Thursday, April 18, 2013

What is an ad hominem fallacy?


As students of logic know, not every appeal to authority is a fallacious appeal to authority.  A fallacy is committed only when the purported authority appealed to either does not in fact possess expertise on the subject at hand, or can reasonably be supposed to be less than objective.  Hence if you believed that PCs are better than Macs entirely on the say-so of either your technophobic orthodontist or the local PC dealer who has some overstock to get rid of, you would be committing a fallacy of appeal to authority -- in the first case because your orthodontist, smart guy though he is, presumably hasn’t much knowledge of computers, in the second case because while the salesman might have such knowledge, there is reasonable doubt about whether he is giving you an unbiased opinion.  But if you believed that PCs are better than Macs because your computer science professor told you so, there would be no fallacy, because he presumably both has expertise on the matter and lacks any special reason to push PCs on you.  (That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be correct, of course; an argument can be mistaken even if it is non-fallacious.)

Similarly, not every ad hominem attack -- an attack “against the man” or person -- involves a fallacious ad hominem.  “Attacking the man” can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man himself who is the problem.

Attacking a person involves a fallacy when what is at issue is whether some claim the person is making is true or some argument he is giving is cogent, and where the attacker either (a) essentially ignores the question of whether the claim is true or the argument cogent, and instead just attacks the person giving it (in which case we have a kind of red herring fallacy) or (b) suggests either explicitly or implicitly that the claim can be rejected false or the argument rejected as not cogent on the basis of some irrelevant purported fault of the person giving it (in which case we have a poisoning the well fallacy, or perhaps a tu quoque).

Hence, suppose you put forward an argument against “same-sex marriage” and someone responds either by calling you a bigot, or by suggesting that the only reason you are putting forward such an argument is to rationalize some religiously motivated prejudice.  Here we have classic examples of ad hominem fallacies.  In the first case the person responding to you is trying to change the subject -- trying to make you and your alleged bigotry the issue, where what is at issue is the cogency of your argument.  In the second case, the person is not changing the subject -- he is addressing the question of whether your argument is cogent -- but he is nevertheless appealing to an irrelevant consideration in assessing its cogency, since whether your argument is cogent or not has nothing essentially to do with your motives for putting it forward.

However, if what is at issue is not a person’s claim or argument, but rather precisely some aspect of the person himself, there is no fallacy in calling attention to his defects, and in some cases it can even be entirely appropriate to do so in a polemical fashion. 

For example, suppose what is at issue is whether a certain person is a reliable witness or an unbiased source of information, as in a court case.  Then there is no fallacy whatsoever in showing that his track record reveals him to be a compulsive liar, or to have a bad memory or bad eyesight, or to have been drunk at the time of the events he claims to have witnessed, or to have a personal stake in the outcome of the case.  These are ad hominem criticisms -- criticisms directed “against the man” himself -- but there is no fallacy involved, because the credibility of the man himself is precisely what is at issue.

Or suppose that what is at issue is, again, not whether a certain claim is true or a certain argument cogent, but instead whether a certain person is reasonable, intellectually honest, worth trying to have a conversation with, etc.  For example, suppose someone in a combox shows himself by his pattern of behavior to be an ignoramus, a crank, a troll, etc. -- say by repeatedly making sweeping, ungrounded, or unhinged assertions, dismissing ideas and arguments he evidently does not even understand or books he hasn’t bothered to read, or indeed by committing ad hominem and other fallacies right and left.  There is in such a case nothing wrong with calling such a person an ignoramus, a crank, a troll, etc. and refusing to engage with him any further.  That is certainly an attack on the person, but it is no fallacy.  It is just a straightforward inference from the facts, a well-founded judgment about him and his behavior, rather than a fallacious response to some argument he has given.

Or suppose someone gains a reputation for expertise on some important matter of public controversy when in fact his views about the matter are laughably off-base and demonstrably ill-informed.  Suppose further that he manifests extreme arrogance and dismissiveness toward those who actually do have expertise on the matter, where the fact of his unjustified self-confidence only serves to reinforce, in those who don’t know any better, the false impression that he must know what he is talking about.  Here too an attack on the person himself is legitimate precisely because what is at issue is one of his personal qualities, viz. his arrogant pretense of expertise.  Indeed, ridicule and other polemical methods can be legitimate tools in such an attack, since arrogant pretense can often effectively be countered in no other way, and treating the offender more gently might only reinforce the false impression that he and his views are respectable.  Hence it is, for example, not only legitimate, but in my view imperative, not only to refute the sophistries of smug hacks like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, but to administer a severe rhetorical beating as one does so.

