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Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Perennial Foundational Issue in American Politics


(Below definitions and amplifications from Wikipedia)

Ad hominem (Latin for "to the man" or "to the person"[1]), short for argumentum ad hominem, is a fallacious argumentative strategy whereby genuine discussion of the topic at hand is avoided by instead attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.[2].....

Criticism as a fallacy

Doug Walton, Canadian academic and author, has argued that ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, and that in some instances, questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue,[9] as when it directly involves hypocrisy, or actions contradicting the subject's words.


Those skilled in debate know that the purpose of debate can be as complex as human nature itself.  Very rarely does debate merely involve a purely objective and pristinely intellectual rationality. Self-interest, conviction, emotion, and the defense of one’s very legitimacy as a person (rather than supinely acquiescing to one’s opponent’s portrayal of you as a twisted, irrational buffoon) all can be vital to the skill and art of debate. 

In our last presidential election cycle we witnessed the ad hominem argument pursued with a spiteful vengeance by Donald Trump—even towards his Republican primary opponents. Now we see the critics of Trump also making impassioned ad hominem arguments--but now based on the rationale that such an approach has urgent, ethical grounding (and it would be fallacious to pretend that character is not the major factor at play).


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