Winston Churchill was the master of the Ad Hominem attack. Some of his quotes are at the end of this post.
The Ad Hominem attack is a logical fallacy where one person argues by attacking a characteristic of the person making the claim.
Characteristics have nothing to do with truth or validity of an argument.
Not all Ad Hominem arguments are bad. There are many legitimate ways of using these. Today, we focus on the bad because there is too much of it going on.
A basic Ad Hominem:
Frank: "The job market sucks."
Frank's Wife: "You don't have a job so you can't talk about the job market!"
The fact that Frank does not have a job and watches porn does not disqualify him from expressing his opinion that the job market sucks.
The abusive Ad Hominem attack attacks an opponent's qualities or other irrelevant characteristic in an attempt to deny the veracity or the quality of his or her statements.
Domestic abusers and bullies use abusive Ad Hominem attacks.
Tea Party Candidate: "We in the Tea Party want our liberty and freedom from government. Blah blah blah blah!"
Human Being: "Two sperms later and your momma and daddy could have made you one of us. Since you are not one of us, I don't believe you!"
The insult about the Tea Party Candidate may be true, but it does not prove that the blathering idiot was lying.
Also, labeling the opponent as a human being is an ad hominem attack. It points out that Tea Party Candidates are not human beings, so we should not believe anything they say.
In other words, the Tea Party candidate made a claim. The Human Being attacked a characteristic and not the argument, if there ever was an argument.
Another type of Ad Hominem attack is the "Credential Fallacy". Who remember the old days at OS when a certain MD would spray credential fallacies all over us?
"You do not have a medical degree, therefore you are not qualified to talk about genital warts or butt wipes."
The Ad Feminam attack will get someone kicked in the nuts! It is used to dismiss arguments made by women based on female characteristics or bias against women.
"What? You got PMS or something?"
The Ad Homines attack is the same nasty bit of work. It dismisses the arguments of men based on their male characteristics or on bias against men.
"Don't believe a thing that men say! They are only trying to get you to do the underwater wiggle with them!"
Attacking the Messenger is another type of Ad Hominem attack.
"The GAO is a communist front!"
Tue Quoque Ad Hominem attacks will make you look, sound and act real smart. If you can pronounce it properly, then launch into one of these, you will scare the hell out of an ignorant buffooon. You might even sound like a lawyer!
This attack points out that the speaker said or did something that was inconsistent with her argument.
Debbi Lee: "Hey! Lisa doesn't care about losing weight. I just caught her eating a whole 'Gut Buster Special' at Joe's diner!"
Shaquanda: "But you eat the 'Gut Buster Special' at least twice a week and you weigh 300 pounds!"
The fact that Debbie Lee does the same thing as Lisa does not disprove anything. Her argument was that glugging down a 'Gut Buster Special' is proof that Lisa does not care about losing weight.
Guilt by association exploits the similarities between a person's argument and another person or group's arguments.
When the opponent does not like the other person or group, then anyone who expresses similar views or makes similar arguments is ripe for a real word whipping.
The argument is wrong or untrue simply because the speaker sounds like or pals around with a person or a group we despise.
Tea Party politicians have comandeered the words "liberty" and "freedom" and associated them with the group.
People who can't stand the Tea Party or its agenda will often ignore the rest of a statement whenever they hear or read "freedom" and "liberty". This is because they are now associated with the Tea Party and nothing good follows them anyway.
The words have nothing to do with the argument that is being made even when the Tea Party's arguments can stink up a room and clear everyone out.
Dog Whistle Ad Hominem attacks.
This category refers to statements or actions that are understood only by those who "get" the statements or actions. The words will resonate with some people, but will pass over those who do not know what they mean.
Mitt Romney attended the NAACP function, but spent his time on dog whistle ad hominem attacks that were intended for the more racist elements of society who were not even in the room.
Dog whistle ad hominem attacks use words and phrases that resonate with one group, but are not recognized by others. These are also referred to as "code words and phrases", "underground code", or "racist code words".
To counter a dog whistle attack, simply ask the speaker what the statement means. Good luck with getting an answer.
Begin with the statement, claim, argument in favor, argument against, or proposal.
Look for the evidence or proof or look for the disclaimer that the statement is "opinion".
To properly attack the argument, attack the evidence, logic, support or proof.
Or, show where there is no evidence, support or proof.
To make an Ad Hominem attack, focus on things that have nothing to do with the argument.
Great Ad Hominem attacks in history:
"He is a sheep in sheep’s clothing,” and “He is a modest man with much to be modest about.”
When you have no basis for an argument, abuse the plaintiff.
"Sure, he's an asshole
. Sure he's dead. Sure, I'm just imagining that he's talking. That doesn't stop the bastard from being absolutely right."
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
And oftentimes excusing of a fault doth make the fault the worse by the excuse.
A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.---Winston Churchill
See? Ad Hominem attacks are sometimes good and useful; they are sometimes useless and abusive. Let us get better at using these techniques in an appropriate and kick ass fashion.