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Ad Hominem (Circumstantial)

argumentum ad hominem

(also known as: appeal to motive, appeal to personal interest, argument from motives, conflict of interest, faulty motives, naïve cynicism, questioning motives, vested interest)

Description: Suggesting that the person who is making the argument is biased or predisposed to take a particular stance, and therefore, the argument is necessarily invalid.

Logical Form:

Person 1 is claiming Y.

Person 1 has a vested interest in Y being true.

Therefore, Y is false.

Example #1:

Salesman: This car gets better than average gas mileage and is one of the most reliable cars according to Consumer Reports.

Will: I doubt it—you obviously just want to sell me that car.

Explanation: The fact that the salesman has a vested interest in selling Will the car does not mean that he is lying.  He may be, but this is not something you can conclude solely on his interests.  It is reasonable to assume that salespeople sell the products and services they do because they believe in them.

Example #2:

Of course, your minister says he believes in God.  He would be unemployed otherwise.

Explanation: The fact that atheist ministers are about as in demand as hookers who, “just want to be friends”, does not mean that ministers believe in God just because they need a job.

Exception: As the bias or conflict of interest becomes more relevant to the argument, usually signified by a lack of other evidence, the argument is seen as less of a fallacy and more as a legitimate motive.  For example, courtesy of Meat Loaf...

Girl: Will you love me forever?

Boy: Let me sleep on it!!!

Girl: Will you love me forever!!!

Boy: I couldn't take it any longer

Lord, I was crazed

And when the feeling came upon me

Like a tidal wave

I started swearing to my god and on my mother's grave

That I would love you to the end of time

I swore that I would love you to the end of time!

Tip: When you know you have something to gain from a position you hold (assuming, of course, you are not guilty of this fallacy for holding the position), be upfront about it and bring it up before someone else does.

Supporting this cause is the right thing to do.  Yes, as the baseball coach, I will benefit from the new field, but my benefit is negligible compared to the benefit the kids of this town will receive.  After all, they are the ones who really matter here.

References:

Walton, D. (1998). Ad hominem arguments. University of Alabama Press.


Registered User Comments

Billy Bob
Sunday, August 25, 2019 - 06:07:34 PM
Would this be considered Ad Hominem Abusive or Circumstantial?

“Now, for those who think the war on terror is not war but law enforcement, … I assert they are living on a different and distant planet. For us earthlings, on the other hand, the case for Obama's drone war is clear.”
Charles Krauthammer, “In Defense of Obama's Drone War,” Index-Journal 94 no. 293 (19 Feb 2013), 6A.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Monday, August 26, 2019 - 07:49:16 AM
I would classify this as just a snarky comment. It could be argued that there is an implied claim that the person is wrong because they are stupid or out of touch with reality, but this isn't clear, so I wouldn't call fallacy on this one.

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Billy Bob
Friday, September 06, 2019 - 09:10:33 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thank you, but how can I differentiate between Ad Hominem Circumstantial and the Genetic Fallacy?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, September 06, 2019 - 09:16:04 AM
@Billy Bob: Ad Hominem is more about being associated with the person making the argument where genetic fallacy can be any source (human or non).

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Billy Bob
Friday, September 06, 2019 - 09:37:10 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:
Thank you, but I see in some examples given to be committing the Genetic Fallacy where it sounds more like an Ad Hominem Circumstantial.

Person 1: I think capital punishment is wrong. We should never put people to death.
Person 2: The only reason why you disagree with capital punishment is because you were abused as a child and have never gotten over it.

I understand this to be more as an Ad Hominem Circumstantial because I see this as a circumstance or piece of background information about Person 1 put forward by Person 2. Am I wrong, and this is to be better considered as committing the Genetic Fallacy. Or, am I right, and this is an example of Ad Hominem Circumstantial?

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, September 06, 2019 - 09:50:26 AM
@Billy Bob: You are right... Ad Hominem Circumstantial is better fit.

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Billy Bob
Friday, September 06, 2019 - 09:53:47 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Thank you so much for your help and your quick replies!

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