Argumentum ad Hominem

A call to discuss constructively, instead of resorting to personal attacks.

Argumentum ad Hominem, a Latin phrase which means “an argument to the person”. Being a loyar burok, I often find myself caught in various arguments with various types of people for various reasons. Quite so often I come across some people who tend to use forms of argumentum ad hominem or commonly known as a personal attack. They usually cook up a logical fallacy by attacking the character or circumstances of their opponent, which may come in forms of insult, questions of personal conduct, character, and motives. Generally it is done in the course of insulting or belittling one’s opponent to invalidate the opponent’s argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument.

Allow me to demonstrate the logic of its operation.

A makes a claim, say the claim is X.

There is something objectionable about A, be it his/her conduct, character, or motives.

Therefore, claim X is suppose to be false/weak/groundless.

It is very common to find such arguments in the Malaysian courtrooms, the upper and lower houses of the Malaysian Parliament, political speeches, school debates, arguments between couples, and there is plenty of it here at LoyarBurok, especially at the comments section of interesting posts.

These arguments usually have got nothing to do with the truth or falsity of the opponent’s proposition. Apart from being guilty of mala fide it is also of no benefit and is very unprofessional in nature.

(Source: http://danielayad.files.wordpress.com)

(Source: http://danielayad.files.wordpress.com)

Generally there are three types of ad hominemad hominem abuse, ad hominem circumstantial, and ad hominem tu quoque.

Ad hominem abuse usually occurs when the counter argument is about the character or a personal quality of the opponent. Such an argument is designed to either humiliate or ridicule the opponent, as that would distract the opponent from the essence of the argument because the opponent may feel it necessary to defend themselves or simply too embarrassed and lose the whole argument.

Yes, very sneaky and evil indeed.

Now some examples of ad hominem abuse:

Martin: The proposed policy would encourage economic growth.

Bond: Nonsense! You flopped your economics in high school! / Yeah right! Where did you get your economics lessons from? Rina Cheah?

* Note that the statement/rhetoric by Bond has got nothing to do with the claim.

Ad hominem circumstantial occurs when one points out that the stance the opponent takes is due to the circumstances he/she is in. The fallacy claims that the only reason why one argues as he/she does is because of their circumstances.

Example of ad hominem circumstantial:

Lings: LoyarBurok is a revolutionary idea, it encompasses the essence of a free spirit!

Cantona: Of course-lah you say like that, you’re writing for them mah!

Ad hominem tu quoque literally means “you too!” — also known as the “hypocrisy” argument. In this form of attack, one argues that the opponent does not practice what he/she preaches.

Example of ad hominem tu quoque:

Bush: The Malaysians are very ridiculous, they have preventive detention laws, how draconian!

Bond: Eh, you also same what! You got the Patriot Act!

Now this form of personal attack is somewhat a legal principle by itself. In equity there is a maxim which states that one may not go to the courts with unclean hands. The court would not grant the applicant’s request if he has done something just as equally wrong towards the respondent. For example, say you cheated on your wife and she finds out and files for divorce, now if you can prove that she has also cheated on you then the court might just reject her application on the grounds of tu quoque!

This argument however was rejected before the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the former state of Yugoslavia in several cases when the accused tried to justify their act by insisting that the opposing side had committed similar crimes. However the ICTY held that the argument of tu quoque, is completely irrelevant by international humanitarian law standards. However, at the Nuremberg trial of Karl Donitz, tu quoque was accepted not as a defence to the crime itself, but as a defence only to the punishment.

In conclusion, argumentum ad hominem is generally something to be avoided in proper arguments.

Here at LoyarBurok (at least as I think), arguments should be beneficial, although I am guilty of personal attacks myself at times. However, I keep in mind not to resort to such arguments as it renders the whole point of the debate pointless and it is somewhat unethical.

I hope people at LoyarBurok, both readers and writers, would depart from argumentum ad hominem.

Let us all argue appropriately, for the benefit of all.

Lingswaran Singh has been a LoyarBurokker since he was 5. He speaks an open but disinterested language, dictated not by passion but that of humanity. Independence is his happiness. His country is the world, and his religion is to do good. He too is an emissary of Lord Bobo Barnabus, tasked to enlighten Malaysians through loyarburok.com, this awesome blawg leading the quest for world domination.


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Lingswaran Singh has been a LoyarBurokker since he was 5. He speaks an open but disinterested language, dictated not by passion but that of humanity. Independence is his happiness. His country is the world, and his religion is to do good. He too is an emissary of Lord Bobo Barnabus, tasked to enlighten Malaysians through loyarburok.com, this awesome blawg leading the quest for world domination.

Posted on 20 January 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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11 Responses to Argumentum ad Hominem

  1. siew eng

    yeah, i couldn't help calling someone a taliban for repeating his calls for the nut graph and shanon shah to be arrested under the isa eternally after tng published shanon's piece which argued that there is room for religious tolerance on homosexuality.

  2. Lings, next LoyarBurok get-together you can be the referee. Interject with "argumentum ad hominem!" at the appropriate junctures.

    You'll be a busy man.:P

  3. Will Sen

    good stuff, Lings

  4. Lingswaran Singh

    Thanks people. @Hard Kaur thanks for the e-mail ;). @Special One, i eat humble pie, thank you for your advice @Clarissa, well i did admit that I am guilty of personal attacks myself at times.

  5. Clarissa

    Celui comment est le classique example de la categorie troisieme :)

  6. Special One

    Lingswaran,

    You implying that people who whack you are argumentum ad hominem lah is it?

    Maybe you should be more humble. Just because people disagree doesn't mean they have no merit lah bhai.

  7. Hard Kaur

    Hi! I'm a big fan of your writings, i have been following your stuff since i read the piece you churned out with Faisal Mustafa at Merdeka Review, the one titled Ganyang Malaysia, and i must say Republic of God is a masterpiece!. I like your style, i would love to meet up with you sometime, if you don't mind.

  8. Great stuff Lings! Should be adorned on the halls of Parliament I say!

  9. A timely lesson on how to argue well. A round of applause to you buddy.

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  11. Another Worried Stud

    A lesson in fallacy! This is good!