Ad Hominem

 

Ad Hominem is a Latin term that means “against the man.”  It is used to refer to a logical fallacy that subverts the argument by focusing on the person rather than the idea.  Here’s an example:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  How could that be true?  You are just a hairy loser!

Silas dismisses the assertion of Esau on the basis of what he thinks about Esau.  Rather than discuss the idea Esau presents, Silas sidesteps the argument and attacks Esau personally.  This is a logical fallacy that is seen very often.  Nothing positive is gained from the argument.

Usually the comment isn’t so direct, of course.  Here’s another:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Just because your Canaanite wives don’t know how to make anything better doesn’t mean that’s the best way.

This time Silas attacks the associations of Esau.  Esau is discredited, Silas believes, because of his wives.  We often see this in arguments, particularly in political and theological discussions.  Certain opinions are dismissed without real discussion because of the associations of the one who states the idea.  This is also an ad hominem argument, “against the man.”  One more:

Esau:  I think lentil soup is better when made with venison.

Silas:  Well, you also thought that your birthright was worthless.

Again, Silas dismisses Esau’s statement, but this time on the basis of previous opinions held by Esau.  Because Esau believed something that proved to be foolish at one time, Silas attributes that foolishness to the current idea.  This is also widely used in political debates and can be heard almost every day during election season.  The only problem is that it is again the ad hominem fallacy.  Esau’s opinions on the birthright might cause someone to question his judgment but they do nothing to establish or negate his opinion on the quality of his soup. 

In theological arguments, the ad hominem fallacy is an easy way to avoid real discussion.  If the goal is understanding and the proclamation of the truth, attacking the man is not helpful.  In fact, ad hominem arguments may be the cause of much of the division seen among believers.

The discussion of an idea is appropriate and beneficial for the community.  But it is never good for us to disrespect a brother or sister.  If the idea is wrong and hurtful, someone should say something.  Attacking the character or reputation of another believer should not be part of that discussion. 

Thoughts?

3 Comments

Filed under Relationship, Theology and mystery

3 responses to “Ad Hominem

  1. Dave

    Sometimes we need to consider an environment where when testing teaching is discouraged or publicly shamed not only spiritually abusive, but also cultic.

    • You mean like those who disagree are almost instantly accused of sin? 😉
      Yes, we know about those! How dare you argue with “The Teacher”? Cults are about control and so are many ministries among us. I think that a teacher who resorts to this kind of response is making it very clear that he is neither a good teacher nor a good follower of the Lord.

  2. Kay

    These are good (or not so good:)….in the past years I have been the Esau or Silas….I just didnt know how fleshly it was, mean
    and leaves no room for a healthy rebuttal. Now that I am different,
    I can stop either of those most of the time. I just stare at someone
    that does this to another Christian. Amazing when you get further
    down the road of grace living. Thanks Dave…AGAIN.

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