When I taught English Composition, one of the central topics was the use of logical fallacies. We discussed many of them, why they are illogical, why to avoid them in argumentative essays, and how to recognize them. The United States national election occurs on November 6, in two weeks. At that time, while we don’t elect a President, all of the House of Representatives, many Senators and many local officials including Governors are up for election. In the spirit of the times, I am taking a bit to explain logical fallacies. I hope that at least you can yell the fallacy back at the television instead of vaguely wondering why you are so bothered by the ad.
The “ad hominem” fallacy runs rampant throughout the current American political scene. It’s so ubiquitous that many of us may have overlooked its failure to address the question at hand. We all practiced the fallacy in grade school when we called one another “stupid poo-poo heads” when we didn’t agree with them, particularly around rules for board games that were allowing them to win. The attack on the person, the translation of the Latin phrase, substituted then and now for a rational reason for disagreeing. “He’s an idiot.”(Not “I strongly disagree with his economic policy and would prefer(here insert an opposing idea.”) This is challenging because you actually have to think rather than just name call.
Pay attention to the next five tweets from the President of the United States or the politician of your choice. See if you can identify any “ad hominem” arguments. Don’t worry. You won’t have to stay up past your bed time to find them!