Ad hominem attacks are a common logical fallacy in which the arguer attacks the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. This tactic is often used to distract from the argument or to trigger an emotional response from the person being attacked.
For example, imagine you’re having a conversation with a friend about climate change, and your friend responds with “Well, what do you know? You didn’t even finish college!” That’s an ad hominem attack because your level of education has nothing to do with the validity of your argument.
Another example could be during a political debate when one candidate attacks the other candidate’s personal life instead of addressing the policy proposals. This is a common tactic in politics, unfortunately.
Ad hominem attacks are wrong for a few reasons. First, they are irrelevant to the argument at hand. Your personal life or credentials have nothing to do with whether or not your argument is valid. Second, ad hominem attacks can be hurtful and demeaning. They can make the person being attacked feel like they are not worthy of being heard or respected. Third, ad hominem attacks can derail the conversation and make it impossible to have a productive discussion.
If you’re ever in a situation where you’re being subjected to an ad hominem attack, the best thing to do is to ignore it and focus on the argument at hand. You can also try to redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand. For example, if your friend attacks you for not finishing college, you could say something like, “I understand that you’re concerned about my level of education, but I can assure you that I have done my research on climate change and I believe that my argument is valid. Let’s focus on the facts, please.”
It’s also important to be aware of your own biases. We all have a tendency to favor arguments that are made by people we like or respect, and to dismiss arguments that are made by people we dislike or disagree with. But it’s important to remember that the validity of an argument is not dependent on the person making it.
Here are some additional tips for avoiding ad hominem attacks:
- Be mindful of your language. Avoid using personal attacks or insults.
- Focus on the facts and evidence. Avoid making claims that cannot be supported.
- Be open to criticism and be willing to change your mind.
- Be respectful of others, even if you disagree with them.
By following these tips, we can all help to create a more civil and productive discourse.