Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism
Spend any time online and sooner or later you will witness someone accuse someone else of using an Ad Hominem attack. Most of the time, the accuser is mistaken. Consider the following two examples:
1. “Prof. Guy Frangelini is abrasive, arrogant, egotistical and mean-spirited. Given that, I choose to avoid him and his most loyal followers at all costs.”
2. “Brian Friedman is a ‘new-welfarist’ so, of course, he supports ‘cage-free’ eggs. I don’t care what he says.”
Now, it may appear that the first of these is the Ad Hominem while the second is not. However, the opposite is actually the case. The second example is the Ad Hominem, not the first. Here’s why.
An Ad Hominem is used to discount a person’s argument or opinion based on an irrelevancy. So, in the second example, the fact that Friedman may be a “new-welfarist” has no bearing on whether his arguments in support of “cage-free” eggs have merit. That is, if one assumes that just in case another is a “new-welfarist” that therefore another’s opinion is invalid, a fallacy has been committed. It may well be that Friedman’s arguments in support of “cage-free” eggs are not good arguments, but one cannot know in advance of hearing the arguments whether that is the case. “New-welfarists” are certainly capable of making good arguments, and just in case someone is a “new-welfarist” cannot mean that they are necessarily wrong about anything. Whenever you hear, or read, someone saying something to the effect that “Of course he would say that, what would you expect?” you ought to be on the lookout for the Ad Hominem.
Now, as for the first example, it’s simply a matter of personal opinion whether Prof. Frangelini is abrasive, arrogant, egotistical and mean-spirited. If a person finds him to be those things, then certainly they have the right to say so, and to avoid him and his associates should they so choose. Notice, in the first example the opinions and positions of Frangelini are not at issue. It is not being said, “The guy is jerk therefore his opinions are worthless.” All that is being said is that the guy is a jerk. It’s just like saying that avocados taste like crap.
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