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Snopestionary: The 'Ad Hominem' Logical Fallacy

Logical fallacies are behind many of the harmful misunderstandings, rumors, and conspiracy theories our newsroom investigates.

Published May 26, 2022

Two people with graphic speech bubbles (Getty Images/Stock illustration)
Two people with graphic speech bubbles (Image Via Getty Images/Stock illustration)

Speak like an insider! Welcome to Snopes-tionary, where we’ll define a term or piece of fact-checking lingo that we use on the Snopes team. Have a term you want us to explain? Let us know.

Also known as the personal attack fallacy, ad hominem means “against the man.” This type of logical fallacy is characterized by irrelevant name-calling or attacks on the person, their actions, or their character, instead of their argument. 

Ad hominem can be directed at a person, a group, or an institution, and appeals to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect. This logical fallacy works by shifting the burden of proof in a dialogue so that instead of defending their argument, a debater must defend their personhood. The truth or falsity of a claim has nothing to do with the person arguing in support of or against it. 

Example of ad hominem fallacy: 

Person A makes Claim X
Person B attacks the character or actions of Person A
Therefore, Claim X is wrong

There are three subcategories to the ad hominem fallacy, which we have included below: 

Tu quoque (Latin for “you also”) is an attempt to discredit the argument by attacking the opponent’s personal behavior and accusing them of committing the action being argued against. 

Person A: Drinking alcohol is bad for brain development therefore you should not drink before a certain age. 

Person B: You drank when you were my age! Therefore, I can do it too.

Appeal to authority is the reverse of ad hominem. This fallacy uses the credentials of another person to strengthen an argument. Though it doesn’t criticize the person making the argument, appeal to authority does not directly address the argument at hand.

Person A: Albert Einstein was a genius and he did not believe in a personal god. Therefore, the Bible is bogus.

Argument from abuse targets the person making the argument and attacks their character so as to discredit their point. 

Person A: We should turn the air conditioning off. It’s not that hot outside and it’ll save energy. 

Person B: Of course you want to turn it off. You’re so cheap. 

Snopes says: 

To combat or avoid these fallacious types of arguments, imagine writing the claim down as if you didn’t know who was arguing the case. If you cannot prove or disprove the argument with evidence, then you may have been using ad hominem as a substitute for good reasoning.

The Snopes editorial team has been fact-checking claims centered on logical fallacies for decades. Below are examples of the ad hominem logical fallacy that we've previously investigated: 

Curious about how Snopes' writers verify information and craft their stories for public consumption? We've collected some posts that help explain how we do what we do. Happy reading and let us know what else you might be interested in knowing.


Sources: 

“Ad Hominem Fallacy.” Excelsior College OWL, https://owl.excelsior.edu/argument-and-critical-thinking/logical-fallacies/logical-fallacies-ad-hominem/. Accessed 26 May 2022.

Ad-Hominem. Ad Hominem. 15 May 2019, //www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Ad-Hominem.html.

Fallacies | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://iep.utm.edu/fallacy/. Accessed 26 May 2022.

Raley, Yvonne. “Character Attacks: How to Properly Apply the Ad Hominem.” Scientific American, https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanmind0608-16. Accessed 26 May 2022.

Wrisley, George. “Ad Hominem: Tu Quoque.” Bad Arguments, edited by Robert Arp et al., 1st ed., Wiley, 2018, pp. 88–93. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119165811.ch11.

Madison Dapcevich is a former writer for Snopes.

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