An ad hominem argument is one that is used to counter another argument, but it is based on feelings of prejudice (often irrelevant to the argument), rather than facts, reason or logic. It is often a personal attack on one’s character rather than an attempt to address the issue at hand. This type of fallacy can often be witnessed in individual debates, in court or in politics. Often, the attack is based on one’s social, political, or religious views, or on lifestyle choices of the person being attacked using ad hominem. The result of an ad hom attack can be to undermine someone's case without actually having to engage with it.
Ad Hominem Examples
- A lawyer attacking a defendant’s character rather than addressing or questioning based on the case – in a case of theft pointing out the defendant’s level of poverty.
- A politician degrading another politician during a political campaign when asked about a specific policy – “Well, I think we need to look at the other candidate’s failures regarding this topic.”
- Responding in any debate with an attack on one’s personal beliefs.
- Using someone’s known background or beliefs to respond in a way such as “Of course you would say that, because you believe _____.”
- Stating that someone’s argument is incorrect because of her religious beliefs – “Perhaps if you weren’t part of that particular religious group, you would see this quite differently.”
- Attacking someone’s own sexual orientation in arguing about the right of LGBT individuals to marry – “The only reason you could possibly be in favor of this is because you are not being honest about your own sexuality.”
- Demeaning a teacher’s decision on grading by insulting her intelligence – “Well, it’s not like you graduated from a good school, so I can see why you wouldn’t know how to properly grade a writing assignment.”
- Using racial slurs to demean a person of another race in an argument about a crime involving people of different racial backgrounds – “People like you don’t understand what it’s like to be of my race so you blatantly have no right to make an argument about this situation.”
- Generalizing views of a political party as an insulting argument to an individual who is a member of a different party – “Well, it’s pretty obvious that your political party doesn’t know how to be fiscally responsible, so I wouldn’t expect you to, either.”
- Stating that one’s age precludes him from being able to make an intelligent or meaningful argument – “You are clearly just too young to understand.”
- Use of marital status to invalidate an opinion of someone of a different status – “How can you make a decision about someone having marital problems if you’ve never been married yourself?”
- Asserting that someone’s geographical location prevents him from being able to make a clear judgment – “You’ve only ever lived in an urban environment. The issues of those in other areas is clearly beyond you.”
- Using gender as a means to devalue an argument from an opposing gender – “This is a female issue. As a man, how can you have an opinion about this?”
- Stating that the ethnicity of the opposing individual keeps him from formulating a valuable opinion – “You are from the United States, so you could never understand what it’s like to live in a country like that.”
- Using someone’s educational level as a means to exploit and degrade the opposer’s argument – “You didn’t even finish high school - how could you possibly know about this?”
- Relying on socioeconomic status as a means to undermine an opposing individual’s opinion – “You wouldn’t understand since you have never had to struggle."
These examples of ad hominem arguments show that various forms of verbal attack can be used in this type of argument to appeal to emotion and prejudice. Being aware of how an ad hominem argument works can help us judge when we should ignore its use and when we should consider it appropriate. When might an ad hominem argument be justified? It may be perfectly reasonable when a person's good character or credibility is relevant to the argument.