[Here I must digress to address a pet peeve.  Something called “Feser’s tone” is the subject of occasional handwringing, not only among some of my secularist critics, but also among a handful of bed-wetters in the Christian blogosphere.  But there is no such thing as “Feser’s tone,” if that is meant to refer to some vituperative modus operandi of mine.  Sometimes my writing is polemical; usually it is not.  I have written five books and edited two others.  Exactly one of them -- The Last Superstition -- is polemical.  Of course, some of my non-academic articles and blog posts are also polemical.  But that is an approach I take only to a certain category of opponent, and typically toward people who have themselves been polemical and are merely getting a well-earned taste of their own medicine.  Complaining about this is like complaining about police who shoot back at bank robbers.  I’ve addressed the question of why and under what circumstances polemics are justified in this post and in other posts you’ll find linked to within it.  End of digression.]

Another example.  The tu quoque is a species of ad hominem fallacy in which a claim is rejected merely because the person advancing it does not act in a way consistent with it.  But there are cases where the fact that a person’s actions are inconsistent with the claim he is making is clearly relevant to evaluating the claim.  Suppose, for instance, that someone asserts that it is not possible to make assertions.  This is a performative self-contradiction, and while the probative value of identifying performative self-contradictions is a matter of philosophical controversy, it is legitimate at least to wonder whether a view that entails such a contradiction is coherent.  If someone could carry out a certain course of action that he recommends to others but does not bother even to try to do so himself -- the lush who condemns others for their drinking, say -- that by itself obviously does not show that his advice is not good advice.  Mere hypocrisy is not of much epistemological interest.  But if there is reason to think that someone could not even in principle adopt a certain policy, then it is at least questionable whether the policy is a good one, or reflects a coherent train of thought.

Finally, there are certain positions the very entertaining of which cannot plausibly fail to reflect some degree of moral defect in the person who advances them.  For moral character involves, in part, the having of morally upright sensibilities, and these sensibilities will tend to lead a person to regard certain actions as beyond the pale and unworthy of serious consideration.  Hence that a given person does not so regard them is evidence of defective sensibilities.  Suppose, for example, that someone seriously suggested that there are good arguments in defense of torturing babies “for fun.”  It is hard to see how someone could sincerely believe such a thing unless his moral sensibilities were deeply corrupt.  (Whether he is culpable for this corruption is a question I leave to one side as irrelevant to the present point.) 

Notice what I am not saying.  I am not saying that “You are a bad person; therefore your argument is invalid!” is a good response.  It is not a good response; that would be an ad hominem fallacy.  If the practices a person is defending really are immoral, there should be independent reasons, having nothing to do with his personal character, that show that they are. 

All the same, if they are immoral, and if moral character is in part a matter of having the right sensibilities, and if a person shows by what he is willing to regard as a live option that he does not have the right sensibilities, then there is no fallacy in pointing this out.  Indeed, not to point it out might in some cases threaten to undermine the moral sensibilities that prevail in society at large, insofar as it might make certain immoral actions seem respectable or defensible.  (For more on this issue, see my discussion of Elizabeth Anscombe’s views on the subject in an earlier post.)

There are at least five sorts of case, then, in which criticism “of the man” can be legitimate and certainly not fallacious, even when the larger context is one in which arguments are being weighed: when determining whether someone’s testimony is likely to be reliable; when evaluating his worthiness as a philosophical conversation partner;  when exposing the fraudulence of his public reputation for expertise on some matter; when exposing performative self-contradictions associated with some philosophical position; and when noting that a person’s willingness to take certain views seriously is evidence of a corruption of his moral sensibilities.  None of this shows that a person’s claims or arguments themselves are undermined merely by calling attention to his personal defects.  To suppose that it does would be fallacious.  But those who shout “Ad hominem!” too often do not know what an ad hominem fallacy actually is.

103 comments:

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Hear, hear! I'm actually an unreconstructed fan of the ad hominem approach. It takes seriously the immediacy of an interlocutor. (One is reminded of Anscombe's claim that the holding of certain moral theses inherently disqualifies the holder as a serious subject of discussion.) The fact that a child has never eaten uncooked broccoli entails that he is not a qualified judge of uncooked broccoli, and pointing this out, *as a fact about him*, is not only not fallacious but also immediately relevant, if not probative.

In any case, I make three predictions about this post:

1) We will quickly diverge from the thrust of this post:

"There are at least five sorts of case, then, in which criticism “of the man” can be legitimate and certainly not fallacious, even when the larger context is one in which arguments are being weighed: when determining whether someone’s testimony is likely to be reliable; when evaluating his worthiness as a philosophical conversation partner; when exposing the fraudulence of his public reputation for expertise on some matter; when exposing performative self-contradictions associated with some philosophical position; and when noting that a person’s willingness to take certain views seriously is evidence of a corruption of his moral sensibilities."

2) We will hear something about Mary, physicalism, and the problem of knowledge.

3) We will hear many a carping about why "Feser" chose to ignore the numerous pressing issues in the latest comboxes in favor of this rather arcane methodological point. Is he just writing something for his Phil 101 students, what about my objections to the Trinity, analogy, causation, emergentism, and chicken nobbies!?

Mr. Green said...

Edward Feser: Something called “Feser’s tone” is the subject of occasional handwringing, not only among some of my secularist critics, but also among a handful of bed-wetters in the Christian blogosphere.

