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I'd like a second opinion on something I was faced with elsewhere. It's not my intentioin to bring a discussion from another forum here, but to get an unbiased opinion about something that happened elsewhere.

A while back I presented an arguement whereby I proved another member's assumption to be wrong. After I posted the correction to the error I got the following reply, in part

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ever since you re-joined this forum you have seemed eager to prove me wrong every time I opened my mouth .

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Would you say that this is an ad hominem?

I looked up the term ad hominem in Webster's Online Dictionary at

From Webster

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1 : appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect

2 : marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made

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I also looked this up in a book on logic that I have and it says that an ad hominem is defined, simply, as when the arguer is attacked rather than the arguement itself.

What do hyou do when you get an ad hominem reply? Do you ignore it? PM the person and ask them not to do it again or respond in the thread asking them not to use ad hominems?

Next question - Is it inappropriate for me to ask a question likke this in this forum? I couldn't do it in the original forum because I'd be unable to get an unbiased opinion. I believe I can get an unbiase opinion here.

Edited by pmb

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To me it doesn't feel like an ad hominem, since they really didn't argue any particular point. It feels more like an expression of frustration to me.

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To me it doesn't feel like an ad hominem, since they really didn't argue any particular point. It feels more like an expression of frustration to me.

Thank you very much for your opinion.

As I understand it, an ad hominem is simply an attack on character of the person whom they disagree with. When the attack switches from the subject matter to the character of the arguer its called an ad hominem. An ad hominem doesn't argue a point.

Edited by pmb
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Thank you very much for your opinion.

As I understand it, an ad hominem is simply an attack on character of the person whom they disagree with. When the attack switches from the subject matter to the character of the arguer its called an ad hominem. An ad hominem doesn't argue a point.

The ad hominem logical fallacy is not merely (or necessarily) an insult - it is a specious form of argument that characterises the opponent and then uses this characterisation to cast doubt upon the opponents argument.

More details here at the Nizkor Project and Wikipedia

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Thank you very much for your opinion.

As I understand it, an ad hominem is simply an attack on character of the person whom they disagree with. When the attack switches from the subject matter to the character of the arguer its called an ad hominem. An ad hominem doesn't argue a point.

To be precise, an ad hominem is an attempt to refute points in a discussion by attacking the person making them rather than the points themselves.

As an example, "You're not qualified to discuss biblical history because you're an atheist, so everything you say on the subject is automatically wrong." is an ad hominem (and a fairly blatant one). The statement you quoted doesn't (to me) seem to fall into that pattern (unless there was more to the message than you quoted here). As I said, it seems more like an expression of their own feelings, which is perfectly legitimate, even if it does nothing to move the discussion forward. Words like "seemed" are the key to my interpretation - they're expressing an opinion, not arguing a statement of fact.

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The ad hominem logical fallacy is not merely (or necessarily) an insult - it is a specious form of argument that characterises the opponent and then uses this characterisation to cast doubt upon the opponents argument.

That may just have been the first time that I understood what these magic words "ad hominem" (that I read in this forum for years, now) actually mean. Nice explanation.
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PMB, I don't always agree with you but in this case I do.

Stick to plain English then you won't have a problem with those who like to feel superior by hiding their true meaning in another (dead) language.

As such Ad Hominem means what I (or you or Uncle Tom Cobbly) want it to mean, within the translation. It literally translates as towards the man.

Some might adopt a particular meaning convention, but if the greater majority from the great unwashed understand something different who is to say who is right and who is wrong?

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PMB, I don't always agree with you but in this case I do.

Stick to plain English then you won't have a problem with those who like to feel superior by hiding their true meaning in another (dead) language.

As such Ad Hominem means what I (or you or Uncle Tom Cobbly) want it to mean, within the translation. It literally translates as towards the man.

Some might adopt a particular meaning convention, but if the greater majority from the great unwashed understand something different who is to say who is right and who is wrong?

In cases like this I prefer to use textbooks as the source of definitions. The one I have now is Practical Logic: An Antidote for Uncritical Thinking - 5th Ed. by Soccios and Barry, Harcourt Brace College Publishers, (1998). It's a wonderful text. The description is five pages long so I can't post it.

