William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Ad Hominem, My Sweet

moose3

I’m on the road for the next several days and won’t always have access to the Internet. So I’m reposting a series of classic fallacies. Regular service to resume early next week. This post originally appeared on 25 September 2014.

Ad Hominem, My Sweet, a mini-play in one act.

MOOSE: “Hey, Hayden. C’mere.”

HAYDEN: “Not now, Moose. Please?”

MOOSE: “What are you? Deaf as well as stupid? I said get over here.”

HAYDEN: “But Moose…Ouch! That hurts!”

MOOSE: “When I say get over here, it means get over here. You savvy?”

HAYDEN: “Okay, so I’m here. What’s so urgent.”

MOOSE: “I got something to tell you, and I don’t want no argument about it. You ready? Listen good, ’cause I ain’t gonna repeat it, and you better have it—or else. Got me? Here it is. If P, then Q. Q. Therefore P. Now say it back.”

HAYDEN: “Hey! There’s no need to hit me. I heard you. If P, then Q. Q. Therefore P.”

MOOSE: “Whadda ya know! He can learn!”

HAYDEN: “Only…”

MOOSE: “Only what, smart ass.”

HAYDEN: “Only…oh never mind. Look, I’m late to see my mother. She expects me. You know if I don’t show or call, she worries.”

MOOSE: “Always a mama’s boy. But you’re not gettin’ outta here until you have it. Now. Do you have it. Yes or no?”

HAYDEN: “I have it. Butitisn’tright!

MOOSE: “Whadda ya mean, it isn’t right. I told you. That should be enough for you.”

HAYDEN: “But…but…isn’t that a formal fallacy? That I should believe you just because you threatened me?”

MOOSE: “Don’t give me any of that fallacy malarkey. You just do what I tell you and you’ll get through this.”

HAYDEN: “Hey! I told you! No Hitting!”

MOOSE: “I’ll do what I need to. Just so you know that. I’ll do what I need to.”

HAYDEN: “Someday…You just wait and see.”

MOOSE: “I don’t know why I like smacking you around so much. It’s that look on your face. Now say it again.”

HAYDEN: “Fine! If P, then Q! Q! Therefore P! Have it your way!”

MOOSE: “That’s right, Spunky. My way. It’s—”

PHILIP: “—Hello, big guy. Circus in town?”

MOOSE: “What? Just who do—”

PHILIP: “—Only I just heard your boyfriend here, and she’s right. Right twice. You can’t bully him into believing a fallacy. Affirming the consequent is as old an error as denying Truth exists. See how you like it. If you hold to fallacies, you’re a bully. You’re a bully. Therefore you hold to fallacies.”

MOOSE: “Who’s a bully! He likes it. Don’t ya, Spunky.”

HAYDEN: “He hit me!”

MOOSE: “Besides, you can’t tell me I’m wrong because I’m givin’ Spunky what he needs. That’s you’re own fallacy. A grade-A ad hominem.”

PHILIP: “No, it isn’t.”

MOOSE: “The hell it ain’t. I know what you’re tryin’ to do. You’re appealing to Spunky’s prejudices and emotions, his special interest in not being pushed around, rather than to his intellect or reason. And you’re attacking my character rather than answering my argument. That’s an ad hominem, pal. No gettin’ around it.”

HAYDEN: “Don’t hurt him, Moose!”

MOOSE: “Ah, these amateur philosophers ain’t worth hurtin’. Now blow, Socrates, before I squeeze your spinal column into some symbolic logic.”

PHILIP: “Who wants to stay? It’s clear brawn is no substitute for brains.”

MOOSE: “See what I mean, Spunky? A little friendly pressure and Socrates here starts in with remarks which cannot be construed as necessary or objective. Ad hominem all the way.”

HAYDEN: “You should be nice to Moose, mister. He doesn’t take disagreement well.”

PHILIP: “Nicest thing you can do for somebody is tell them the truth. He has it. He doesn’t want it.”

MOOSE: “What truth? All I hear are insults. You think by makin’ me look bad in front of Spunky, here, that we’ll forget you don’t have an argument. Noting’ but distractions.”

PHILIP: “There are none so blind as those who won’t listen.”

MOOSE: “Ha! He can’t even keep his metaphors straight. C’mon, Spunky. We’re never going to get through to this guy. So long, Socrates.”

HAYDEN: “Okay, Moose. We can go. But I have to see mother first.”

25 Comments

  1. But Briggs

    That wasn’t a retraction or an apology…

    Are you sure you copied in the right text?