Ah, but there is such a thing as "Feser's tone", and I regretfully feel obliged, for the common good, to engage in some wringing of my hands. Oh, some may go on about defending the occasional polemical admonition, but I genuinely feel that this is a matter of concern to all who are sensitive to the current cultural climate of philosophical ignorance. For, you see, Feser has an evident habit of qualifying his claims behind the cloak of accuracy: it's always, "in principle this" or "so the Thomist would say that". It is the tone, we must in all honesty acknowledge, of a man who seems fixated on being unreasonably... well, reasonable.

Indeed, there will be sporadic instances where over some particular detail a reasonable Scotist or Augustinian might quibble; but apart from such isolated instances, a firm hand is needed to let the average modern know that, however sincere and/or plausible his inchoate metaphysical musings may be, he is almost certainly just plain out to lunch. Alas, I do not foresee the subheading to this very website being reentitled "I'm right and if you disagree with me _you're_ _not_" any time soon. I can but hope that this plea encourages some shift in the Feser's Tone, new phase atone-ward, to promote authentic advertising of philosophical truth in alternative words, more vigorous ad-homonyms, one might say. Would it kill him to throw out every now and then a simple "Your intellectual prowess is outmatched by an overripe banana peel that's been trod on by every Keystone Kop. Twice."?? Natural Law® says nay! For I answer that, the nature of a man is such that he can utter many such utterances in utter disregard for the consequences, should his will motivate his intellect to motivate his will to do so.

At least, in principle. Or so the Thomist would argue. As needs to be defended more fully elsewhere.

rank sophist said...

Despite the excellent parody by Mr. Green, I have to admit that I find myself in the bed-wetter camp from time to time. I'll only say that the first paragraph of TLS has prevented me from recommending it to on-the-fence liberal-ish types on more than one occasion. But I have no problem with the kinds of ad homs that Prof. Feser discusses in this article as long as they're funny and tasteful.

John Quin said...

John Quin said...
I'm new to the land of Feser but have been grateful in the past for some of his polemical pieces. If you end up listening to too many New Atheist sermons and the only thing you have to counter it is the politeness of say a Keith Ward then you might get a distorted point of view.

But of course fixating on the supposed "Feser tantrums" will distract us from the main point. It is valid to criticize an blogger who 'reviewed' a book that they have not read.

But then I guess no one would be so stupid as to do that now would they.

Eduardo said...

"But then I guess no one would be so stupid as to do that now would they."

Yeah... I surely hope no one would be that damn inept XD.

Anonymous said...

Re: pet peeve.

"You can tell who has power by who is allowed to get angry in public"

E.F is someone they'd want to keep in their Christian box.

Same 'ol useful Christian when useful to state projects, bad Christian when critical of our secularist liberal rulers.

They can go jump in the lake.

Maolsheachlann said...

Is there a technical term for the fallacious invocation of a fallacy?

Tony said...

1) We will quickly diverge from the thrust of this post:

Well, THERE you go again! Ignoring Feser's main ideas and going off on tangents. Nothing ABOUT his post discusses tangents, divergences, and other fallacies of that type. He is focusing on ad hominems. Gee, if you weren't so bloody large-minded, Codge, you wouldn't try to see the bigger picture and you could stick to the narrow point a little bit!!!

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Tony:

I see what you did there.

...


SPEAKING OF HITLER....!

Debilis said...

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about what constitutes the proper tone in various situations.

But, if I've managed to steer clear of inappropriate shouts of "ad hominem", I've heard enough inappropriate shouts of "burden of proof" to last me the rest of my natural life.

If you're taking requests, Dr. Feser, I'd love a post on that fallacy.

Brad Henry said...

Quickly becoming an avid reader of yours Prof. Feser. Was wondering if you might provide a blog entry on what exactly Dr. Hart is commenting on as to the 'two-tier theory' in his recent (partial) response to you over at First Things ("Nature Loves to Hide"). It seems as if there is a conversation going on that I'm not fully aware of.

James said...

Since we’ve begun discussing issues of tone, I suppose I’ll throw in my opinion. An individual, whatever his beliefs, should be treated with at least some respect up until he grows hostile. Then retaliatory hostility becomes warranted or even mandatory.

That’s not to say some preemptive (possibly lighthearted) mockery is unacceptable. Feser’s own “tone”, I’m on record here as saying, has never struck me as anywhere near as mean-spirited as others make it out — and I write that as someone who very much disagrees with him on lots of issues.

On the other hand, for example … I’ve stopped reading the blog of William Vallicella (“The Maverick Philosopher”) … that man is downright poisonous. Disagree with left-leaning persons, I do, but the default response in every political disagreement shouldn’t be something like those people are disgusting and evil. I’ve known too many reasonable individuals on that side of the aisle to have any sympathy for that manner of hostile behavior.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Feser, I hope you would be interested in writing an updated (and better) version of Adler's 10 Philosophical Mistakes? I imagine your writing style (which is easy to understand) would be very appropriate. Thanks! ~ Mark

Anonymous said...

