Insults as a debating tactic

So, Why do we, actually I, insult people as a matter of debate? I see this to be prevalent here in this forum. hell I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else.( although I like to pretend that I don’t attack until attacked) Anyone that’s read my ongoing trench-war posts with Whitelotus will see. The question is this and it is manifold. Why do people use the ad hominem attack in a debate? Is this a necessary mode of debate? (I actually tend to think so. Yet my wife is a lawyer and It is hillarious to see a public defender and a state attorney go out drinking RIGHT after they rip each other apart in court. Perhaps it is not so necessary.) Finally, and this is not so naive a question as it may seem, why do people hold their opinions in the same pocket as their identity? That is, why does my half assed not important opinion about Nietzsche cause me to fly off the handle and insult some Poor fellas who just wanted to talk about their christianity?

Hermes the Thrice Great from Sunny Florida

I think your question indicates an uncommon sensitivity and an ability to change your approach for the better. Uncool and inefficient as an approach, ad hom args communicate often valid emotions. They say you care about the argument, and that you have an emotional investment in the outcome. This can be construed in many ways, but in your case, I think you simply want the person you’re arguing with to benefit. Even when ad homs aren’t present, the subtext usually gets people mad…often, the two-person collaboration of omitting error for the mutual benefit of attaining higher levels of truth is taken as a cockfight. So even when you don’t insult, you probably still do. Any slight hint that you’re right and the other person will be offended. Unless he is your student, in which case the resentment is subconscious, only to reveal its fangs at a later date when he rips you and your views to shreds with subtle passive aggressive ad hom attacks that can never be proven.

A man heard about Buddah and he wanted to test him. So the man set out to meet Buddah and test him, to see if he were truly enlightened. He met Buddah and right away started to verbally abuse him constantly. He was relentless in his attacks. However the man was producing no effect on Buddah. Now after a while Buddah decided to stop the man and ask him a question, he said “sir may I ask you a question?” The man stoped his attacks and said “sure.”

Buddah said to him “If a man offers another man a gift and the person refuses to accept the gift to whom then does the gift belong?”

The man replied “Why to the person who offered it”

Buddah smiled and said “Well then if I refuse to accept your verbal abuse to whom them does it belong?”

With that the man became speechless and walked away.

Buddha Burn, the ultimate Burn.

How’s about this, we attack each other in an attempt to expose a person’s flaws and thus the flaws in their ability to reason. If two men are arguing and one insults the other’s schooling does not the man with the greater amount of education seem like he may have a better point? Or if the man insults the other man’s stupid hair cut, has he not exposed a weakness in his inabilty to reason by showing his inability to properly style his hair?

People put their opinions and identity in the same pocket so to speak, because one’s opinions are usually based on life experiences and our experiences are what shape our personal identity. Thus to attack a person’s idea is to attack the person, on certain levels.

i too, am guilty (though i like to think the instances are rare) of the ad hominem argument. these days they’re directed mostly at whitelotus, though once or twice i hurled a few in rafajafar’s direction. (obviously we’re ILP buddies now, and even when the hurling was going on, i still had more respect for him as a person than i do for most people i meet in everyday “real” life).

i used to regularly attend philosophy colloquia at my school, attended by both faculty and students. i NEVER attempted any ad hominem-type arguments. i was always very careful with my logic. yet i often disagreed with (and was even slightly “offended” by) many of the views expressed at those informal gatherings. why didn’t i drop some ad-hom bombs? and why, if i had never done it before, do i sometimes do it now?

well first, i knew that all of the people involved in those colloquia were either respected intellectuals in their field (that’s the faculty) or else they were like me, “fledgling intellectuals” in the field of philosophy. we all had a keen awareness of logic, and so there was a certain level of competence with regard to the style of argumentation and the use of logic therein.

so, why do i do it now? what’s the difference between “real life” philosophy discussions at a university and internet discussions of philosophy? because in an official academic setting, there are no “amateur” philosophers (i don’t say that negatively). everyone (regardless of their opinions) has suffered through logic, history of philosophy, and tons of other stuff. so in a certain way, everyone’s on the same page. then you come here and find out that there is no standard of logic or argumentation, and you just CAN’T expect that people all over the internet abide by these “rules of the game”. its not bad, its just different. i don’t have an elitist attitude towards it… i don’t think that you should be “kicked out of here” (ILP) if you don’t have a degree in philosophy. its just a slightly more informal approach to discussing philosophical topics.

and i still feel bad when i do it cause i know its “wrong” by academic standards, but in situations where other people (i’m lookin in your direction, whitelotus) just run rampant with absolutely no grounding in logic, etiquette, or academic tactfulness …it HAS to be permissible to throw around a few ad hominems here and there. cause hey, some people are just plain stupid.

