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Argument ad hominem - historical shift
Posted: 26 August 2010 04:49 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Hi Folks,

When I looked up the history of the argument ad hominem it seems that until deep into the 1900s it was usually, with few exceptions, quite limited .. an argument to the man which shows the inconsistency of the person to his own beliefs and principles.

Examples of this were even offered with Jesus and Paul talking to the Pharisees or the Jewish traditionalists, where they would be forced to reexamine the consistency of their own actions and interpretations.

Today the usage is almost entirely different ..  the question of an argument against the man .. showing problems in his life, beliefs, etc. and whether or not that is cause to reject his argument.  (There is a smidgen of overlap between the two, but only a smidgen.)

In neither case is the argument necessarily a fallacy, it simply depends on issues like relevance of the problem to their theories.  (This came up out of the accusation that pointing out Westcott and Hort problems like occult dabbling was ipso facto a fallacious ad hominem argument.)

My posting here is not about the argument per se, simply the surprise to see two rather different arguments both considered argument ad hominem. And the lack of any real discussion .. anywhere .. of this dual perspective on the phrase.

Your thoughts ?

Shalom,
Steven Avery

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Posted: 27 August 2010 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Even if a persons actions are inconsistant with his views or teachings, this has no bearing on the truth of those views or teachings. At most, pointing out these inconsistencies gives us reason to dig deeper, but not reject.

Is this what youre saying?

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Posted: 27 August 2010 02:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Hi Folks,

> Nathaniel
> Even if a persons actions are inconsistant with his views or teachings, this has
> no bearing on the truth of those views or teachings.

Hi Nathaniel

Pointing out the inconsistency would force the person to either change their views (often unlikely) or change their argument, de facto acknowledging it was incorrect. This is the purpose of the traditional ad hominem argument, the argument by itself is not probative, yet if highlights a dissonance that can effectively win the argument.

Todays ad hominem argument is more generally .. your a sludge .. ergo your arguments are worthless.  At times this can be a proper argument (e.g. a politician running for office is not supposed to be a crook and it is perfectly proper to point out that the person is ethically challenged) ...  at other times it is a diversion from a scholarly discussion, and contextually fallacious.

My question was noting that the general tenor of the use of ad hominem has shifted ... and I so far have found no writer who even notes the historical shift.  You can see this also in the confusion about to the man and against the man in describing the argument. As far as I can tell, the concept of adversus hominem .. against the man .. as the meaning of ad hominem, arose popularly in the 1900s and it is hard to find early usages and description.

One partial exception: this article in 1908 is just about the only one I have found that separates the two uses in a fairly clear manner.

The problem of logic By William Ralph Boyce Gibson, Augusta Klein (1908)
http://books.google.com/books?id=jGVuAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA287

Yet even there I would say that it is incorrect to call the first against argument necessarily irrelevant. (The author is talking about uses that are fallacies .. the class is limited .. this is another common problem, not making clear that not all uses are fallacies.) Often the ethics and morals and integrity or consistency of a person is in fact relevant to the specific situation.

If Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Bakker had been scheduled to speak at a conference on Christian Ethics and Responsibility, it would be a valid argument to say You might want to pass up that conference, the speakers are dubious or I have little respect for that teaching, since I know the source. Note, it would not be proof, or probative ... yet it would be a valid consideration, not fallacious to point out.

Shalom,
Steven

[ Edited: 27 August 2010 02:53 AM by Steven Avery]
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Posted: 27 August 2010 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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But wed pass up on that conference because of our value judgement that wed probably waste our time listening to hypocrites. Thats not a fallacy. But it would be a fallacy to say that the things said at that conference will be untrue, because the speakers are hypocrites.

So if we use the term ad hominem in a different way today, Id say its an improvement. The history of logic has certainly been a history of increasing clarity.

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Posted: 28 August 2010 07:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Hi Folks,

> it would be a fallacy to say that the things said at that conference will be untrue, because the speakers are hypocrites.

True, but it is not a fallacy to point out the people are hypocrites, so you look at anything they claim with great caution.  I have found this simple sense accused of bring fallacious.

> So if we use the term ad hominem in a different way today, Id say its an improvement.

Actually I think two different fallacies should have two different names.