  2. A response to some recent ad homiphobic comments?

  3. DAV

    See Richard Carrier post

    (I was sarcastically asking for some one else – I hope that came through to Briggs)

  4. Briggs

    September 25, 2014 at 10:37 am

    John B,

    No! No no no. Nothing to do with you. Promise.

    DAV,

    Obvious from the context, but Hayden is a married middle-age assistant manager at a chain tire center, henpecked with three children who hate him. Moose is a tax accountant at HR Block. Philip is grade school teacher in Billings, Montana.

  5. But I thought when you were responding to leftists you were supposed to change the subject, beat up a straw man and call then names.

  6. I really am lousy at comments

    My assumption was that this Post was in response to comments found in the Richard Carrier Post where a commenter accused Briggs of ad hominem attacks [and heresy in regard to “whatever happened to Jesus”]. Later, he demanded a retraction and an apology and proceeded to “show-1-2-3” how Briggs had ventured into ad hominemism [and Briggs was heretical with statements in defense of God’s existence.]

    I wasn’t taking offense – I “ASS-U-MEd” offense for an earlier commenter

  7. Ray: I don’t think there’s any way but one to respond to leftists. No matter what you say or do, they beat you up unless you agree, as occurs with Moose and Hayden. Agreement is the only possible answer.

  8. There is what is known in Catholic disputation as the fallacy of invincible ignorance
    (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invincible_ignorance_(Catholic_theology) )
    and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invincible_ignorance_fallacy )
    which currently refers to people who simply won’t argue propositions that are presented but go to other points, but used to refer to savages who had not yet received the Christian (Catholic) message.

  9. Great tribute to Raymond Chandler!

  10. Sheri,

    I don’t think there’s any way but one to respond to leftists.

    That would be a choice, not an imperative.

    No matter what you say or do, they beat you up unless you agree …

    I consider such sweeping generalizations to be the ultimate form of the straw man fallacy. I’ll double-down on it: I’m not aware of any ideology which is immune from attacking its adversaries in this manner. Ahh, but I have also just committed the deadly sin of reification! Aaack!

    Look, it’s demonstrably evident human nature to say, “ENEMY! Defeat them by whatever means available!!” Some people are more discriminate and precise than others, but the indiscriminate ones toting trench brooms tend to get the most attention.

  11. Brandon: Would you be happier if I said that was the only way to respond to the liberals I know? Probably not. Actually, I was being partially sarcastic, partially serious. However, your response may actually be making my point. (I looked up reification and found this: “In Marxism, reification is the thingification of social relations or of those involved in them, to the extent that the nature of social relationships is expressed by the relationships between traded objects.”
    I’m guessing that was not your meaning. I did find “thingification” an interesting term however.)

  12. Sheri,

    Would you be happier if I said that was the only way to respond to the liberals I know? Probably not.

    Flip the question. Would you be happy if I said that the only way to respond to conservatives I know is to “beat them up until they agree” with me?

    Your restatement is slightly better since you’ve reduced the scope to liberals you know, but it still remains that you present your personal choice as an imperative. If you meet another liberal tomorrow, is there a grace period which expires once you’ve gotten to know them?

    Actually, I was being partially sarcastic, partially serious.

    I couldn’t tell on first reading, but I believe you. I mean … relative to yours my views are more liberal than not, and unless I really mash one of your buttons (or vice versa) I think we disagree agreeably. However, I am sitting here wondering if think I’m just as much a jerk as others you know who lie to the left of your position. After all, I’m certainly not above whipping out some acerbic snark, or bluntly calling an argument poorly constructed or otherwise lacking merit.

    Or is it that you just don’t think you know me well enough to warrant your obligatory treatment of liberals?

    However, your response may actually be making my point.

    I wasn’t aware that Marx made a thing out of thingifying things, and no, that wasn’t the point of bringing up reification — that was me catching myself doing something [1] that Briggs often cites as fallacious and being too lazy to do a rewrite.

    I do find your comment about Marx topical. I hold many views which are generally considered liberal. Some “liberals” call themselves “leftists” and even go so far as to call themselves “Marxist”. I don’t count myself as a member of that group. I don’t really like calling myself a “liberal” because doing so is a form of reification colloquially known as “labeling”. “Liberal” is not a precise term, the definition has changed over time, doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone in contemporary usage, etc. I often slip up … how often have you seen me call myself “an agnostic”? Bad habits are tough to break, but I digress.

