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Friday, November 04, 2005

Ad hominem attacks

--posted by Tony Garcia on 11/04/2005

My co-host for the Race to the Right show, Marty, has an interesting audio post about pointing out a person's hypocrisy.

Listen to it here.

His examples have a few things that are incorrect. His application of hypocrisy is wrong. But he almost makes a case against ad hominem attacks in general. I say almost because he gives us a premies (the beginning point) and his conclusion but never gives the warrant (the justifications, arguments, logical paths, etc).

I know what his argument is and want to respond to it. I also want to get your thoughts.

Dear Marty,
Sometimes there is a very good reason to point a person's hypocrisy on a topic. The point is that the credibility of the hypocrite is lowered on the very basis of the hypocrisy. Is it not important to know and even criticize a person who advocates one thing and then either does not live that position or changes that position when the position becomes inconvenient?

Recently I pointed out the hypocrisy differences in philosophical application of Doug relating to judicial nominee's qualifications...and then responded to his justifications for calling me a coward. These things are very important to any discussion that he engages in regarding judicial nominees, their qualifications and also relevant when he criticizes anyone in the near future.

Pointing out someone's credibility or lack thereof is not an ad hominem attack. The problem with a hypocrite is that typically their arguments rely on their credibility on the topic.

The credibility and experience of a speaker is absolutely relevant to any discussion. If you started to speak to me about the inner-workings of officiating it is 100% relevant to the discussion to point out our respective experience officiating.

Who has more credibility speaking about the stresses of running the White House: George W Bush or Mike Tice? In a discussion about the topic between those two it is highly germane to point out Tice's absence of experience as a point against Tice.

The very fact that a particiapnt is being personally discussed in a debate sometimes is unwarranted. Men are entitled to engage in abortion policy debates. But discussion about a participant in debate sometimes is warranted and relevant. Men speaking about the difficulties of cancer of the uterus should have their sources and facts questioned...they have no experience on the matter and it is fair to question them personally on that.

If a blogger makes the complaint that I did not contact that blogger before criticizing his blog it is fair to point out that his credibility on the matter is nil since he never contacts those he intends to attack. That hypocrisy is relevant to the debate. It shows that the standard being argued may actually be unrealistic even for the advocate to hold.

An attack on the speaker actually sometimes does engage the logic of the argument. A speaker is not immune for criticism.

Another example, if you were defending athletes who use steroids it would be fair to bring up a possible bias in the topic--that you have used "juice" before. Conversely it would be fair to bring up your experience in the matter. Neither are ad hominem attacks.

Keep in mind that a book getting a lot of exposure on the blogosphere (most recently on your own blog) is Do As I Say, (Not As I Do) by Peter Schweizer. He cites many examples of hypocrisy that are absolutely necessary to the various discussions of the subjects.

These examples are from Captain Bogs:
Michael Moore has employed more than 130 people in various jobs in his documentaries. But this person who often chides corporations for racism, saying that if the statistics in those companies shows that they are racist if they do not employ more than 5% blacks and then have other minorities on top of that, employed 3 blacks and no other minorities among those 130+ people. That's about 2%. Close.

Michael Moore lives in a town of more than 2500 people in Michigan. No blacks.

Michael Moore used to own shares in Haliburton.

None of the companies in Michael Moore's stock portfolio have a unionized workforce.
These are all very germane to the discussions that Moore puts himself into. They are indeed a personal attack but they are critical to the logic of the arguments (or lack of his own logic). Credibility of the participants is a very important factor in a discussion. This is known as ethos and was one of Aristotle's major fascinations.

Pointing out a person's lack of credibility on a topic, lack of experience or even inconsistencies in philosophical application are not, as you like to call it, an ad hominem attack.

Marty, "You keep using that [phrase]. I do not think it means what you think it means."


Blogger Marty said...

You don't need to make an argument against ad hominem attacks, by DEFINITION they are always a logical fallacy.

I avoid logical fallacy, so I avoid making ad hominum statements unless they're funny. And even then, I rely no more than just the proof of hypocrisy.

November 04, 2005  
Blogger Tony Garcia said...

The hypocrisy by itself is not the argument. It is additional support as to why the other side cannot be trusted.

November 04, 2005  
Blogger Marty said...

Only when someone is claiming to speak from authority on a specific subject. If someone doesn't claim authority there's no reason to point out hypocrisy.

Sounds like I need to post again.

November 05, 2005  

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