Ad Hominem (Personal Attack or Attacking the Person)
The fallacy of responding to an opponent's argument by changing the subject to the person who gave the subject, introducing the false assumption that a person of this sort cannot offer an argument worth considering. One can deflect attention from the arguer's position by shifting to discussion of the arguer's personality, character, associates, motives, intentions, qualifications, and so on.
When we attack the person, we ignore the content of the argument. But an argument is a relationship between premises and conclusion, and the argument's soundness (or lack of soundness) is completely independent of who is giving the argument. "There is nothing to what Smith says about the Nazi death camps; just remember that his family included prominent Nazis" may sound convincing, but this refusal to look at Smith's evidence is a refusal to evaluate the soundness of the argument. (After all, Smith may be ashamed of her relatives and might be confirming the existence of the death camps against anti-Semitic opponents who argue that the camps are a hoax.)
Given this definition, the fallacy is restricted to cases where there is an opponent and where one is responding to that opponent.
Recognition of the fallacy of attacking the person DOES NOT DENY OR CONFLICT WITH the legitimate need to evaluate the source of information that is put into an argument. Consider these two cases:
These responses to Green and Johnson are perfectly appropriate, since they are calling arguments into question by questioning sources of information in the arguments. They are pointing to flaws in the argument by discussing sources of specific premises, not dismissing the whole argument by appeal to facts about Green and Johnson.
A special case of Ad Hominem is phony refutation, in which one dismisses an argument or position by citing inconsistency between the speaker's words and actions. Inconsistency is a fallacy when the inconsistency is between two parts of an argument, but inconsistency between words and actions may be due to understandable moral weakness or to a legitimate change in one's position.
Yes, and the first speaker may regret that "wild" youth and may be offering you hard-earned advice that is worth your consideration. The smoker who advises you against smoking may have tried to quit many times, and is warning you of what you face if you make the mistake of starting. The third speaker may now understand, through personal experience, that underage drinking is a serious social problem, and has revised their thinking about the topic.
The Latin name for phony refutation is Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. Informally, it's known as the "You Too Fallacy."
The problem of being unclear about what you are actually attempting to prove in an argument, or stating your conclusion in slightly different ways, so that arguments supporting one version do not really apply to others.
Changing Meanings or Equivocation
As with many of the fallacies, equivocation is only a fallacy if we first establish that it takes place within a context of reasoning! People equivocate all the time, but it doesn't have the status of a fallacy unless they are engaged in reasoning (in leading someone to a conclusion).
The fallacy requires the following:
The fallacy can be intentional or unintentional. In the former case, the person giving the argument misleads the audience by exploiting the equivocation. In the second case, the speaker does not try to mislead, but the audience draws an unsound conclusion by misinterpreting statements that can be taken two different ways.
When the equivocation is created by a punctuation error or error in grammatical construction, the fallacy is technically known as the fallacy of amphiboly.
Red Herring (Lack of Relevance)
The fallacy of introducing, as reasons for one's position, a topic that is not directly related to the issue originally being debated. In effect, the arguer starts on one topic, changes the subject, and then proceeds as if there has been no change in subject.
Supposedly, the fallacy is known as "red herring" on an analogy with escaped convicts who might smear herring (a smelly fish) on themselves to throw bloodhounds off their trail.
Since a great many fallacies involve giving reasons that lack relevance to the issue under debate, we reserve the accusation of "red herring" to those cases where the argument fallacy is a simple change of subject, apart from one of the specialized tactics (e.g., Appeal to Pity, Appeal to Force, Straw Man, etc.)
Pseudo-Question or Loaded Question
The fallacy of biasing an exchange by asking a question that has an unjustified assumption built right into the question, influencing the answer given to it.
Another version of this problem is known as complex question, where two unrelated topics are combined in a single question, so that answering on part will seem to answer the other, as well.
