Ad Hominem: Definition, Features, and Examples

Ad Hominem is a Latin term that means “against the person.” It is a logical fallacy in which an argument is attacked by targeting the person making the argument, rather than addressing the argument itself. Instead of refuting the points, evidence, or logic presented in an argument, an ad hominem attack attacks the character, credibility, or personal attributes of the person making the argument. This fallacy is a diversionary tactic that can be used to undermine an opponent’s position without engaging with the substance of their argument.


Personal Attacks: Ad Hominem arguments involve personal attacks on the character, background, or attributes of the person making the argument. These attacks can be based on factors like the person’s appearance, beliefs, or personal history.

Ignores the Argument: The key feature of Ad Hominem is that it diverts attention away from the actual argument being made. Instead of addressing the evidence and logic presented, it attempts to discredit the person presenting the argument.

Relevance: Ad Hominem attacks are often irrelevant to the argument at hand. The personal characteristics or history of the person making the argument may have no bearing on the argument’s validity.

Distracting Technique: This fallacy can be used to distract from a weak position or a lack of valid counterarguments. By attacking the person, one can create doubt or mistrust without having to engage with the substantive issues.

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Politician A: “I believe we should invest more in education to improve our society.”
Ad Hominem Response: “Well, Politician A can’t be trusted. Remember that scandal from five years ago?”

In this example, the response attacks Politician A’s character but does not address the merits of the argument for increased education funding.

Scientist A: “The research shows that climate change is a significant threat to our planet.”
Ad Hominem Response: “Scientist A is just in it for the research grants. They can’t be trusted.”

Here, the response attempts to discredit the scientist’s motives rather than engaging with the scientific evidence presented.

Student A: “I think we should have more vegetarian options in the cafeteria to reduce our environmental impact.”
Ad Hominem Response: “You’re just a freshman. What do you know about environmental issues?”

The response dismisses the argument based on the student’s status as a freshman rather than discussing the environmental concerns raised.

Ad Hominem arguments are fallacious because they do not address the validity of the argument itself. It’s important in reasoned discourse to focus on the substance of the argument rather than resorting to personal attacks or character assassination.

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