*by the way, I have your 3 books: Aquinas, TLS, and Philosophy of Mind. I never miss an opportunity in recommending these to my friends. Keep on hammering! ~ Mark

James said...

As for fallacious arguments: is there some profitable distinction to be made between an argument for and a reason to believe something? I agree with Feser that something like the following is not fallacious:

“Submitting my dog to vigorous exercise while undergoing treatment for heartworm is dangerous, because my veterinarian told me this.”

My veterinarian’s say-so provides a good enough reason to believe that heartworm medications make vigorous exercise dangerous. But such an appeal to authority feels incomplete — it would seem to come to a screeching halt when someone claims to doubt mainstream veterinary science (or something). The buck has to stop somewhere with an argument that doesn’t appeal to authority.

On the other hand, I spend a fair amount of time on a message board with a heavy population of so-called rationalists. Their inability to consider the validity of any argument except airtight scientific demonstration amuses me (and frankly wouldn’t justify a tiny speck of the things they genuinely believe). Such people see logical fallacies everywhere, tu quoques and appeals to authority around every corner, waiting to pop out and say “boo”.

Anonymous said...

Prof Feser, I much appreciated your robust tone in The Last Superstition - it certainly helped me get over my Dawkins-induced agnosticism. So much theological discussion here in Europe is of the wishy-washy variety, allowing the likes of Dawkins to often run rings around hapless Christians.

Andy said...

This great post reminds me of one of the best ad hominem references on the Internet which has the best - and funniest - examples. Give it a read if you're in the mood for a laugh:

http://plover.net/~bonds/adhominem.html

DavidM said...

Here's a book idea, when you've got a moment: "Another Introduction to Critical Thinking (much like all the others, but more fun to read)" by Edward Feser.

TheOFloinn said...

Maolsheachlann said...
Is there a technical term for the fallacious invocation of a fallacy?

Perhaps "argumentum ad sophismam"?

Ismael said...

Sorry people if I will be a bit polemical myself now...

Or suppose someone gains a reputation for expertise on some important matter of public controversy when in fact his views about the matter are laughably off-base and demonstrably ill-informed. Suppose further that he manifests extreme arrogance and dismissiveness toward those who actually do have expertise on the matter, where the fact of his unjustified self-confidence only serves to reinforce, in those who don’t know any better, the false impression that he must know what he is talking about.

Oh boy! Dr. Feser, you hit the mark!
You could have been describing most of the 'internet infidels' group here... escpecially some of the more famous who write that they are "Renowned historians and phylosophers" and comparing themselves to Aristotle and Hume and then go on making arguments like: "Since no blue monkeys fly out of my butt, then no blue monkeys exist" and make statements about 'Mythical Jesus' that even the more radical liberal scholars like Crossan would find ridiculous or assert economic theories like "let's abolish the income tax and pay off the national debt" (something even Paris Hilton would laugh at I fear)…
Incredibly these "thinker" has lots of fans who incense him as great and brilliant, only feeding his ego into a more delusional state.

==================================

Is he just writing something for his Phil 101 students, what about my objections to the Trinity, analogy, causation, emergentism, and chicken nobbies!?

Well I think there is a mountain of literature on those subjects. One just has to look up some good books on Thomism (and ornithology :D).

I think it's unfair to think that a person ought to spend his life replying to combox comments, most of which are from people who fail to read correctly.


===============

Regarding "Feser's Tone": I think it is much more polite than your standard new atheist tone.

Besides, Feser often pays homage or shows respect to writers who clearly disagree with him on some or even most subjects, like JL Mackie, WL Craig, Platinga, Nietzsche, Antony Kenny, etc... His review of Rosenberg's book, Feser seemed to respect Rosenberg views and admired his coherence even if he was quite critical of such views.

These "new atheists" that swarm certain sites and blogs, on the other hand, are only capable of ad hominem with little intellectual content.
For the EVERYONE who disagrees with their new atheist position is a crazy crackpot (i.e most people).

Or look what they say about W.L. Craig: Dawkins' crowd try to make Craig a moral monster to defend Dawkins refusal to debate him. Well, even if Craig was the new Adolf Hitler, it would have nothing to do with his arguments in his debates anyway.

MIND YOU: I am not saying we ought to be vitriolic and polemical all the time, a little charity and kindness goes a long way, but sometimes so will a swift kick in the ass.


Ok rant is over :P

Eduardo said...

Oh Richard Carrier refference detected!!!

LOL.

Eduardo said...

Actually I think you can pretty much guess or infer if a critic is serious or not, within maybe 10 conclusions the critic does.

The worst his replies are and the more confident he is of his conclusions... the best it is to ignore that person or viciously attack his person... although that hardly changes anything on the other person's speech.

*of course this doesn't mean that you are any good at intellectual stuff, you could be just as bad as your opponent!!! XD...*

MarcAnthony said...

