Challenging someone's credibility when that person's credibility is relevant to whether or not one should believe him or her does not constitute an ad hominem attack.  Someone ought to tell John Bolton, whose credibility in matters of foreign affairs ought to have suffered for the Iraq debacle.  Well, someone did.  An interviewer asked whether Americans would be rightly skeptical of the administration and its minions'  claims about Iran's military intentions.  And here is how Bolton responded:

Absolutely not! And by the way, the credibility point is an ad hominem reference. And certainly ad hominem attacks in American politics are nothing new.  But to address the merits of the argument requires a response on the merits, not an ad hominem attack.

No it's not an ad hominem attack.  An ad hominem argument uses irrelevant information about the person making an argument to discredit them–whether one should believe Bolton's doomsday rhetoric about Iran is certainly relevant.  

You can hear the audio here

3 thoughts on “Credibility”

  1. John,
    This seems dead-on.  Bolton is confusing the hurt he feels in having his credibility and competence challenged with the abuse of ad hominem. (If it hurts my feelings, it must be character assasination instead of relevant criticism.) 

    Ann Coulter’s Slander works on the same model: liberal critics draw conclusions about the moral character of conservatives on the basis of criticism of their policy decisions — so they must be arguing ad hominem.  SA

  2. Cognitive behavioral therapists call such confusion “emotional reasoning”, e.g. “I feel angry; this proves I’m being treated unfairly.”
    This is allegedly a rather counterproductive mode of thinking. Imagine that.

  3. aikin and Dagon–

    I wonder if you’re not both being a bit too charitable to Bolton (or perhpas I’m not being charitable enough), but it seems to me that this isn’t based from any hurt Bolton feels, but it’s a very clever dodge. It’s a refusal to even countenance the question, not because he feels hurt, but because he just doesn’t want to answer that question. Rather than answer the question, he attacks the question, making it appear as if he’s already answered it by proving it to be flawed.

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