Edited by pmb
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PMB, I don't always agree with you but in this case I do.

Stick to plain English then you won't have a problem with those who like to feel superior by hiding their true meaning in another (dead) language.

As such Ad Hominem means what I (or you or Uncle Tom Cobbly) want it to mean, within the translation. It literally translates as towards the man.

Some might adopt a particular meaning convention, but if the greater majority from the great unwashed understand something different who is to say who is right and who is wrong?

We use language so that we can be understood - if any meaning can be attributed to any collection of letter we lose the ability to communicate. Ad Hominem has a meaning which has been agreed and understood for many centuries and there is no good reason to lose that meaning. I use ad hominem not to feel superior nor hide my true meaning but so that I can express a complicated idea in two words. In fact your characterisation of those who insist on the correct usage as aloof and duplicitous is not just a little bit insulting, it is also an ad hominem fallacy; you try to persuade those to your point of view, not be making a valid argument nor by rebutting an opponents, but by questioning the motives and honesty of those that you disagree with.

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which has been agreed and understood for many centuries and there is no good reason to lose that meaning

Would you also advocate going back to the meanings of several hundred years ago for a great many words in the English language, some of which have greatly altered or even reversed at least in the last 25 years?

Unlike French, meaning in the English language is not decided by some sterile and remote authority, it is a result of the actions of the majority.

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Would you also advocate going back to the meanings of several hundred years ago for a great many words in the English language, some of which have greatly altered or even reversed at least in the last 25 years?

That would be contrary to his purpose, i.e."a meaning which has been agreed and understood for many centuries". The one you refer to doesn't fall under that criteria.

I hope I didn't give the impression that I was using puffery when I used the term "ad hominem". I wasn't. As imatfaal said, it represents a complicated idea using just two words. I like it because I can use it and leave out the word "attack" so as not to rile the natives.

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Would you also advocate going back to the meanings of several hundred years ago for a great many words in the English language, some of which have greatly altered or even reversed at least in the last 25 years?

Unlike French, meaning in the English language is not decided by some sterile and remote authority, it is a result of the actions of the majority.

Going back? It's not going back - it's avoiding an elision of meaning that you are arguing is going on in the present. Look up ad hominem and the meaning will be the same - you are the one calling for a change in meaning, not me. I hate the fact that the richness of distinctions, the intrinsic subtleties of the English language are being eroded. I have no problem with English as a living language - but that is not the same a defending a reduction in the scope of the language. We have a perfectly good word for insult - it's insult, and in fact there are many others. Can you tell me how I will express the notion of ad hominem so efficiently once your diminution of meaning has taken place?

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An elision of meaning?

Thank for for prompting me to look up a new work I cannot recall meeting before.

However my OED makes this use mystifying to me.

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.. (unless there was more to the message than you quoted here). ...

Yes. There was more. I didn't think it was neccesary to post more than that. Let me post the entire response

Then my friend we are seriously at cross-purpose.

1. I wanted to shoow why the "standard substituion" in QM $$\hat{p} \to -i \habar \partial_\mu$$ might be valid

2. The approach I took was historical - prospective in a certain sense

3. The fact that a retrospective view - what you call "modern physics" - now disagrees with historical assumptions, in no way diminishes the debt that "modern physics" owes to the founding fathers of QM. Recall that Bohr thought that electrons orbited the nucleaus and it can scarecly be denied that QM is what it is today largely thanks to him

4. I was able to use what you call de Broglie's "wrong assumptions" to sow why the "standard QM substitution" $$\hat{p} \to -i \hbar \partial_\mu$$ makes sense was in the spirit of (3) above

5. Can you give an argument, using no unnecessary assumptions, and not de Broglie's, that is as nice as mine?

6. Last, and by ALL MEANS least - ever since you re-joined this forum you have seemed eager to prove me wrong every time I opened my mouth . If I were a paranoid (I am not) I would say it's something of a mission of yours.

Have a nice day

Quite clearly the opponent attacked the arguer and not the arguement. That's the essense of an ad hominem attack in my opinion. I'd say that at this point we can agree to disagree. In this case he used the "He's out to get me." excuse.