My only issue with tone is that I simply can't recommend TLS to liberal/atheist friends.I know, for a fact, that they would either stop reading or stop taking it seriously as soon as they saw those insults.

grodrigues said...

I positively revel in a good polemics, so all these complaints about tone and whatnot leave me quite surprised. The problem is not in having polemical interchanges, it is rather that we do not have enough of them, given how atrophied and anemic our intellectual and cultural life is. Would that we had a modern day equivalent of Swift, master of Sarcasm, or Burton, the master of the language of invective and abuse.

I am well aware that, as a Christian, my belicose temperament should be softened by charity. We are also admonished to not lay our pearls before swine lest they, turning around, trample us. But the Lord spoke nothing of *throwing* them. So I say, use a sling! Aim at the forehead! This is war, dig in the trenches; my guess is that barring supernatural intervention, things are only going to get much worse.

Eduardo said...

Grodrigues

I think Grod, that people usually fall into the inclusion wagon, we wanna include everybody as much as possible and polemical language is uncalled for within the context because it generates some form of seggregation even if it doesn't REALLY does that.

Of course when they use against religious people is okay because they are fighting the Sith so it is all cool XD.

But you now, today we are all weaklings in our own point of view, I mean not everybody is cut out to be hardcore like you and take direct hits, chew nails and ask for seconds XD.

Maybe we became weaklings who learned that Superman will come to save us, and if it is not Superman some inept imbecile that has a Ph.D will show up and show us the way out of the darkness with his trusty candle!!!

DavidM said...

"Maybe we became weaklings who learned that Superman will come to save us, and if it is not Superman some inept imbecile that has a Ph.D will show up and show us the way out of the darkness with his trusty candle!!!"

LOL. Amen. In inept imbeciles with PhD's we trust!

DNW said...

Maolsheachlann said...

Is there a technical term for the fallacious invocation of a fallacy?

April 19, 2013 at 4:41 AM"

Maybe not but some seem to have good ideas for one. For example,

TheOFloinn said...

Perhaps "argumentum ad sophismam"? "


Perhaps we could open up the matter for suggestions from the floor ... Any further nominations?


"Modus Infidelis"

"No True Scotsman fallacy fallacy"

"The Carrier Syndrome"

"You want Relevance? We doan need no Stinkin' Relevance ..."

Tony said...

Is there a technical term for the fallacious invocation of a fallacy?

I think it should be the "cried wolf" fallacy.

Eduardo said...

I would call it ...

Mistake?

Eduardo said...

Actually looking at Debilis Combox, I remember why I started to personally attack people...

So I think is better to just call it stupidity.

Eduardo said...

Now... let me thinik here since this is a post about Ad hominem... let's post an exchange, which I think it is a ad hominem but I might be wrong so please correct me.

Person 1:"Exactly , sheltering , there is no serious debate regarding “fine tuning ” among cosmologists ."

Person 2:"Paul Davies, George FR Ellis, Martin Rees, Robert H. Dicke, Fred Hoyle, John Gribbin, to name a few, have all defended the fine-tuned universe theory."

Person 1:"Paul Davies is heavily funded by the John Templeton Foundation , a fundamentalist Christian group , he therefore has an agenda and slants his views heavily toward theism and mystical BS . Fred Hoyle mistakenly argued against the Big Bang , and in fact , coined the term Big Bang as a pejorative . He believed in the genesis version of creation , which no serious scientist believes . Martin Rees won the Religiously Fundamentalist Templeton Prize in 2011 ( along with a great deal of money ) . It would therefore be safe to assume he too has an agenda in regard to foisting fundamentalist religious views . John Gribbin believes our universe was “designed ” by aliens from another part of the multiverse , a theory that , in addition to being crazy , also leads to an infinite regression . Dicke believes the constants in nature , are highly suited to life , and suggestive of some purposeful design . He ignores the fact that most of the universe is highly hostile to life ( at least carbon based life ) , making the the so called called designer rather incompetent . George FR Ellis won the religious fundamentalist Templeton Prize in 2004 , along with a vast sum of money to promote their theistic views . So , the question is , can you name a scientist who isn’t working for the Templeton Foundation , or whose major work wasn’t before acceptance of the Big Bang and inflation ?"
-----------------------------------

Now don't know about you... but this sounds like an ad hominem attack or am I wrong?

Eduardo said...

Man I love GNU atheist logic, it makes no sense beginning to end, and then they don't feel one bit doubtful about their conclusion... I just love it.

And yeah to all you rational atheists out there, please shut your cohorts up, you see, if we pushed for a more respectful, comprehensive intellectual community, people like Carrier wouldn't have to talk about monkeys flying out of his ass, and I wouldn't have to paint monkeys blue just to make fun of him, what I mean is... these screw ups exist because we the less screwed did nothing for these imbeciles to become popular... do PORN if you must but stop these people.

Now even if you don't agree to these arguments or something like that let's just have fun laughing our asses off of this awesome reply that just show, that not having internet connection may yet be a healthy way to live your life, and actually maybe be the best way to live your life.

