Just another brain-dead techie with views on everything under the sun!

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Bonfire of Fallacies

Ravikiran and Jivha have an interesting topic up for discussion on their sites. Ad Hominem fallacies.

For those who are unaware of the existence of such a fallacy, let me explain in a nutshell. Ad Hominem is Latin for "against the man" or "to the man". So an ad hominem argument (or fallacy) is an argument against your opponent rather than against the arguments he/she has put forth. As a result, the argument often tends to be irrelevant to the logic and/or facts of the opponent's arguments and hence is classified under "Fallacies of Relevance". Further reading material on the subject is available at places such as this or this or this ... and so on!

Ravikiran takes the example of a rape victim who's probably trying to convince the authorities that she was indeed raped. His contention in the example is that it is not a case of ad hominem fallacy.
Alleged Rape Victim: The accused raped me.
Lawyer: Is it true that the night previous to the alleged rape, you willingly slept with the accused?
A R V: Yes
Lawyer: In that case, why should we believe that the accused raped you?


If a woman has willingly slept with the accused the night before, she wouldn't have much credibility is she claims that the accused raped her the next night.


However, it would be a an ad hominem argument if we persist in disbelieving in a claim even if there is other evidence to back it up, solely because of the credibility of the person making it
In my view, Ravikiran is technically absolutely right! Ignoring an argument/evidence in the favour of extraneous considerations such as the victim's proximity to the perpetrator or the victim's past sexual behaviour/proclivities, will make it an argumentum ad hominem. In the absence of logical arguments and/or evidence from the victim's side, the argument does not qualify as argumentum ad hominem.

Jivha questions Ravikiran's opinion about the 'relevance' of past sexual history of the alleged victim to the present crime. But I feel that Ravikiran's post precludes such questions by mentioning...
Now don't quibble with me saying "But that is not how I define ad hominem" My definition takes care to distinguish between a fallacy and a reaonable guess. Your's doesn't. So there.
When the past sexual history of the alleged victim is considered to be 'relevant' to the present crime, in absence of argument/evidence, it turns into a 'reasonable guess'... an extrapolation... a supposition!!

Ad Hominem fallacy involves arguing against the opponent rather than against his views or arguments. If you remove the opponent's arguments out of the equation, the moment you say anything against the opponent himself, it falls down to the level of an insult!

Being a terribly slow thinker, I still haven't figured out how Kingsley's factor of 'intent' fits into the picture. But I'm trying!!


Blogger Kingsley said...

The claim whose credibility is being judged is one of intent, unlike the case of the doctor and the CEO, where the claim is made about skill/knowledge/talent. And whereas skill/knowledge do not change rapidly, intent can and does. Therefore it is wrong to judge a claim of intent by the same standards we use to judge claims of skill/talent/ability.

5:01 AM

Blogger Sameer said...

Yup. I am beginning to see your point, Kingsley.

10:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the About.com article the author tries to explain the differences between the abusive Ad Hominem argument and the non-abusive Ad Hominem argument, but in both cases they are Ad Hominem arguments; unless you are trying to say that an abusive Ad Hominem argument is NOT an Ad Hominem argument.
I do not see that bit of reasoning in the article. Instead, from what I gather the abusive Ad Hominem arguments are a subset of the super set of Ad Hominem arguments .
Mother T

6:36 PM

Blogger Sameer said...

Mother T : You are right. I re-read that article and realized that the author was trying to show that the example was not a case of an abusive ad hominem argument. But I still stand by my statement that the rape example on Jivha's blog did not constitute an ad hominem fallacy. The reason for that has been better explained by Yazad's comment on Jivha's blog, where he says something to the effect of, trying to create a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge. I know that its ethically wrong for the lawyer to use such a cheap shot to make a point, but then, as long he's not denying the victim's arguments by producing her past experiences, he's not making an ad hominem fallacy. It may well be an ad hominem argument... but I have reservations against considering it to be a fallacy! Note the subtlety here. An ad hominem argument may not be an ad hominem fallacy!

11:23 PM


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Sameer/Male/27. Hails from India/Maharashtra/Mumbai/Prabhadevi, speaks Marathi, English and Hindi. Spends 60% of daytime online. Uses a Faster (1M+) connection. And likes Reading/Computers.