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Arguments Ad Hominem

 

Techniques General persuasion > The Art of Being Right > Arguments Ad Hominem

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

Another trick is to use arguments ad hominem, or ex concessis. When your opponent makes a proposition, you must try to see whether it is not in some way - if needs be, only apparently - inconsistent with some other proposition which he has made or admitted, or with the principles of a school or sect which he has commended and approved, or with the actions of those who support the sect, or else of those who give it only an apparent and spurious support; or with his own actions or want of action. For example, should he defend suicide, you may at once exclaim, "Why don't you hang yourself?" Should he maintain that Berlin is an unpleasant place to live in, you may say, "Why don't you leave by the first train?" Some such claptrap is always possible.

The truth from which I draw my proof may be either (1) of an objective and universally valid character; in that case my proof is veracious, secundum veritatem; and it is such proof alone that has any genuine validity. Or (2) it may be valid only for the person to whom I wish to prove my proposition, and with whom I am disputing. He has, that is to say, either taken up some position once for all as a prejudice, or hastily admitted it in the course of the dispute; and on this I ground my proof. In that case, it is a proof valid only for this particular man, ad hominem. I compel my opponent to grant my proposition, but I fail to establish it as a truth of universal validity. My proof avails for my opponent alone, but for no one else. For example, if my opponent is a devotee of Kant's, and I ground my proof on some utterance of that philosopher, it is a proof which in itself is only ad hominem. If he is a Mohammedan, I may prove my point by reference to a passage in the Koran, and that is sufficient for him; but here it is only a proof ad hominem.

Example

You said that you would talk to her, but you haven't. Do you lack courage? Are you lazy? I want you to show me you can do this.

Don't be stupid, of course that's a MR2. Didn't you say you could recognize any car?

Discussion

Ad Hominem means 'against the man' as it is a personal attack, based perhaps on simple and limited evidence that may well be deliberately misinterpreted or generalized.

Attacking the person provokes the fight-or-flight reaction. If they fight, then you will need a powerful base, but you can utilize the fact that anger will make them irrational. Flight in an argument is generally into concession and giving in to your requests.

Ex concessis means 'in view of what has already been accepted' and is often used in legal contracts.

'Arguments Ad Hominem' is the sixteenth of Schopenhauer's stratagems.

See also

Personal Inconsistency, Attack the Person

 

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