Eduardo said...

So the two fucktards in the other blog were saying that no cosmologist really talks about a fine-tuned universe *Detail, right before this post one the fucktards replies to something that the blogger never said... that is right folks, if you thought you were stupid, oh shoot you haven't seen the finest imbeciles in the internet*

Anyways, the question becomes what does it takes to show that cosmologists really do talk about fine-tuning, well the thing is, does showing 1 is enough, or does it have to be 50%+. I mean how many how big the number has to be for us to conclude that cosmologists actually talk about fine-tuning or anything at all. Well fuck it, I would say that it takes just 1 dialogue... just one.

I mean percentage are not really all that good, because anything equal or under 50%, means that only a crackpot minority talk about it, so REAL cosmologists/scientists/philosophers/hookers/gangsters/warlords don't really talk about that! Because you know Ph.D's are so fucking worthless that for you to be a real something you must be within the consensus, expertise not needed fuckers. EVEN BETTER, when someone called Hanky goes to your house to fix your TV with an inflatable doll, all you have to do is ask if his work buddies think that he can actually fix the TV, if the buddies say yeah, Hanky can fix a TV dude.

Now if the percentage is small then is not consensus among that whatevers, so they are not really talking about that, you see science is fucking politics dude, you haven't found the cure of cancer until medicine-related people are talking about the cure, or at least 50%+ of them, it doesn't matter that it works see... oh my, why I did a science as my degree... But anyways, as you can see percentages don't work all that well because they suck from the get-go, not that these are the only examples, but you can see that if you use percentage there are no goal posts, so we might just say that we have no idea wat scientists or anyone talks about xD!

And yeah the conclusion... I mean it.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Maolsheachlann:

"Is there a technical term for the fallacious invocation of a fallacy?"

More often than not, it's just "bullshit".

As for the standard in ad hominem fallacies, I think this dream takes the cake.

Eduardo said...

So what we have left is a particular number of cosmologists, that establish that cosmologists actually talk about something in this case fine-tuning.

Now if 1 cosmologists were to talk about a certain subjective, and give no further comment or receive no reply, should we consider that cosmologists talk or have talked about a certain subject... I mean it is obvious that a cosmologist have talked about but we might say that if there is just one case then we could say that it is isn't really part of discussion among the professionals, I mean there was no reply or follow-up so it is really hard to say that they discussed it with any authority.

So I think that 2 is enough, I mean you have a proposition and a reply with follow-up, or just follow-ups then you have something like a discussion, because in this scenario we actually have professionals commenting on the subject which is the challenge that was posed by Person 1.

So if he can at least show two of them that talk about the subject, or the same person propose something and goes on to do some more, then that means that cosmologists really do talk fine-tuning... or about something at least.

Eduardo said...

So now all there is left is to see the name person 2, if they are not cosmologists, or if he has just one isolated dude or dudette then person 2 has failed...

Person 2 gives 6 names, wow that is somewhat a lot, more then two. Well it seems person 2 has done the challenge so person 1 now has to show that person 2 is in incorrect... so here goes the trainwreck.

First he tries to show that some of these names are biased by the Templeton Foundation .... who gives a shit... If a guy show up here and refutes an argument in such airtight way that leave us breathless, he can be for all we care funded by the reincarnation of Hitler, it wouldn't matter, so that doesn't disqualify this people neither as cosmologists or as talking about it...I mean the critique makes as much sense as none.

Fred Hoyle is not a serious scientist... what is there to say dude, you believe in weird stuff or stuff that a certain part of the group doesn't believe you are not serious, awesome logic... or lack of logic.

Gribbin believes that aliens did it, that in addiction of not matching my dogma create an infinite regress... *says the dude who defends the multiverse, nah that is cool, not infinite regress of causes there, is just shit happens*

Dicke thinks that the universe was designed but he forgets that living shit die, so it make the designer imcompetent... is this serious.... My fucking car breaks when it gets hit, but THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT IS NOT DESIGNED!!! olly shit why ... why!!! Second... the imbecile doesn't even know what the finetuning argument is, I mean the argument says something like: Within the landscape of all possible constants, only a ridiculous small percentage would produce life... it doesn't matter if life will live 1 minute or 1 million freaking years, seriously how the heck... I give up, this is why I don't give two quarters of a shit of reading atheist blogs, because I know I am going to be pissed, damn my teachers for teaching me that secular figures were all level-headed... fucking bullshit and ate it like it was chocolate!!!

Now the last part is awesome... the fucktard is unaware that cosmology became a very respected science after the big bang beat the shit of the other models *even if you agree to it or not, that was when cosmology became hardcore science to the view of other scientists... or so I was taught at University, by a guy especialized in this topic, he might be wrong who knows.*

So ... How many Ad hominems were there... Like, 4 or 5... Yeah well we can always count on unbiased atheist scientists like Krauss and Dawkins et al to show us the way, or so person 1 desperately hopes so or at least I hope he hopes.

