In the previous Mark Steyn post, Cosmo accused me of ad hominem argument, then, when I told him he didn’t actually seem to understand what ad hominem was, went and got the dictionary definition (or, well, the about.com definition, anyway) and still managed to get it wrong:
“Ad hominem is a Latin term meaning “to the man”. It is short for “argumentum ad hominem” which refers to an argument against a man. An argument that is ad hominem is one that has deviated from the claims being made and has instead focused on the person making the claims.”
Calling Steyn an asshole would most certainly qualify, as you gave no examples to back up this claim. Do you know Steyn? Ever interacted with him? Corresponded, even? Give us some evidence as to why he’s an asshole, other than because he possesses the extreme character flaw of disagreeing with your political positions.
Who’s REALLY the hack here?
I’m going to go into a little detail now, because this is one of my major pet peeves: people (on any side of the political spectrum: left, right, Ron Paul, 4chan, you name it) get this wrong all the time. So I’m taking my reply to his comment and turning it into a post. (My blog, my rules.)
An argument that is ad hominem deviates from the claims being made and focuses on the person making the claims, this is true, but is still ultimately targeted at the claims, which is why ad hominem is included as one of the classic arguments of fallacy. The generic example of an ad hominem is:
“[X]’s argument about [whatever] is wrong because he is a worthless asshole.”
That’s how ad hominem differs from insult: it takes insult, which is essentially opinion, and treats it as evidence.
For example, I think Mark Steyn is a malicious asshole. That’s opinion (and insult). But it’s not an argument. If I want to justify it and turn it into an argument (IE, “Mark Steyn is a malicious asshole because X”), I might say it’s because he oversimplifies his arguments to misrepresent the position of his opposition, or because he conflates essentially unrelated political phenomena on the basis of apparent surface similarities to create the appearance of a sustained argument where none in fact exists.(And in fact I did say just that in the original post, albeit not as eloquently.) I might go on to add that Steyn’s been cheerfully wrong about the Great Depression and the merits of Augusto Pinochet, among other things. (Those were just the first two links that reminded me of amusements past. There are plenty more; I heartily recommend his idiotic screed about the merits of Jack Kirby versus Stan Lee to comics fans, wherein he suggests that Stan Lee’s motivation for making Spider-Man a troubled individual was not because Stan Lee wanted to make the character more relatable and realistic, but because Stan Lee was a big ol’ nasty liberal.) He has a chronic inability to fact-check and racist tendencies (if you’ve read America Alone, you know he routinely and incorrectly conflates “Muslim” and “non-Muslim” with “brown” and “white”) that are moderately disgusting.
Even then, though, that’s still not ad hominem, because in that case the argument being made is specifically about the individual rather than his claims. (To wit: X is an asshole because of Y and Z.) Ad hominem occurs when the major point of argument is A) not about the specific individual referred to and B) one then fallaciously refers to negative characteristics of that individual to “prove” he is wrong.
In the context of this post, that would have been something like “Steyn wrote about Lily Ledbetter and got it totally wrong, because he is an asshole.” A reader who ignored or glossed over my paragraph about his oversimplifying Ledbetter v. Goodyear to the point of idiocy might incorrectly consider it ad hominem – but no dice. (I might still be wrong – such is the nature of argument – but it’s not a fallacious argument.)
That’s why ad hominem is one of the classic logical fallacies. Got it now?
Top comment: I hate to be the guy who focuses on the one throwaway comics reference in an otherwise political post…
…Actually, no, I don’t. I love being that guy!
Anyway, Steyn’s “EVIL STAN LEE WAS AN EVIL DEMOCRAT” thing kind of hilariously omits the fact that Kirby was a lifelong FDR Democrat himself. — Prankster