Edited by pmb
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Yes. There was more. I didn't think it was neccesary to post more than that. Let me post the entire response

Quite clearly the opponent attacked the arguer and not the arguement. That's the essense of an ad hominem attack in my opinion. I'd say that at this point we can agree to disagree. In this case he used the "He's out to get me." excuse.

In light of the text of the full post, I would say, yes, that was an ad hominem attack, since he clearly listed that as one of the reasons he was refuting your post. The context makes the difference.

Edit - grammar.

Edited by Greg H.
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In light of the text of the full post, I would say, yes, that was an ad hominem attack, since he clearly listed that as one of the reasons he was refuting your post. The context makes the difference.

Edit - grammar.

Thank you or your opinion. It was greatly appreciated.

Edited by pmb
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Yes, it definitely is, but you know my view already pmb

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What is going on here? I posted things here and they never appeared when I came back. If the moderators deleted them then please send me a PM to let me know why so I can avoid posting things which might get deleted in the future.

The following might appear as if I'm whining here. I'm human so I'd have to admit that there is some of that in it. But I'm posting it to show how complaints against ad hominems are met in other forums and how we should consider ourselves lucky here and how much we should appreciate the moderators here.

In response to that ad hominem I posted the following

Note: Your resonses are ad hominems. I'd like to request that you cease using them since ad hominems don't belong in a science discussion forum.

The following is the moderators response

OK, pmb, enough is enough - what *** does is not an ad hominem, and if you applied your wiki definition you should know that. An ad hominem is when someone reject your arguments because of who you are and not because of the validity of the argument. Just disagreeing is quite normal for a forum and does not amount to an ad hominem.

In short, cut the cr*p.

Another moderator responded with

i just thought that pmb was far too thin-skinned and should stop thinking that any disagreement is an attack on him as a person

besides, it's clear from Guitarist's tone that he doesn't mean any offence + anyone who under those circumstances insists on such an apology is clearly taking offence where none was intended

At least our moderators are rational people. Enjoy this forum. The moderators are pure gold compared to the terrble excuses of forums out there. My applause to the moderators. Hip hip hurray!

Edited by pmb
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I will reiterate what a few others have said: an insult is not necessarily an ad hominem; an insult becomes the fallacy only when it's used as part of an argument or as an excuse to not make a response to an argument.

What do hyou do when you get an ad hominem reply? Do you ignore it? PM the person and ask them not to do it again or respond in the thread asking them not to use ad hominems?

Here, the options depend on the situation. One option is ignoring it and by example being the bigger person, another is reporting the post. However, since the ad hom probably means your point was not addressed, you can point this out and can also restate your point or question.

What is going on here? I posted things here and they never appeared when I came back. If the moderators deleted them then please send me a PM to let me know why so I can avoid posting things which might get deleted in the future.

No posts in this thread have been deleted.

Yes. There was more. I didn't think it was neccesary to post more than that. Let me post the entire response

Quite clearly the opponent attacked the arguer and not the arguement. That's the essense of an ad hominem attack in my opinion. I'd say that at this point we can agree to disagree. In this case he used the "He's out to get me." excuse.

The first five points are an attempt at a refutation of an argument. The last is a personal observation. I'm not a fan of trying to guess what others' motives are and agree that they have no place in a discussion, but I don't see an ad hom fallacy.

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I'm not a fan of trying to guess what others' motives are and agree that they have no place in a discussion, but I don't see an ad hom fallacy.

From what the logic text tells me an ad hominem is when a person attacks the arguer instead of the arguement. In this case he didn't attempt to address the arguement (I explained that E = mc^ = mv^2 is wrong when the partilce whose speed is v has non-zero rest mass) but instead called my character into question. You disagree with this. right? Which part?

Here is what the text states

Whenever we attack a person instead of his or her argument, we commit a form of the fallacy known as the personal attack. Historically, this fallacy has been known a argumentum ad hominem, or ad homenim for short.

Of course this depends on how

ever since you re-joined this forum you have seemed eager to prove me wrong every time I opened my mouth . If I were a paranoid (I am not) I would say it's something of a mission of yours.

is percieved. I percieve it as a personal attack since I was never eager to prove him wrong. By claiming that I have some sort of hidden motive he's questioning my character.