Anonymous said...

I liked this article. Unfortunately, Dr. Feser does not mention a critical aspect of polemic, satire, and ridicule: it needs to be done. Dr. Feser's polemic is usually good, but it (the purely polemical side) is not usually brilliant, if I can be absolutely honest.

I sometimes dream about someone who can combine the biting satire and piercing polemic of a Swift, Cobbett, Chesterton, or Peter Simple with the sort of intellectual insight of Dr. Feser (I'm pretty sad).

Anonymous said...

That is, it needs to be done well, rather.

Mr. Green said...

Rank Sophist: Despite the excellent parody by Mr. Green, I have to admit that I find myself in the bed-wetter camp from time to time. I'll only say that the first paragraph of TLS has prevented me from recommending it to on-the-fence liberal-ish types on more than one occasion.

Thanks, and to be honest, I agree with you (and with Marc Anthony) that there are some people to whom I would simply not recommend TLS. But I don't think we need to move camps to be in that position — the problem is with those immature people, not with the Profeser's book. (Plus, the book is probably more important for people who are inclined to agree with him, but who think that it's about feelings or fancy or fideism instead of solid reasoning.) Maybe, sharing as I do with G. Rodrigues a fondness for fatally sharp satire, I'm underestimating the way The Tone comes across; but while it might be impudent or irreverent, I wouldn't call it rude.

Daniel Smith said...

Hence, suppose you put forward an argument against “same-sex marriage” and someone responds either by calling you a bigot, or by suggesting that the only reason you are putting forward such an argument is to rationalize some religiously motivated prejudice.

What about ad hominem in the case of the conspiracy theorist?

I've noticed that often the person who reveals a notion toward some "conspiracy" is immediately labeled a "kook" and all arguments put forth are treated with utter contempt.

I experienced this myself on another blog when I asked what people thought about the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook school shootings. I made it plain that I hadn't made up my mind one way or another but was immediately shunned just for bringing it up. (I still haven't made up my mind BTW.)

We've seen the same thing here. Thaddeus Kozinski was given the cold shoulder once he was labeled a "holocaust denier" (I'm not one BTW - but I was interested in hearing how a reasonable person could be. Judging from his responses, it appears Kozinski doesn't deny the holocaust either - he just seems to have doubts about "official versions" of history - a trait I also share.) What I did notice however was that his actual responses on the subject were met with a sort of ad hominem ("if you even hint at believing that nothing you say can be taken seriously").

Recast the above as:

Hence, suppose you put forward an argument against “the official story of the holocaust” and someone responds either by calling you an anti-Semite, or by suggesting that the only reason you are putting forward such an argument is to rationalize some religiously motivated prejudice.

It seems that sometimes we use ad hominem when someone's views make us uncomfortable - or if we see them as somehow "out of bounds". It's like we are afraid that we might go down the same rabbit hole if we give them a chance to express themselves so we shut the door immediately. Or maybe we're afraid of lending credence to unorthodoxy by giving them a platform?

Either way, the views expressed by the conspiracy theorist are often dismissed rather than considered on their merits.

BenYachov said...

@Daniel Smith,

So what do you do with a person who asks what people thought about NAMBLA & hasn't made up his/her mind one way or another?

Is that acceptable?

>Either way, the views expressed by the conspiracy theorist are often dismissed rather than considered on their merits.

Or it could be some views such as holocaust denial either in the strong sense(it never happened) or the weak sense(a few hundred thousand people died the rest where inflated by the Zionist lobby) are by definition the views of a lunatic?

A parting question, "What do you do with a person who asks what people thought about CHICK COMICS & hasn't made up his/her mind one way or another?"

You can also substitute "THE AWFUL DIS CLOSERS OF MARIA MONK".

Kozinski is a nutcase who got what he deserved. He has nothing to teach any of us.

BenYachov said...

>Judging from his responses, it appears Kozinski doesn't deny the holocaust either - he just seems to have doubts about "official versions" of history - a trait I also share.)

"Doubts" about the "official view" is code for anti-Semitic nonsense. It like a reader of CHICK COMICS saying "Well I don't believe the Vatican & the Jesuits ordered the death of President Lincoln but I am sure they wanted him dead."

Because that level of lunacy is not as sever as the Society of Jesus actually conspiring to the kill the President it is somehow more legitimate?

Are you F***ing serious?

I hope that last bit doesn't mean you actually sympathize with such nonsense because I have little tolerance for bigots & you should know better.

>What I did notice however was that his actual responses on the subject were met with a sort of ad hominem ("if you even hint at believing that nothing you say can be taken seriously").

It's one thing to be tolerant and open minded. It's another thing if the openness goes all the way threw.

Eduardo said...

BenYachov

The thing is this. Is Kozinski a lunatic because he defends conspiracies or he is lunatic because he makes wrong inferences or makes wrong analysis of the evidence?

