Definition: Ad Hominem involves attacking a person or group instead of addressing their arguments.
Ad Hominem, which is Latin for “to the person,” is a fallacy that discredits an argument by attacking the person or group making it, rather than the argument itself. This tactic is often used in political debates, advertising, and public relations to discredit the opposition and sway public opinion.
Example of Ad Hominem in action: is the argument that “climate science can’t be trusted because climate scientists are biased.” In this argument, the focus is not on the validity of the science, but rather on the supposed bias of the scientists involved. This fallacious reasoning is often used to discredit scientific studies and create doubt in the minds of the public.
Remember the case when a group of Republican congressmen sent a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, criticizing his support for the Paris Climate Agreement? In the letter, the congressmen attacked Mr. Guterres personally, rather than addressing the scientific consensus on climate change.
The letter stated: “We strongly encourage you to respect the sovereignty of the United States and withdraw all support for this unaccountable and anti-democratic agreement. Should you refuse to do so, we will have no choice but to join other responsible nations in protecting our citizens from the massive economic and national security implications of this ill-advised agreement.”
This Ad Hominem attack on Mr. Guterres sought to discredit his support for the Paris Climate Agreement by attacking his credibility and suggesting that he was acting in an “anti-democratic” way. However, this attack did not address the scientific evidence that supports the need for action on climate change.
Other examples in politics usually include attacking a politician’s personal life instead of discussing their policies or discrediting a person’s opinion because of their race or gender. The technique is often used to divert attention from the real issues and to attack the credibility of the opposition.
In advertising, a product may be promoted by making fun of someone’s appearance, such as weight or facial features. This Ad Hominem technique discredits the person and makes the viewer less likely to listen to their argument.
Or Attack on a Competitor: Companies may attack their competitors in advertisements by making negative comments about their products, reputation, or personal characteristics instead of focusing on the benefits of their own products. This Ad Hominem technique seeks to discredit the competition and makes the viewer less likely to consider their products or services.
Take for instance, a company that produces organic foods that releases an advertisement in which they attack its competitor’s CEO personally instead of focusing on the quality of its own products. The advertisement states, “How can you trust the food from XYZ Company when their CEO has a history of unethical business practices and has been sued multiple times?” This Ad Hominem attack seeks to discredit the competition by attacking the credibility of their CEO, rather than addressing the quality of their products.
The advertisement tries to create doubt in the minds of the consumers by suggesting that the CEO’s past business practices make the products untrustworthy. However, this attack does not address the actual quality of the products or provide any evidence to support their own claims of superiority. Instead, it seeks to discredit the opposition by attacking their personal character, which is a classic example of Ad Hominem.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM AD HOMINEM?
- Stay Focused on the Argument: When someone attacks your character or credibility instead of addressing your argument, it can be tempting to respond in kind. However, the best course of action is to stay focused on the argument and avoid getting sidetracked by personal attacks.
- Recognize the Fallacy: Ad Hominem is a logical fallacy, which means that it is a flawed argument. When you recognize that someone is using Ad Hominem, you can call it out and focus the discussion back on the argument.
- Stay Calm: Personal attacks can be hurtful, but it’s important to stay calm and composed. Responding with anger or defensiveness can make you appear less credible and make the situation worse.
- Seek out Diverse Perspectives: It’s easy to fall into the trap of surrounding yourself with people who agree with you, but seeking out diverse perspectives can help you avoid Ad Hominem attacks. By exposing yourself to different viewpoints, you can better understand the strengths and weaknesses of different arguments.
- Evaluate the Evidence: When someone makes a personal attack, it’s important to evaluate the evidence for yourself. Look at the facts and evidence presented to support the argument, and evaluate them on their own merits.
Overall, protecting yourself from Ad Hominem attacks requires a combination of emotional intelligence, critical thinking skills, and a commitment to evaluating arguments based on evidence and facts, rather than personal attacks.