I agree with most of this, but I do not agree that "it is unconstitutional" is
related to ad hominem. You may agree or disagree with a position, but
the whole point of constitutionality in a constitutional form of government is
that it addresses the merits of X within that society. As every alternative I
know of involves letting individual persons rule on merits and thus
introduces hierarchy and autocracy, I think constitutionality is a valid and
even essential basis for examining merit.
Date sent: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 16:39:23 -0600
Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From: Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Note on Ad Hominem arguments
To: [log in to unmask]
X argues for A.
A is vile.
Therefore X is vile.
X argues for A.
X is vile.
Therefore A is vile.
One may use a term in any way minimally consistent with its history, and
for that reason _either_ of the arguments above may be labelled _ad
hominem_. I myself, however, would use the label only for Example 2. The
first one contains a personal attack, but it also, and primarily, depends
on establishing a point about the argument involved. Hence it can be
answered by A without him/her having first to give a self defense.
The second one, however, attempts to discredit the argument without in
fact confronting it, by discrediting the person who makes the argument.
That is my personal usage of _ad hominen_. Most red-baiting (or any kind
of baiting) is an instance of (2).
When Frank Knox (a Republican but in Roosevelt's cabinet) ordered his
paper, the old Chicago Daily News, to oppose whatever the Tribune
supported, Colonel McCormick ordered his editors to launch a campaign
against syphilis. (This is obliquely relevant to the question of ad
hominem arguments, though it does not directly involve one.)
Note that a common argument in u.s. politics is related to the ad hominem
argument, though it does not involve persons. "X is bad because it is
unconsitutional." This says nothing about the merits of X but merely tries
to rule it out of consideration. That is also what an ad hominem argument
tries to do.
Band wagons also involve a suppressed ad hominem argument. The
implication of a "band wagon" is that anyone who does not accept a
certain premise is too (stupid/evil/unfashionable) to be worth arguing
against. Stephen J. Gould, in _The Structure of Evolutionary Theory_,
gives a good account of "band wagon" effects in science in certain