-darkmagus, voodoo master

I have rarely been guilty of Ad Hominem attacks here although i do not come from an academic background. Too many times the subject at hand becomes more of a battle of wills than a debate, and most of the time, when confronted by someone hurling epithets, i save my energy for a more worthy opponent, abusive people generally being incapable of a good argument (with notable exceptions e.g. Rafajafar for instance). With true stoical indifference, i generally do not allow myself to feel insulted.

When sufficiently provoked, I can be a real asshole, but I never start a flame war. The deal is: if you hear me out, I will hear you out. If, however, you refuse to consider competing viewpoints, I will flame the pants off you, and I will not stop until you either admit that you are making a fool out of yourself (gotta love whitelotus for that) or until you are banned (hey hey hey goodbye Monk!) OR until I decide you are too jackoffishly ignorant to even warrant responding to. Dogmatism begins and ends with an unwillingness to listen to others, and people who demostrate such an unwillingness are the intellectual equivalent of religious fanatics. In short, they have no place on a philosophy forum.

That said, I have no problem with tough or rigorous argumentation, and I totally disagree that a person and their argument are one and the same. If you can’t stomach a tough critique of your position without getting offended then philosophy probably isn’t for you (which is perfectly fine, by the way…I know plently of intelligent people who don’t like philosophy for that very reason).

The example about lawyers for opposing parties being friends outside the courtroom applies well to philosophy. I think I’ve said before that when I would attend guest philosophy lectures at my university, the professors in the audience would get pretty brutal during the Q&A session…but then go out for drinks and laugh about it afterwards. I remember one time when a guest speaker was presenting a paper defending Kantian moral motivation, one of my profs–a dedicated Humean on that question–raised a relentless an spirited barrage of objections during the Q&A. But afterwards, over cheese and crackers in the philosophy lounge, he said something the effect of, “that was a damn good paper.” Moral is: you can respect a person’s argument for its creativity and logical coherence, even if you think its conclusion is crackpot (course, if an argument is incoherent–and the Christian fundamentalists on this site often present arguments in this category–then it’s probably just not worth responding to).

To answer the thread topic though: I don’t support insults as a debating tactic. After all, how does “fuck you” advance an argument? I think that there should be a clear distinction between a flame war and a debate. A good debate occurs when both parties respect and take each other seriously. Genuine philosophic debates are concerned with arriving at truth and reaching agreement…or at least at pinpointing the essence of the dispute as a basis for agreeing to disagree. Yes, egos get interwined, and I’m not pretending that we aren’t at times inclined to take opposing arguments personally. But the point is that, if we really are concerned with truth (and maybe that’s a big assumption), we should resist the urge to take offense at other points of view.

Are you sure that the anonymity has nothing to do with it? It’s quite a bit easier to insult someone through a screen and screen name than when you’re face to face and they can see you and you can see the result of your insult.

First off, why the fuck was my named dropped twice in this thread LOL HAHA! :evilfun:

I guess me saying what’s on my mind has given me a bit of a reputation.

I’m just as fast to call someone a moron to their face as I am online… but that’s just me. And besides, I only call someone a moron when they’re acting like one (and if I find myself wrong at a later time, I appologize).

Ad hominem attacks are NOT fallacies.

Ad hominem fallacies are fallacies, attacks are just a means to argue.

I’ve said this many times over.

“You’re and idiot because you’re wrong. Here’s why you’re wrong:” Is not a fallacious statement as everything you do to prove the REAL argument at hand also inductively proves the secondary idea of them being an idiot.

“You’re wrong because you’re an idiot. I’m right because I’m not an idiot.” THIS is an ad hominem fallacy. You do not often see it in such a direct form, though… here’s a better example.

“You do not speak German, and are therefore, less than me. Those who do not speak German aren’t qualified to critique my critique Nietzsche. You are not qualified to critique my critique because you are less than me.”

yeah, this is basically how i see it. i’m not afraid to call someone an idiot to their face, nor online, nor anywhere. but if its the internet, sure its much easier to just drop bombs. i’d never do that to most of the respectable, intelligent individuals on here (many of whose posts i COMPLETELY disagree with). and if i’m an asshole at first, then realize i’m wrong, i’m not too proud to apologize and then change my attitude.

but you also have to consider the fact that it is the internet, and any random idiot-stoner-hippie can sign on here and go on and on about how “this is gonna blowww yerrr minnndddd”. those people i do not respect. i’m always quick with the insults, because that’s what they deserve. (see rafa’s comment: “you’re an idiot because you’re wrong… and here’s why you’re wrong”.) and sometimes its not even worth wasting time telling them why they’re wrong (that’s whitelotus’ situation) so its best to skip straight to the shit-talkin’. :sunglasses:


i remember having a really long debate with rafa, mostly through pms, over the use of insults. i think that using them can get in the way of making or hearing a good point, b/c ppl will often only focus on the insult. that said, i obviously do insult those when i think the arguements have completely been lost on said individual.

but, and maybe i’m alone in this, i think philosophy is pretty much all about dick-waving. so the greatest ‘insult’, for me, occurs when one can successfully disprove a theory i had spent several mths crafting. although yes, i know, it’s not an insult, it’s an aid to understanding the Truth, but damn it can feel harsh. word.