    Marx had some ideas which I think are good ones. State ownership of all property is not one of them. Class struggle is something I think is inevitable, and justifiable when one class oppresses and/or exploits another. [2] But the proletariat rising up to run out the bourgeoisie and create their own State only creates another bourgeoisie elites who can act with relative impunity. Labor theory of value and use value of goods can only be enforced by a powerful minority, and whether one calls that minority a State, dictatorship, oligarchy, aristocracy, etc., the end result is a totalitarian regime.

    Meritocracies are better. Decentralized market economies are demonstrably better. I opine that Ayn Rand was correct about some things regarding the beneficial effects of self-interest. Unfettered lazziez faire capitalism is not one of things she was right about — left unchecked self-interest tends toward wanton greed which leads to consolidation of power amongst an overly-influental minority. It’s hardwired right into us — we didn’t become the apex predator of this rock purely by altruism. [3]

    In sum, I’m not a fan of overdoing group identity — especially when heterodoxies are not tolerated, and when one group marks competing/opposing groups as evil people hell-bent on total destruction of society and/or life as we know it. So, “liberals” who rail against “right-tarded fascist Bible-thumping tea-bagging conservatives” and even go so far as to paint all registered Republicans as such pisses me off just as much as anyone who implies that all “liberals” are “tree-hugging envrio-whacko Stalinist commie pinko leftist Kool Aid-drinking wingnuts”. Nothing shuts down free exchange of differing views or honest debate than that sort of name-calling.

    I do have a label for the kind of people who publicly engage in that kind of ad hom more often than not: “ideological chauvinists”. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with some or most of the underlying ideology myself or not — engaging in prejudicial demagoguery based on distorted or trumped-up stereotypes is maladaptive — if not dangerously destructive — no matter who does it or for what reason. [4]

    —————————————-

    [1] To wit: treating an abstract concept (ideology) as a concrete thing. A representative Briggs example is saying “Y was caused by random chance” when it should be axiomatic that a mathematical concept cannot be causal … only some n number of actual X things can cause Y.

    [2] Oppression and/or exploitation being subjective of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

    [3] Which is ultimately self-interested. Ironies never cease when it comes to biology, especially in humanity.

    [4] Wartime propaganda is one possible exception, but it’s been a while since we’ve been in the sort of dire conflict which (might) justify it. Calling the current crop US Congresscritters money-grubbing puppets of their well-fleeced special interest masters is another.

  13. Gary, one of many things to love about that commercial is the Quiet Riot soundtrack.

  14. all “liberals” are “tree-hugging envrio-whacko Stalinist commie pinko leftist Kool Aid-drinking wingnuts”.

    Yeah! Let’s get real. Some of them eschew Kool Aid for Evian. Too much sugar in the former.

    OTOH, this is too often the face they present:
    The People’s Climate Rally in SF and here’s their spoor left (maybe why they’re called “lefties”) in the NY March

    Too bad I can’t find the PJTV interview with DiCaprio where he slithered away rather than answer some tough questions.

  15. DAV,

    Some of them eschew Kool Aid for Evian. Too much sugar in the former.

    I prefer tap water myself. Has anyone bothered to figure out the difference in carbon footprints between the two? Why yes, and it’s such a popular question that “carbon footprint of bottled water vs tap water” pops up as an auto-completed phrase on Google.

    You’ll have to pry my Mt. Dew from my cold dead fingers though … corn syrup, CO2, plastic bottle, transportation environmental impacts and all. I have needs dammit!

  16. Brandon: I’m not sure you are interpreting what I said accurately. I said the only way to liberals is to agree with them or they beat you up. As in the post where Hayden’s only response to Moose was to agree or get smacked. I painted the liberals as equivalent to Moose.

    This is not without evidence at the highest levels and I know you understand that because you often express as much disdain for the behaviour as do I. It is a generalization and you know people don’t always fit generalizations. You certainly don’t most of the time. I go into a discussion allowing for the other person to show their colors before deciding whether they fit the generalization or not. People who know me will tell you I give everyone as long a chance as I possibly can. However, if said individual fits the generalization and it’s one that makes communication impossible (as with my generalization of liberals), then I stop interacting.

    My comment was to illustrate that anything can be taken any way one chooses. If I had predicted you would react to the word “Marxist”, my prediction would have been true. If you fit my generalization, you would have flattered, not offended, so I guess that means you’re not as general as other liberals? Actually, I mostly loved the “thingification” term, not the Marxist part.

