Ad hominem


Ad hominem is a notion which indicates arguments that refute collocutor’s assertions with discreditation against his or her personality, actions, or motive. In this case, objective facts and logical statements are not taken into consideration. This method is used in discussions; it is not a kind of objective argumentation because of motivation to take over the opponent, but not to resolve the problem. Usually, disputants use the method with the aim to mislead the audience and to win over their opponents. It is never applied in professional and scientific fields for obvious reasons. 

This Latin term was introduced by Roman rhetoricians as a mean to convince an audience. From the very beginning, ‘ad hominem’ signified appealing to the emotions and prejudices of the listeners. Aristotle examined two situations concerning the truthfulness of arguments in regard to the personality of a speaker: if the person who speaks and the testimonies are credible, there is no need for discussion, and on the contrary, if the speaker does not deserve trust, the statement is questionable. In the second case, the testimony could be appealed with arguments ad hominem.

At the end of XX century, they became common in political discourse, especially in election campaigns; this has been widely reflected in media. Despite the phenomenon ad hominem has existed for a long time, its optimal application in the modern world is more relevant than ever before. 

In fact, an interlocutor uses statements ad hominem when he or she tries to show the audience that opponent's opinion is not worth trust because the opponent should not be trusted. The tactic is applied when it is not possible to find arguments for impugnment of allegations. This way of argumentation attracts attention to the rival, whose honesty should be questioned, and not to the truthfulness of the statements themselves or the logic of reasoning.

Ad hominem includes three types. The first is ad personam. This is a personal attack during disputes when opponent's traits are hit. With this technique, the interlocutor calls into question the opponents’ statement because the opponent is not credible. In most cases, such arguments are incorrect, and they provoke conflict.

Sometimes within the discussion ad hominem could be used appeals to rivals’ vanity. This approach is quite the opposite to personal attack because in such case interlocutor resorts to manipulating techniques often used by experienced orators. In such situation, opponents’ personality is characterized not negatively, but on the contrary exaggeratedly positively, at the same time, expressing one’s disbelief that such nonsensical statements may belong to a person with wide-ranging horizons or other personal preferences. The second type is called ad hominem circumstantiae. It refers to circumstances that are thought to dictate the person which views should be defended. Such kind of rejoinder also cannot be considered as uninfluenced, as it still does not regard the logical basis of the statement. The same type of ad hominem circumstantiae is an argument, which disproves the affirmation only because of the inauthenticity of its source or prejudice of self-interest.

The last type is ad hominem tu quoque, which points out that statement is incredible because the interlocutor is guilty in what he or she stands against or is a part of it. Such kind of impugnment is mostly applied when the actions of a person in the present or the past diverge from the convictions expressed in the statement. Arguments of this type, in contrast to a direct personal attack, are correct. Using them helps to achieve a strong effect both on the audience and the opponent.

In modern theory of argumentation, there is no single methodological basis for ad hominem analysis, but it is possible to highlight the main approaches of such arguments comprehension. One of these approaches considers ad hominem application in disputes as erroneous. Scholars came to this conclusion because such type of argumentation looks like the substitution of the criticized thesis with references to the personal qualities of the person. It does not always have to be attached to a negative appraisal of the object; for example, lawyers list defendants’ positive qualities during the trial instead of proving that they are innocent. 

The second approach declares that the application ad hominem is valid and relevant in some discourses, as, for instance, politics. Considering the same example with the trial, the judge can ignore the arguments ad hominem if she or he belongs to a different religious organization than the defendant. The third approach admits the application of arguments ad hominem, although with certain limitations. Related to the person cases also could be a part of the substantive reasoning, such as experience and knowledge, character traits, psychological factors, type of thinking and biographical circumstances.