A couple days ago we had a discussion about the non-fallacious sense of ad hominem. As recent research has shown (decisively, I think), fallacious forms of argument schemes exist along side non-fallacious ones. Attacking the person isn’t ipso facto impermissible, because sometimes people who argue are bad and that fact bears on their argument.
Here’s another fun example pulled from Twitter. A Catholic hospital in Denver has been sued for malpractice involving the death of a mother and one of her twin fetuses. Their defense? Well:
As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”
Please consider the usual caveats about legal cases and legal reporting and let’s say for the sake of argument that this is the Catholic hospital’s view (but don’t let this stop you from commenting on them should you want to). It seems like we’d have reasonable grounds for saying: how inconsistent this argument is with your long-standing views! In fact (from the same source):
The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”
So here we have probably (again for the sake of argument) perfectly reasonable interpretation of the Wrongful Death Act. But it is exactly the opposite of the views of the institution which is making the argument. This inconsistency has (justifiably) occasioned the non-fallacious tu quoque charge. Imagine had the plaintiff making the argument been represented by Planned Parenthoood. Nonetheless, I think this illustrates a critical issue about ad hominems, namely: it is impossible to entertain this argument in isolation from the other commitments–even those not currently up for discussion–of the arguer.
*having “your face like your ass” (la faccia come il culo): (roughly) not ashamed of anything.