Ad hominem attacks abound on the internet. They are quick, easy to come up with, and completely illogical. Scroll down to the comment section of nearly any article and you will quickly be reminded of there existence. For this reason, I am fairly confident that we have all seen ad hominem in action, been on the receiving end, and personally doled it out.
The OWL at Purdue defines the ad hominem fallacy as:
An attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments. Example:
Green Peace’s strategies aren’t effective because they are all dirty, lazy hippies.
In this example, the author doesn’t even name particular strategies Green Peace has suggested, much less evaluate those strategies on their merits. Instead, the author attacks the characters of the individuals in the group.
There are a number of varieties of fallacies that fall into this category, and rather than reinvent the wheel, I would like to provide you with a few resources that will help you learn to recognize, counteract and avoid ad hominem attacks. Browse them at your leisure and then enjoy (I’m using that word loosely) encountering comments and articles that employ the vicious tactic. Some are directly applicable to training children, but some will be helpful for honing your familiarity and consequently applying that understanding to train children.
But first, a few quickly curated examples from Twitter to get us started:
#BaltimoreRiots Rand Paul has no room to judge father’s. Rand needs to concentrate on parenting his own son. Hypocrite!!!
— Debbie Owens (@Dowens8490) April 28, 2015
Stupid tweet of the day so far. “Atheists are religious zealots” https://t.co/FZW7Fu9kj4 — Free Thinking Father (@FThinkF) April 23, 2015
this is why #atheists are so stupid, here are the thoughts of their “great” leaders pic.twitter.com/cqKJ7xZ9ht — Leon Sum****** (@MarkusJ) April 12, 2015
Deep breaths everyone. Ready to learn more?
The Ad Hominem Fallacy | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios
Critical Thinking Fallacy: Ad Hominem | Wireless Philosophy
How Do You Handle Name Calling in a Winsome Way? | Stand to Reason
- An article about Ad Hominem by Edward Feser: What is an ad hominem fallacy?
“Notice what I am not saying. I am not saying that “You are a bad person; therefore your argument is invalid!” is a good response. It is not a good response; that would be an ad hominem fallacy. If the practices a person is defending really are immoral, there should be independent reasons, having nothing to do with his personal character, that show that they are.”
- A handout from http://www.davidagler.com with a more detailed breakdown on the various ways that ad hominem fallacies can manifest: Critical Thinking Handout
- Not ad hominem specific, but a post from Christian Mom Thoughts that gives examples of ways she is teaching her children to think critically (to NOT use fallacious arguments like ad hominem): How I’m Teaching My 6-Year-Olds to Be Critical Thinkers
- Kenneth Samples breaks down the ad hominem attack and offers a 2 step response for folks on the receiving end: Attack the Argument, Not the Person
- An article from Answers in Genesis that provides an excellent opportunity for you to pull apart arguments and practice recognizing which are fallacious and which are solid. Here they respond to an article by Hugh Ross in fairly standard young earth vs. old earth fashion. Perhaps you can keep a tally as you read. (Can’t we all just get along?)
- Apologetics.com radio show had an episode about Insults and Loving the Neighbor. Not specifically about ad hominem, but an interesting discussion about the place of insult in the Christian life.