For my own edification - ad hominem

In all seriousness, how does one justify, correctly, what exactly is the nature of an ad hominem?

Too often recently, I find that individuals use this term, irrespective of the definition I understand, to undermine any and all criticism against the subject of an assertion.

Does ad hominem apply when criticising an institution?

Does it apply when the criticism is supported, and goes to credibility?

Does it apply when supported by evidence that calls into question ethics, motivation, intent or other criterion?

Does it apply to semantic constructs such as ideas?

I’ve noticed this too.

I don’t see how it can be as it’s not usually specific to a person.

It only applies if the insult bears no relation to the ability of the person in question to discuss that subject. For example some guy who puts forth a different theory of evolution who has only a high school education, could be construed legitimately to be uneducated enough to be challenging the subject at the level he is at.

On ethics it can do if the person for example if someone in a legal case was judged as ethically biased due say to religion because the subject was homosexual or whatever. Motivation well it can be relevant to the argument if a person is a fundamentalist who disputes evolution, It is fair at least to question his motivation, it would become an issue if you claimed because he was religious his argument must be false regardless of its content. Fine line though.

I would say it can do, for example saying someone is wrong because in the past his ideas have been incorrect is an ad hominem especially if the subject is unrelated. However if you established he was a well known crank whose ideas were widely debunked by the field then one could correctly suggest that although his ideas are not wrong per se, they should be taken with a more critical view.

Therein lies part of the issue. Is every criticism technically an insult?

More specifically, I called into question the ethics and motivation of the IPCC with regards to climate change being solely the “fault of man”. Their findings I questioned based upon the fact that there has been a few trillion dollars invested by developed nations already and they are asking for a few trillion more by 2020, as the U.N. is a body politik. I also questioned the findings being based on consensus, especially as reports have come out this year showing that the “absolute doom” scenario was wholly false, being based entirely on computer models that obviously had poor data plugged in. I find that to be criticism, not epithets.

I criticised a responders position that because the U.N. is/was behind the largest part of the climate change argument, and they have, (not that I could find), a record of being forthright and ethical, my entire position was void, ad hominem, because I used historical information to show that political bodies are uniformly found to engage in unethical behaviors, especially where ideology and monetary gain are involved.

Of course not. Although saying someone is unable to reliably discuss a subject because of his lack of knowledge should not be construed as an insult, but then some people are touchy. :wink:

That’s not an ad hominem. Questioning a body of people, whether it is a consensus or not can never be an ad hominem. It’s possible to make an ad hom I think but not easy and you don’t seem to have done so. Questioning the findings of a scientific body is in fact far more healthy than not questioning it. I for example believe currently that the evidence is at least in favour of AGW, that doesn’t mean I am stupid enough to believe it is a fact. In fact anyone who is sure in my personal opinion is no scientist. :slight_smile:

Yeah again I have mentioned that motivation is key in establishing if not the exact veracity of a claim, how we should analyse such a claim, we would be remiss if we did not take account of politics, it is a murky business and we know perhaps less than the half of it.

In short I don’t think what you have done is an ad hominem in any way shape or form, and even though I disagree with you in some measure at least, I think those who analyse consensus are intrinsically extremely valuable to science.


Ad hominem is a fallacy of irrelevance. If you’re having an argument with someone about whether global warming has largely anthropogenic causes, but then you spend most of the discussion criticizing the other person’s character, you’re probably committing ad hominem because it’s not likely a person’s character (no matter how biased or slippery he/she may be) has anything to do with the validity of their arguments on global warming.

If the discussion itself is about a person or institution’s character then “attacking personal criticism” is not out of relevant bounds. Simple as that, I think.

I don’t quite understand the nature of your argument about the IPCC, but if your criticism of their motivation or interests was intended as a challenge to their scientific findings it would be a case of ad hominem or poisoning the well. It may be true that political bodies inevitably spawn corruption but that doesn’t bear any relevance to conclusions or findings of a scientific nature. That’s not to say bias and corruption should be ignored, but it shouldn’t really play much of a part in an argument about whether global warming is mainly anthropogenic or not, for instance. You mentioned shoddy data and false information – that would be the type of thing relevant to invalidating the IPCC’s claims about climate change. Hopefully that helps.

Thank you fuse.

Yes, it does appear that at least some of my arguments were poisoning the well. I won’t say that I completely understand, how do you separate their motives, coming to a consensus conclusion, finding out the computer models failed to deliver the outcome professed and still end up in the wrong.

Just for disclosure, perhaps my own brand of stupidity, I see no reasonable way to separate motive from outcomes where money is involved.

Thank you Hell.

Strangely, here we are again. You and fuse do not seem to be in exact agreement as to whether I committed the error or not. I’ll own it if that is the case, my flaw is that I am incapable of separating motive from outcome where money is the prime mover, for lack of a more concise term.

Ad hominem merely means addressing the subject of the speaker rather than the subject of the thesis.