Edited by pmb
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"You're stupid" is not an ad hominem argument. "You're stupid, so your argument is obviously wrong" is clearly an ad hominem, because it uses insult rather than logic to attack an argument.

Your textbook may provide examples that make this distinction clear.

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Yes. There was more. I didn't think it was neccesary to post more than that. Let me post the entire response

Then my friend we are seriously at cross-purpose.

1. I wanted to shoow why the "standard substituion" in QM $$\hat{p} \to -i \habar \partial_\mu$$ might be valid

2. The approach I took was historical - prospective in a certain sense

3. The fact that a retrospective view - what you call "modern physics" - now disagrees with historical assumptions, in no way diminishes the debt that "modern physics" owes to the founding fathers of QM. Recall that Bohr thought that electrons orbited the nucleaus and it can scarecly be denied that QM is what it is today largely thanks to him

4. I was able to use what you call de Broglie's "wrong assumptions" to sow why the "standard QM substitution" $$\hat{p} \to -i \hbar \partial_\mu$$ makes sense was in the spirit of (3) above

5. Can you give an argument, using no unnecessary assumptions, and not de Broglie's, that is as nice as mine?

6. Last, and by ALL MEANS least - ever since you re-joined this forum you have seemed eager to prove me wrong every time I opened my mouth . If I were a paranoid (I am not) I would say it's something of a mission of yours.

Have a nice day

Quite clearly the opponent attacked the arguer and not the arguement. That's the essense of an ad hominem attack in my opinion. I'd say that at this point we can agree to disagree. In this case he used the "He's out to get me." excuse.

I suspect you know, in a legal proceeding it is called declaring a hostile witness to say "we are at cross purposes as evidenced by your constant attempts to prove me wrong".

It wouldn't be any kind of argument fallacy or a personal attack for a lawyer to make that statement to a Judge, and it wouldn't be uncommon for a judge to declare the witness hostile for the reason given.

If all the answers to a questioner are designed to prove the questioner wrong then the two are at cross purposes. Just pointing that out isn't itself invalid or fallacious. It can be necessary.

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"You're stupid" is not an ad hominem argument. "You're stupid, so your argument is obviously wrong" is clearly an ad hominem, because it uses insult rather than logic to attack an argument.

Your textbook may provide examples that make this distinction clear.

I'm already clear on it. I've never confused an insult as being an ad hominem attack. And my text doesn't have an examples like that. However it does have something relavent to say under the section about circumstantial personal attack which pertains to the ad hominem I cited

Further, an individuals motives for asserting an arguement are always logically irrelevant to the arguments cogency.

since in the case I cited it was my motives where were raised.

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I percieve it as a personal attack since I was never eager to prove him wrong. By claiming that I have some sort of hidden motive he's questioning my character.

It is a personal attack. But it is not the ad hominem fallacy, because the attack was not as a substitute for a response. It was a personal observation in addition to a response. Uncalled for, IMO, because it's likely to only incite and inflame, but still not ad hominem.

If he had made that statement and nothing else, i.e. used it as an excuse not to address any points of physics, then it would be ad hom. But there is a list of five points of argument that you provided which shows this not to be the case.

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It is a personal attack. But it is not the ad hominem fallacy, because the attack was not as a substitute for a response. It was a personal observation in addition to a response. Uncalled for, IMO, because it's likely to only incite and inflame, but still not ad hominem.

I still disagree. The terms personal attack and ad hominem are synonyms. Don't you recall how the text defines these terms? It states

Whenever we attack a person instead of his or her argument, we commit a form of the fallacy known as the personal attack. Historically, this fallacy has been known a argumentum ad hominem, or ad homenim for short.

(Italics are mine) There is nothing in the definition that says that the attack has to be a substitute for the response.

Let's take a look at some examples of ad hominems from Wiki

"Candidate Jane's proposal about zoning is ridiculous. She was caught cheating on her taxes in 2003."

"What makes you so smart and all-knowing to deny God's existence? You haven't even finished school."

See how the attack has absolutely nothing to do with the topic?

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