    I know you don’t like generalizations, but realistically, they are going to occur. They are based either on projecting one’s own faults on another group to avoid having the guilt fall on them or on observations over a period of time. No one used to think they applied to everyone in the group, except the very bigoted, nonthinking members of society. Unfortunately, the number of said persons seems to be growing exponentially and the practice very widespread. If you doubt me, type “democrats are evil” or “republicans are evil” into a search engine. In the past, people would have ignored such drivel. Now they embrace it. (I will still maintain that I can back up my “generalization” based on the most well known liberals and those who I know personally. Like it or not, you are an exception to the general behaviour of liberals. As your response to DAV would indicate. I have to drink the Diet Dew, but I agree, no one takes my Dew!)

  17. Brandon: One last question: Why wear a label at all if you don’t like generalizations?

  18. Sheri,

    This is not without evidence at the highest levels and I know you understand that because you often express as much disdain for the behaviour as do I.

    Well sure, I know quite a few rabid attack dog liberals on Usenet and they really don’t take kindly to me when I see fit to do some community policing.

    People who know me will tell you I give everyone as long a chance as I possibly can.

    I recognize that in you, which is part of my dissonance here.

    If you fit my generalization [about Marxism], you would have flattered, not offended, so I guess that means you’re not as general as other liberals?

    Analogous to your comment that “anything can be taken any way one chooses”, any label can be used as an insult or a compliment. I understood that you weren’t calling me a Marxist, but I’m beyond tired of “everything” Democrats do or propose doing getting branded as the harbinger of unworkable Socialism. It’s one of my hair-triggers.

    Why wear a label at all if you don’t like generalizations?

    How do you think the conversation would go if I tried to shrug off the label?

    Plus I recognize, and use, the expedience of labels. Count ’em in this post. How they’re applied matters to me.

    Actually, I mostly loved the “thingification” term, not the Marxist part.

    You made that explicit and it did register. But c’mon, I’m too much of a troll to not recognize when someone else is goading me. Amirite? On that note …

    [Generalizations] are based either on projecting one’s own faults on another group to avoid having the guilt fall on them or on observations over a period of time.

    Can be. Trick is knowing which is which. Are the observations reliable, or am I just seeing what I want to see? Oh dear, am I the jerk here? Me, myself and I have that chat quite a bit.

    No one used to think they applied to everyone in the group, except the very bigoted, nonthinking members of society. Unfortunately, the number of said persons seems to be growing exponentially and the practice very widespread.

    Another way of putting it is that knee-jerk, unthinking bigotry is on the rise. I avoid using the b-word because it is such a loaded and inflammatory term. As well, it’s flung around so gratuitously that it’s begun to lose impact or meaning. Plus, calling an argument bigoted will usually be received the same as if the word had been applied to the person, and rightfully so: who am I to universally declare what constitutes bigotry and what doesn’t?

    That doesn’t mean I won’t call a spade a spade. When I do so, I recognize that I’m doing it for my own satisfaction, and that it’s a choice not an imperative.

    Why these despairing trends is one of my pet interests.

    Like it or not, you are an exception to the general behaviour of liberals. As your response to DAV would indicate.

    I partially like that and partially don’t. I’d prefer to be seen as an exception to people. And actually, I’d rather be more the general rule, less the exception — which is in and of itself a rather typical human desire, is it not?

    I have to drink the Diet Dew, but I agree, no one takes my Dew!

    Amen, Sister. Cheers.

  19. Sheri and Brandon: One can learn to live at peace with outrageous points of view if one avoids points of contention. For example, one daughter is an Alinsky devotee supported by a Soros grant; one daughter is a New York Times liberal; one daughter is a tea-party-advocate; and one son is apolitical. Yet Thanksgiving dinners are happy because no one talks politics.
    And they’re each highly intelligent which shows that false doctrine can infect good minds (and which of the above points of view would one term false doctrine?).

  20. Bob,

    And they’re each highly intelligent which shows that false doctrine can infect good minds (and which of the above points of view would one term false doctrine?)

    As patriarch, I’m sure you’ve got dibs. 🙂

  21. Ye Olde Statistician

    July 8, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Intersting that no one back then took note of the fact that nothing in the dialogue was an ad hominem except some things Moose said. It is not an ad hominem to merely insult someone. That may be bad manners or bad tactics, but it is not an ad hominem.

    Argumentum ad hominem, or ‘argument toward the man’, means that you are saying that Moose’s statements should be rejected (or accepted) because of the kind of man he is. It is related to the genetic fallacy in the family tree of fallacies. For example:
    1. “Dawkins must be right about the cosmological argument because he is a brilliant scientist.” This proposes that we should accept Dawkins’ conclusion on the basis of his personal curriculum vitae. Even a brilliant scientist can make errors when stepping outside the boundaries of his training.
    2. “Dawkins must be wrong about the cosmological argument because he is well-known as a polemicist.” This proposes that we should reject Dawkins’ conclusion on the basis of his personal curriculum vitae. Even a mouth-foaming quip-meister can be right about the underlying flaws of an argument.