Loaded question is often done by introducing a false dilemma:
Often called Appeal to Authority, I prefer a title that doesn't suggest that there's a problem with appealing to authorities! It is often appropriate to defend the truth of a claim, or a recommendation of behavior, by citing the testimony or advice of some authority. The fallacy consists in citing someone who is not really an authority on the subject at issue.
The Latin name for this fallacy is ad verecundiam.
The fallacy takes many forms:
The Latin name for this fallacy is ad verecundiam.
Variations of this fallacy appeal to other kinds of bogus authority, among them:
There are two versions of this fallacy. They are both given this name because they share a common idea that taking a first step will lead us to something we don't want. It is the unjustified assumption of this idea that is the fallacy. (When the assumption is justified, there's no fallacy, even if the argument otherwise looks like any other slope.)
The assumption in question is that choosing one thing leads to, or is equivalent to, choosing a second thing. But the move from the first to the second is not immediate: one leads to the other (or is shown equivalent) by a series of small, plausible steps. The result is then noted to be undesirable, and therefore (by the valid move of modus tollens), we are advised to avoid the first.
Hence, the name "slippery slope," which conjures up a picture of sloped ground that is slippery. If you take even one step onto the slope, you will find yourself down on the bottom, where you may not want to be!
CLICK HERE for another illustration.
The first type (where the first step leads to the second by causing it) is the causal slope. The second type (that one leads by equivalences to the second) is the semantic slope.
When there no justification (no good reason to believe) that the first step must cause the second or that the first is really equivalent, then the argument contains a fallacy.
Why are these fallacies? Because in each case we can point to a "break" in the chain, a place where one step really does not take us to the next. In the first example, acceptance of fake violence does not necessitate acceptance of real violence, at least for those of us who distinguish fantasy from reality. In the second example, even if we "steal time," that's not equivalent to forced servitude. The server's job is to serve even if the customer does not tip, and the server knows that when taking the job. The customer doesn't force the server to be a server.
Slippery slope is closely related to scare tactics, the difference being that the slope argument tries to hide the threat by following a series of steps before arriving at the "scary" result.
This fallacy consists of misrepresenting an opponent's position in order to make your own position look more reasonable. To be blunt, it involves putting words into your opponent's mouth that your opponent would not recognize as theirs. By substituting a different position (usually much weaker than their real position), one fails to genuinely engage the opponent, and thus one hasn't really done anything to support one's own position.
The name comes from the practice of stuffing dummies and scarecrows with straw. When one attacks an opponent by putting words into the opponent's mouth, one makes up a "dummy" position. But just as beating up a scarecrow doesn't demonstrate any athletic accomplishment, beating up a "straw man" in an argument doesn't demonstrate anything.
Given this definition, the fallacy of straw man is restricted to cases where there is an opponent and where one is responding to that opponent.
The difficulty with spotting the fallacy is that one must know enough about the issue to know when an opponents is being misrepresented.
Any evaluation of an IDEA based on how it makes us FEEL is inappropriate. I may not like it that gravity limits my ability to fly without an airplane, but my disliking the truth is no argument against it!
False Dilemma (Limited Options
We show that the fallacy has taken place by pointing out one or more plausible but overlooked options.
In this fallacy, the argument is usually valid. So this is not a "formal fallacy" (the problem is not the form of the argument).
One variation of this fallacy is known as the Black-and-White Fallacy. In this case, the arguer oversimplifies a complex situation by seeing the situation as "black and white," putting all cases into one of two extreme categories. The arguer ignores "shades of gray." (Shown the color yellow, the arguer classifies it as white because it's more like white than black!)
Another variation is the middle ground fallacy (a.k.a. the split-the-difference fallacy). In this variation, the arguer begins the argument with a false dilemma by proposing two extreme options. Based on their extreme nature, the arguer then proposes that the reasonable option must be in the middle ground between the two, and proposes a specific third option as that middle ground. Yet this remains a false dilemma if the arguer has ignored additional options that would be alternatives (such as none of them).
Last updated Aug. 24, 2012