Hominem

In response to my Altar of Diplomacy article yesterday, one of the people mentioned in that article accused me of making within it an ad hominem attack.

I never studied Latin, and there’s not a lot of it used in the engineering disciplines which I did study. But, I’ve picked up a few terms here and there. I knew this accusation was incorrect, but just to be sure I looked it up.

Wikipedia says:

An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it.

A logician would categorize an ad hominem argument as logical fallacy of irrelevance.

Ironically, my accuser has in the past done exactly that by calling me uncivil. In other words (which can be said in Latin as “id est,” or abbreviated “i.e.”), my objections to his actions have no merit because I didn’t object nicely.

This is akin to political attacks on opponents because they are, for example (in Latin “exempli gratia, abbreviated “e.g.”), Republicans or because they are Caucasian, regardless of the merits of their logical positions.

Further, false accusations of ad hominem attacks fall into the psychological realm of “passive aggressive” behavior, which a logician might characterize as argumentum ad misericordiam.

The humorous inverse of an accusation that a critic is, e.g., paranoid might be, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t all out to get me.”

Or in my case, you may not like me and I may be an uncivil jerk, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong. All this conversation about ‘civil dialog’ seems even more to be just a nice way of blowing off one’s critics. I don’t think that’s ‘civil.’ I just think it is being clever.

So, to this accuser I can reply, “Tu quoque!”


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