    This is not an ad hominem:
    3. “Dawkins is wrong about the cosmological argument because he does not exhibit an understanding of what kinesis meant to an Aristotelian.” This proposes that we should reject Dawkins’ conclusion on the basis that he has gotten a key term factually wrong.

    As for the sidebar about liberals: Those who were called liberals in the 19th century are now called conservatives in the US. See Adam Smith for details. Left and right are similarly muddy: the seating arrangement in the French Parliament separating the monarchists from the Jacobins. The Jacobins became frustrated enough that they guillotined the monarchists. When they ran out of monarchists, they began guillotining the liberals. Then they began guillotining one another. Robespierre got the chop even though he had seized the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris and converted it into a “Temple of Reason,” perhaps one reason why rationalists have sometimes been mistrusted.

    For the leftist attitude toward liberals, see here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

  22. We all get the difference between the insult and the argument using the insult in it’s proof or reasoning. Did you really think it needed pointing out?
    We had Lee Phillips pointing this out as well. What IS interesting is that you think people need telling and that they have not the ability to distinguish.

    However as you like dogma so much,
    If we’re being accurate in translation,
    ad hominem means to towards at or near the man.
    So it means nothing on it’s own. Without the word argumentum placed in front, it’s turned into latin slang anyway and so given that it is clear what is intended with an argumentum ad hominem to all who use the phrase it’s pointless to make the distinction between the frank insult and the former. The person using the term ‘ad hominem’ is already chopping their language and everybody knows what they mean.

    Furthermore a plain insult is a distraction from the main argument and so in that way can be considered part of the fallacious argument. A frank insult is used in groups where the dynamics entail certain responses from the group. Those who don’t think for themselves are inevitably sucked in and cannot argue so the point is won that way.

    Frank insults are always grammatically ad hominem.

    People insult people. Or other living or inanimate things only when they think nobody’s listening. For the purposes of blog comments and politics, the insult is always at the man.

  23. It is both a personal and circumstantial to argue that someone who receives compensation from an interested party should be assumed to be acting in the interest of that party. You may not like the insult, but surely you see why it should be assumed. It’s not that we are sure that someone is acting in that party’s interest, but that it is in our best interest to assume so.

    It is as well both personal and observational to argue inconsistency in application of logic, to see hypocrisy as an act expected from a conflicted actor.

    Circumstantial evidence may seem argumentum ad hominem, but it would show poor, reckless and naive indeed to just ignore it.

    JMJ

  24. From the “play”:
    “…you better have it—or else.
    “You just do what I tell you and you’ll get through this.”

    And then this [obvious] truth:

    “You can’t bully him into believing a fallacy”

    Belief is based on compelling evidence that fosters & supports the belief. Threats are applied when the evidence isn’t compelling, etc. So are bribes, “if you believe this I’ll pay you” (but those weren’t included in the “play”).

    Note that that bullying/threatening [and bribing] for belief is a fundamental element of the major monotheistic religions – the threat of death/damnation…the ultimate bullying-for-belief tactic…consistently constitutes the unforgivable sin. They all provide comparable evidence (though indoctrination into any particular one creates an illusion of superiority/credibility). Some examples, there are others/better for those that care to search/notice (not presented are the familiar “bribes” one is offered for belief, such as the 72 virgins, etc., etc., …. invariably constituting benefits so unimaginably wonderful one must wait post-death):

    “Lo! those who malign Allah and His messenger, Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter, and has prepared for them THE DOOM OF THE DISDAINED” … “Accursed, THEY WILL BE SEIZED WHEREVER FOUND AND SLAIN WITH A (FIERCE) SLAUGHTER.”
    – Quran (33:57) … Quran (33:61)

    “And WHOSOEVER SHALL BELIEVE in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words, even unto the ends of the earth.
    And now, behold, who can stand against the works of the Lord? WHO CAN DENY HIS SAYINGS? … YE SHALL WONDER AND PERISH.
    – Book of Mormon, Ch 9, V 25 & 26
    …if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, IT SHALL BE BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF.”
    – Book of Mormon/Book of Moroni, Ch 10, v24

    “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
    – Luke 12:10, Mark 3:29, and Matthew 12:31

    The all present comparable threats, similar benefits … and similar evidence….how is one to choose?

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