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Ad Hominem

Estimated Lesson Time: 1 hour (self-evaluated option) / 2 hours (instructor-evaluated option)

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Lesson Introduction

In this lesson we will cover the Ad Hominem fallacy in detail, including five common forms: Ad Hominem (Abusive), Ad Hominem (Circumstantial), Ad Hominem (Guilt by Association), Ad Hominem (Tu quoque), and Poisoning the Well.

By the end of this lesson you should be familiar with these fallacies and be able to recognize when they are committed, even if not by name. You will have practice identifying the fallacies in real world contexts. And you will create your own examples choosing from these fallacies.


Lesson Resources

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Lesson Videos

Introduction to Lesson 2 (0:00:25)

Ad Hominem (Circumstantial) (0:01:36)

Suggesting that the person who is making the argument is biased, or predisposed to take a particular stance, and therefore, the argument is necessarily invalid.

Ad Hominem (Guilt by Association) (0:02:08)

When the source is viewed negatively because of its association with another person or group who is already viewed negatively.

Ad Hominem (Tu quoque) (0:03:06)

Claiming the argument is flawed by pointing out that the one making the argument is not acting consistently with the claims of the argument.

Ad Hominem (Abusive) (0:01:08)

Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.

Poisoning the Well (0:03:37)

To commit a preemptive ad hominem attack against an opponent. That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable, or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.

Lesson Key Points

Ad Hominem (Abusive): Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making.
Ad Hominem (Circumstantial): Suggesting that the person who is making the argument is biased, or predisposed to take a particular stance, and therefore, the argument is necessarily invalid.
Ad Hominem (Guilt by Association): When the source is viewed negatively because of its association with another person or group who is already viewed negatively.
Ad Hominem (Tu quoque): Claiming the argument is flawed by pointing out that the one making the argument is not acting consistently with the claims of the argument.
Poisoning the Well: To commit a preemptive ad hominem attack against an opponent.  That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable, or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.

Lesson Assignments

Assignment #1:

This assignment is for students with the instructor-evaluated course option.

Find an example of an ad hominem on the Internet. These are common in blogs, YouTube videos, and even "news" websites. Explain what kind of ad hominem it is. Then argue both sides... why is it a fallacy, and also why it might not be a fallacy. Or if you clearly see it as a fallacy, explain what would need to change for it to not be a fallacy. Submit your weblink and answer below. 1-2 paragraphs.
Assignment #2:

This assignment is for students with the instructor-evaluated course option.

Create your own example of one of the ad hominems. Use the area below.
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Lesson Quiz

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#3: Appeal to Common Belief
#4: Fallacies and Religion
#5: Deception Through Confusion
#10: Fallacies of Poor Statistical Thinking
#11: Black and White Thinking
#12: The Impossible and the Possible
#13: The Red Herring
#15: Special Pleading
#16: The Analogy - Both Friend and Foe
#17: A Look at Nature
#18: Fallacies Worthy of Mention

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Lesson Quiz

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1) Which ad hominem would you be committing if you claimed that a person's argument for the importance of voting was weak because you know for a fact that they rarely ever vote?
a) abusive
b) circumstantial
c) guilt by association
d) tu quoque
2) Which ad hominem would you be committing if in response to a good point by your opponent, you called the person a cotton-headed-ninny-muggins?
a) abusive
b) circumstantial
c) guilt by association
d) tu quoque
3) Which ad hominem would you be committing if you claimed that a person is not fit for public office because he once said something nice about a person who committed a crime?
a) abusive
b) circumstantial
c) guilt by association
d) tu quoque
4) Which ad hominem would you be committing if you refused to consider an argument from a parent about the actions of her son because... well, she's his mother!?
a) abusive
b) circumstantial
c) guilt by association
d) tu quoque
5) If Helga argues that eating fat burgers is not good for you, but she eats them all the time, then
a) her eating the fat burgers is irrelevant to her claim
b) Helga is a hypocrite
c) Fat burgers must really not be that bad for you
d) Helga needs professional help
6) If Ben suggests that he represent the town in the running race, but Jerry points out that is a bad idea because he weighs over 300 pounds, did Jerry commit a fallacy?
a) yes
b) no
7) When does the circumstantial ad hominem become less of a fallacy?
a) when you say it
b) when the person's motive for accusing the person of the fallacy increases
c) as the person's motive for making the argument increases
d) when the person's IQ is higher who is making the argument
8) What does "ad hominem" mean in English?
a) bad argument
b) to the man
c) promote male aggressiveness
d) being mean
9) Which of the following would be a legitimate "guilt by association" claim?
a) You should keep away from Amy because she hangs out with Terry who once ate a cat.
b) Henry Ford should not be admired because he sympathized with the Nazi party.
c) The police are suspicious of Ralphie because he is a member of the city's most notorious gang.
d) Anyone who watches Fox News cannot be trusted.
10) If Jimmy Swaggart pays for sex and speaks out against paying for sex, then
a) his arguments against paying for sex must be invalid
b) his arguments against paying for sex must be weak
c) his arguments against paying for sex must be based on lies
d) it is best to reserve judgment about his arguments until we actually know his arguments
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