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Eliminating Ad Hominem when Communicating Ideas

An ad hominem, short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or unrelated belief of the person supporting it.

So, how does one eliminate this kind of disruptive behavior or situations to occur during an intellectual conversation or trying to communicate ideas in general?

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    Sep 24 2012: Ad-hominem attacks in forums and chatrooms are about individual choices. Some people will still choose to go that way, even despite reasonable and morally sound arguements against it.
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    Sep 24 2012: Point-out the logical fallacy to the offender. If they agree you are justified in your accusation then continue without malice. If the defendant refutes your accusation and convinces you of your fault then continue without malice. If the person ignores your charge, or dismisses it offhand then terminate the conversation with that person.
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    Sep 23 2012: One could try to point out the logical fallacy, or ask the person to explain how that negative characteristic or unrelated belief is connected to the validity of the argument in question.

    The request for explanation may yield an illuminating reply.

    I can imagine two different situations, which might unfold differently. Case 1: Someone asserts that Joe's position on an issue is suspect because, say, his name has one syllable, or he likes chocolate, or he doesn't like to travel by boat. In these cases, these features should, as a matter of logic, be unrelated to beliefs Joe holds about most serious subjects. Case 2: Someone asserts Joe's position is suspect because he is on the record for a position or behavior that affects his credibility. For example, if Joe asserts something in a courtroom and the opposing attorney can demonstrate he lied under oath about a different matter last year, that evidence could logically affect Joe's credibility in the new case.
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    Sep 26 2012: yes, I admit to being slightly trollish...
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    Sep 25 2012: Unfortunately denial is not just a river in Eygpt... and it is not curable with duct tape. Those who most often practice ad hominem arguments are 1) Republican 2) strictly wedded to their world view 3)Trolls looking for a reaction.
    I think the only thing we can do is to keep the discussion open, use what we need and leave the rest. In the first two cases you can't change anyones' mind about anything unless they are willing to consider alternatives. The third case is a null value (not statistically useful)

    So in sum: Take what you need, contribute what you can, leave the rest.
    • Sep 26 2012: Kris. Your first paragraph is an exemplar of ad hominem argument...

      ... "Those who most often practice ad hominem arguments are 1) Republican"

      Your summation is a useful starting point.

      Changing another person's viewpoint is always going to be a challenge. Argument over the internet is frequently futile because you don't see the person you are engaging with, you cannot hear their voice, intonation and inflection and misunderstandings are rife.

      'Conversation' via computer network can be useful (I am a member of several internet groups which are closed to those outside of my working life and they work very well) but I don't expect much from open forum debate because we all start from very different places. It is frustrating, where you may have any rudimentary knowledge of logical debate, to engage with sincere people who hold a point of view which excludes large swathes of people and stifles open debate.
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        Sep 26 2012: What a great example of an ad hominem argument: "Most people who use ad hominem argument are Republicans." Hilarious.
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    Sep 24 2012: I don't think it's productive to regulate communication in that way. I believe people should learn to use proper forms of communication rather than attempting to add rules. I also believe the use of rhetoric is indicative of maturity level and cannot be removed.
  • Sep 23 2012: It is quite easy to mistake ad hominem with insults, and vice versa. It is quite easy to mistake a conclusion with an ad hominem, and it is quite easy to mistake adjectives directed at a quite bad argument for an insult to the person, and then mistake that with an ad hominem fallacy.

    Ad hominems can be done by mistake. Most people are not trained in logic and in distinguishing logical fallacies. Often, training in rhetorics includes the use of all kinds of logical fallacies with no explanation about how those things are, well, fallacies.

    I know all these are not really the issue in this debate. But I point out these mistakes because I do not think that the use of a logical fallacy is necessarily anti-social behaviour. They might come naturally out of the above-mentioned lack of training in logic. Of course, when done on purpose they are attempts at deviating the attention from the real problem, but, well, I first point out fallacies. If the behaviour continues then I assume either stupidity of plain dishonesty. Whatever the fallacy it might be. If so, then the best course of action is to stop the exchange. Why continue of the other party is dishonest or will not understand?