I think there’s a difference between insulting someone deliberately and just letting your emotions out. The latter should be allowed because we are all human beings with emotions and intellect in the same proportions. Otherwise, would you want a robot to sit and discuss things here? NO! I wouldn’t like that for one. So, when they say that resorting to Ad hominem attacks is not good, they say in the context that you MUST NOT use a Ad hominem attack to prove your point because that will not amount to anything. But an Ad hominem attack to let your emotions out, should be considered fine. If we are not allowed to let our emotions out at the time they should be out, we only end up bottling them and releasing them later and perhaps elsewhere with greater force. You think that’s ok? Because believe it or not, emotions will be out, sooner or later. It’s better to let them be out at the right time. For myself, if someone wasn’t rude to me or did not resort to an Ad hominem attack at least once in a long while, on this forum, I would not like to debate with them for long because they wouldn’t be human in my eyes but robots instead. For example, that person who called me, “You fool” and with that kind of an emotion, boy! He made my day that day. But he doesn’t know that :laughing:

And ever since felt incredibly guilty for having done so, wishing I could retract it. Yes my conscious was really bothered and I was infuriated at myself for having lost control and your day was made, where’s the benifit?

You felt guilty of expressing an emotion? That’s not right you know because life is all emotions, one kind or another. In this respect my India is so sophisticated and advanced, the West would be like some third world country in comparison. To me life is satisfaction of emotions, so emotions must be expressed. The only time we draw the line is where we step upon another’s rights, in which case, if we hurt someone’s feelings and he expresses that or even if doesn’t, then we must say sorry, and in extreme cases since it would be a clear violation of another’s rights so we just don’t take anything to extreme. But on some of these forums here, we are just supposed to be like robots and not express emotion. Like on that other forum, I could say that someone is beautiful but not that Socrates’ was ugly (which is the truth). I could say that someone speaks the truth but not that he lied. Funny! To me, they go together, how can you separate the two? So, if we are not allowed to say that someone lies then pretty soon we will refrain from saying that someone speaks the truth too, because life’s a balance, in which case just how interesting would life be? It would be boring like hell!

Hey! You should see some of our Hindi forums, there’s name calling, insulting, un-limited ad hominem attacks, people just get their emotions out and speak from the heart, not from the brain, some of these forums are PURE ENTERTAINMENT. And by the way we don’t hold any grudges against another, it’s just communication - but it’s HEART TO HEART and not otherwise. And that’s how it should be! In the east I feel people are more like human beings and in the west they are more like computers, conditioned to perform in a certain way. In the east it’s like, Arrey, I don’t have buttons on me that I can turn on and off. I’m not some computer so don’t treat me like one please!

So don’t feel guilty ever of expressing emotions or losing control. That’s what I feel. If the forum doesn’t like it, to hell with the forum, it’s my life and the forum is only a small part of it, I can find another forum and even if I don’t so what? But why would I not live life to the full? :smiley:

beenajain, i’m guessing… you’re a female?

certainly i don’t mean to sound rude. i’m just askin’. after all, darkmagus <3’s everyone.

Check her website. She’s female and schizoid.

hahahhaha i’m too good! i didn’t have any clue …i just KNEW it because of the extremely high level of sensitivity and the high value she placed on emotions.

-darkmagus, mind reader and voodoo priest

(don’t think i don’t <3 u, beenajain)

:sunglasses: :sunglasses: :sunglasses:

What if it’s Mr T in the dark. I know it’s a lame example but I’m sure you can think of one or more situations where you wouldn’t be so quick to mouth off. Some situations it would be down right stupid. Well, or funny, depending on who’s viewpoint you take.

cause then they’d beat me up. then they’d be right. their point of view would make more sense after i got scared and said “ahh no don’t hit me” (cause as it is, i’m not tough).


This topic brings to mind the Godfather movie: “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” But it is rather hard not to take a mob hit personally, you know. I mean, after all, it is your life they are taking. A mob hit is more severe than name calling, but you get my point.

I once heard a Fundamentalist Protestant Preacher quote a non-believer from the pulpit. You could almost hear the collective gasp go up from the congregation. And sure enough, the Preacher received complaints and criticisms from his flock. The next Sunday, the Preacher felt compelled to address the topic. He stood up and said “Just because a man is a non-believer does not mean he is an idiot”

There is a virtue called discernment. It includes the ability to differnetiate and identify the source of something, whether from virtue or vice, whether from goodness or malevolence. The way to discern the true nature of someones character is by their actions, not by their words. Launching personal attacks is an act. I leave it to the reader to decide the nature of that act. Is it honorable, is it noble, is it virtuous? Again, not to say that a man who lacks virtue is an idiot, but rather that he lacks character.