Tag Archives: non fallacious ad hominem arguments

Having a face like their ass*

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.

 

Arguers arguing

My sense is that critical thinking and informal logic classes stress the evaluation of arguments, not arguers.  This is fine as a starting point, but as a long run strategy, it ignores the fact that we have very often to evaluate arguers.  Someone who makes good ones, like someone who can throw good pitchers, is a good arguer; someone who makes bad ones, is a bad arguer.  It's a kind of skill.  The judgement about the person arguing strikes some, however, as having too much of an ad hominem character.  But ad hominems are not by their very nature fallacious.  They're fallacious only when the ad hominem judgement has no relevance to the truth or falsity or reliability or whatever of what a person is saying. 

In light of this, consider George Will's latest attack on his favorite hollow man, "progressivism."

In 2011, for the first time in 62 years, America was a net exporter of petroleum products. For the indefinite future, a specter is haunting progressivism, the specter of abundance. Because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people and because progressives believe that only government’s energy should flow unimpeded, they crave energy scarcities as an excuse for rationing — by them — that produces ever-more-minute government supervision of Americans’ behavior.

and then later:

An all-purpose rationale for rationing in its many permutations has been the progressives’ preferred apocalypse, the fear of climate change. But environmentalism as the thin end of an enormous wedge of regulation and redistribution is a spent force. How many Americans noticed that the latest United Nations climate change confabulation occurred in December in Durban, South Africa?

Let's put this another way.  A person who makes up phony opponents (hollow men) merely in order to knock down their imaginary arguments with demonstrable scientific falsehoods is a very sorry arguer.  That's an ad hominem.

via Washington Monthly