Shalom,
Steven

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Posted: 31 August 2010 12:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I love arguing with you; you make so much good sense! <smile>

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Posted: 31 August 2010 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Hi Folks,
And It turns out that this situation has been astutely noticed before.

Ad hominem arguments (1998)
Douglas N. Walton
http://books.google.com/books?id=-HTQY_b1_84C&pg=PR14
One of the most important aspects of this new and more advanced treatment of the ad hominem argument is the clarification of the terminological confusion in defining the ad hominem that has plagued this subject since the eighteenth century. Logic textbooks and philosophical writings on the ad hominem argument have systematically confused two distinct (but related) types of argumentspersonal attack arguments and the kind of argument called argument from commitment in this book. This confusion has made a mess of any attempts to say anything meaningful about ad hominem arguments, and it was only after reading Nuchelmanss (1993) tracing of the two terminological roots of the ad hominem back to Aristotle that the scope and importance of this problem really became apparent to me.

http://books.google.com/books?id=-HTQY_b1_84C&pg=PR15
Although the ad hominem argument is a part of the introductory logic curriculum, included under the heading of fallacies in most modern introductory logic textbooks that have a section or more on common fallacies, the textbook treatments are not very helpful. Not only do they disagree on basic terminology and on fundamental questions of how to evaluate the ad hominem argument, as indicated above, but also they contain a central ambiguity on how to define this type of argument. This ambiguity arises from the historical development of two conflicting but closely related views of the argumentum ad hominem, systematically confused throughout the history of philosophy, as noted above. The source of this pervasive ambiguity can even be traced back to Aristotelian origins, as Nuchelmans (1993) showed. Because current conceptions of the ad hominem continue to be so confused, and so confusing to both insiders and outsiders in the field of logic, disentangling this entrenched mass of disagreements and ambiguities in a helpful way requires a careful approach to the subject; chapter 3 carefully steers the readers through the intricacies of the closely related types of arguments at issue.

The argument from commitment  is to the man since it requires him to deal with the question of his own consistency, e.g. his principles compared to his current argument on the table.

More common today is the personal attack argument which might be better off with a name like argument adversus hominem

Both arguments are often valid, often fallacious.

Shalom,
Steven Avery

[ Edited: 31 August 2010 01:40 PM by Steven Avery]
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Posted: 01 September 2010 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Hi Folks,

> Nathaniel Bluedorn
> make so much good sense!

Thanks.  And I really appreciate this type of forum, where the responses are iron sharpeneth ! and not all round the mulberry bush.  I really learned a lot about this issue the last week and needed some folks without an ax to grind, familiar with the material, to bounce it off.

Ill see what my other logic questions are here and there !

Shalom,
Steven

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Posted: 23 October 2010 03:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Hi Folks,

Here is an early discussion of the classical ad hominem argument, and the question of whether it was used by the Apostles or by Jesus in the NT. (Jeffrey says no, it is better to look at these as simply logical and sensible arguments.)

Christianity the perfection of all religion, natural and revealed : wherein some of the principal prophecies relating to the Messiah in the Old Testament, are shewn to belong to him in the literal sense, in opposition to the attempts of the literal scheme (1728)
Thomas Jeffery
On the supposed arguments ad homines in the New Testament
p. 376-391
http://www.archive.org/stream/christianityperf00jeff#page/376/mode/2up/search/homines

arguments from false principles, used by them in compliance with those that held these principles ... Would the apostles use such a fallacious way of reasoning ...? (p. 378)

Searching early ad homines in early books can turn up this discussion from various viewpoints .. however the phrase used only in the classical sense, not our modern sense.

Monthly Review - (1767)
Warburtons Sermons
http://books.google.com/books?id=TX8CAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA217
St. Paul, in his reasoning with the Jews, seems to concede (though by way of argument ad homints) that had they observed a strict and uniform obedience to the law ...

Considerations on the theory of religion: in three parts (1774)
Edmund Law
http://books.google.com/books?id=5awOAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA418
Christ .. where he really cures each disorder without controverting their opinions on the subject (which would have been endless, and answered no good purpose) but rather allows and argues from them occasionally, ad homines; casts out these devils, as the Jews themselves frequently attempted to do, and is said to rebuke them, (Mark i.25) ...

Shalom,
Steven

[ Edited: 23 October 2010 03:35 AM by Steven Avery]
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