Logical Theology

…considered thoughts and opinions

Logical Fallacy: Circumstantial Ad Hominem Part 1

The Circumstantial Ad Hominem fallacy occurs when someone rejects an argument simply because of a perceived bias on that person’s part.

This is a mistake in logic because even if the arguer is biased towards accepting or rejecting an argument, that does not necessarily invalidate the argument itself. While it is true that in some cases, bias can discredit someone, that does not mean the argument itself has been refuted.

To better understand this common mistake, lets consider a few examples:

              Example 1:

  •  John argues, “Michael Jordan appeared in a commercial endorsing Wheaties breakfast cereal. Since he is a famous athlete, it is safe to conclude that he is endorsing Wheaties because he was paid a large sum of money to endorse the product. Therefore, the product is worthless because famous people would not be recommending products unless they were being paid to do so.”

Understanding John’s mistake:

Michael Jordan may well have said what he did about Wheaties only because he was paid to say it;  however, that does not mean he doesn’t eat Wheaties and enjoy them every day for breakfast.  It simply means that people should not accept Michael Jordan’s endorsement uncritically.

It is safe to assume that product advertisements are not usually going to give you logical reasons to purchase the product. In most cases they will attempt to motivate your emotional desires, wants, and needs, often using appeals to authority to close the sale. However, that fact alone does not prove that their products are “good” or bad for that matter.

Therefore, John’s argument must be seen as fallacious.

Example 2:

  •  Todd says, “I don’t believe that the gods of any of the world’s religions exist.”
  • Mary responds, “You disbelieve in any deities because, as president of the University Atheists Association, you are required to say that. Therefore, I am not listening to anything you have to say on this subject.”

Understanding Mary’s mistake:

Even if Todd was required to be an atheist in order to be the president of the University Atheists Association (as opposed merely to being non-religious or agnostic), would that automatically make him unable to provide an unbiased and reliable defense of atheism? Not any more than being the president of a Jewish university means that all your arguments in support of Judaism are unreliable. Just because someone is required to believe something in order to hold their position does not make their arguments invalid.

Example 3:

  • Steve says, “I just finished interviewing Bob, and he seems to be the perfect man for the job. What do you think?”
  • Sarah responds, “I think hiring him would be a big mistake. He claims to be a very honest and hard-working man. However, did he tell you that he was fired from his last three jobs for being disrespectful to his bosses? I think you should find someone else because he deliberately neglected to be honest about his past experiences.”

Did Sarah commit a Circumstantial Ad Hominem? 

No, she did not. In this case, the situation does affect Bob’s arguments. Bob argued that he is an honest, hard-working man; however, the reality is that his bad attitude got him fired three times already. Therefore, unless new information can be given which shows a change in Bob’s character, Steve would be justified in not hiring him. Thus, arguing that the situation rebuts an individual’s statements is not always fallacious, but because it can be, you must always think before you speak and make sure that the situation truly does rebut someone’s argument.

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