Fallacies: Ad Hominem Definition and 7 Examples
In the field of rhetoric, there are many strategies one can use to make their speech both fascinating and persuasive. These strategies include emoting, incorporating rhetorical questions, sharing anecdotes, and being factual. These all fall under one of the Aristotelian components of rhetoric known as logos, ethos, and pathos. However, there is one element of rhetoric that one should be wary of utilizing, and that is the logical fallacy. Logical fallacies are the type of arguments that are exhibited in a deceptive manner or have evidence of flaws in the logic provided. One specific example of a logical fallacy is the ad hominem fallacy.
Fallacies: Ad Hominem Definition
Ad hominem fallacies are a category of fallacy that is used to facilitate the invalidation of an opponent’s argument with a personal attack. The idea behind employing this strategy is that the opponent will be distracted by the attack while also undermining their position.
This is called a fallacy of relevance since the flaw in this argument comes from attacking the opponent instead of his or her position. It helps the speaker avoid addressing the actual argument and usually comes as a response in a debate instead of an opening statement. Here are some examples of ad hominem fallacies.
John: I just read an article in the paper, and I think you should take June out for longer walks.
Misty: John, thanks for your concern, but you have never owned a dog. Please don’t tell me how to take care of mine.
This is an ad hominem attack as Misty points out his lack of experience as a retort. Moreover, the content of the article is never discussed, just John’s lack of pet experience.
Marcia: I believe I can help run your election campaign, as I have some ideas.
Danielle: You’re not some kind of high-profile political pundit that knows best. I don’t need to listen to you.
Marcia avoids discussing Danielle’s ideas by targeting Danielle’s lack of authority, which is irrelevant to the discussion.
Allie: I think you should clean out your closet. It’s a mess there.
Enzo: You’re telling me this? I haven’t seen you clean your closet even once in the past 5 years.
Enzo is deflecting from Alice’s request instead of focusing on the main topic, which is the state of his room.
Dr. Lysa: Junk food is not good for you, and I think you should stop eating it to control your diabetes.
Frank: With all due respect doctor, I have seen you eat plenty of junk food every day of the week. I don’t think you should be telling me how to eat my meals.
Frank feels that he should not take his doctor’s advice because she does not follow it herself. Despite her trying to advise him in changing his dietary habits, he is deflecting from discussing the topic.
Petra: Based on these findings, I believe that we should change school start times. It would be better for everyone in the school system.
Alfred: I think you need to calm down.
Petra: But what are your thoughts on changing the policy?
Alfred: You’re getting very emotional, and I think it would be better addressed if you went through with this more calmly.
In this case, Alfred focuses on Petra’s tone and calls her emotional. He never provides a substantive argument against the position she presents, yet he criticizes her presentation directly.
If you are not with us, you’re against us.
This expression is used often in public discourse, and it’s another ad hominem fallacy because the statement puts the speaker’s reputation against everyone else’s. In this case, that is suggesting that having a different opinion from the majority is reason enough to suggest their opinion is invalid.
Irene: I’m making a petition to ask the city council to make the town square car-free. Do you want to help me?
Sam: I’ll sign it, but I am not sure everyone will want to do it. I know it is because you like riding your bike and would love to ride around the square, but there’s too many cars.
Sam doesn’t provide any specific pros and cons about Irene’s pitched proposal, but he brings in this assumption that her reasons are self-serving. He does not engage with the car-free petition, and discredits the argument solely based on the fact she wants to ride her bike in the town square, which is another example of the ad hominem fallacy.
In your own writing and discussions, try to avoid ad hominem retorts. Focus more on the content of your own argument and the content of any position you chose to debate. Not only will you have more success in expressing your position, but you will avoid a mistake that may close off others to your ideas.
Author: Maaida Kirmani