The first answer is no bettermthan the Gnu's thinking skill, but the second one could really show that Kozinski is lunatic

BenYachov said...

>The thing is this. Is Kozinski a lunatic because he defends conspiracies or he is lunatic because he makes wrong inferences or makes wrong analysis of the evidence?

I refuse to grant any dignity to people who claim only a few hundred thousand Jews died during the holocaust.


Unless you can explain to be if we should do it to followers of NAMBLA or CHICK COMICS?

DavidM said...

"So what do you do with a person who asks what people thought about NAMBLA & hasn't made up his/her mind one way or another?" - Well, gee, just tell them shut the f*&% up, obviously. It would be just awful to be courteous towards someone with a morally heinous point of view. God forbid!

Actually, in light of the widespreadness of "how dare you offend me"-ism, I think it a good idea to err on the side of putting a check on one's (perhaps well-justified) personal indignation and just dealing with arguments.

Eduardo said...

I don't know the other two there.... Errrr I kind of feel that I might not want to know what sort of thing they say XD, judging from your initial comments.

But you are dodging it Ben, you know the first choice is fallacious... Don't tell me you gonna go for the good old tactic that if Kozinski is wrong then anything you do to him is okay?

Come on Ben, you can rise above that, if Kozinski is such a low person and he is wrong no need to use tricks on him...

Eduardo said...

Anyways, let's just drop this I know what happens when we start talking about conspiracies and stuff like that, there are things that have to be confined to our lonely hours in the dark as we think.

At least that is how I feel about certain subjects.

So anyways don't worked up Ben... Tryyyy, not to.

BenYachov said...

DS writes:
>Well, gee, just tell them shut the f*&% up, obviously. It would be just awful to be courteous towards someone with a morally heinous point of view. God forbid!

Pretty much yes since it is a scandal for alledged followers of Jesus Christ to be seen as tolerating
anti-Semitism and Rascism or Pedophilia!


>Actually, in light of the widespreadness of "how dare you offend me"-ism, I think it a good idea to err on the side of putting a check on one's (perhaps well-justified) personal indignation and just dealing with arguments.

I don't accept that or apologize for treating legitimate loones as loones.

Eduardo writes:
>But you are dodging it Ben, you know the first choice is fallacious... Don't tell me you gonna go for the good old tactic that if Kozinski is wrong then anything you do to him is okay?

BULLSHIT!!!!!

The thing about Gnus is they think belief in religion or treating it as legitimate should be no different then doing the same to holocaust denial. They are wrong about religion but guess what? That doesn't then make holocaust denial legitimate or advocating pedophilia!!!!!!!

OH & BTW I did cite evidence to that fruitcake KOzinski on Sungenis' wacko views & his use of scource material from anti-Semites, White Supremicists and anti-Catholic bigots. He didn't care.

So yah F*** em!

I don't apologize and my view is 100% legit & reasonable.

BenYachov said...

>Anyways, let's just drop this I know what happens when we start talking about conspiracies and stuff like that, there are things that have to be confined to our lonely hours in the dark as we think.

>At least that is how I feel about certain subjects.

>So anyways don't worked up Ben... Tryyyy, not to.

Wise words.

Eduardo said...

BenYachov

I can not even get mad at you Ben... I am listening Lou Bega XD.

So about the initial, so you are basically saying that you have tried and maybe succeeded in showing that Kozinski was wrong because his source material had premeditated results, and Kozinski simply ignore... somehow I find that easy to believe XD.

But you are going over board Ben, Your views do not become wrong or not warranted because you tend to tell people to F themselves a lot.... you do dude... seriously XD.

But as far as it goes, I just see that you agree with me, you just don't agree to kee the gloves on to beat these people.

As to the second reply... is just personal experience dude XD. Wisedom is gold.

Tony said...

Daniel,

Although I didn't read absolutely every comment, it seems to me that Kozinski wasn't told to go to h*ll by everyone here, mainly by one or two very vocal people here. There's a difference.

As far as people who insist on questioning the "received wisdom", people like 9-11 conspiracy theorists and holocaust deniers: it isn't impossible for a person to doubt, for a time, the evidence for the holocaust, or to doubt the received account of 9-11, and remain reasonable - reasonable enough to bear discussing with them and being polite and such. Especially for youth, who have a primary claim on our forbearance while they mature.

It is a whole nother ball of wax for dealing with someone who doubts the standard 9-11 accounts, to INSIST on bringing it into discussions that have nothing to do with that. Or, alternatively, who insist on presenting by link (without apology or qualifier), as evidence of X idea, the claimed evidence compiled by holocaust nay-sayers and/or 9-11 conspiracy theorists as if everyone else should be ready, willing and able to accept the claimed evidence at face value. At the least, if you are going to link to conspiracists, you need to allow for everyone else to look at the evidence as needing to meet a higher threshold, to overcome obvious issues.

For example, I am extremely confident that Robert Sungenis is a true, veritable crank. A real nut-job. Nevertheless, not everything he says is wrong or goofy. If I wanted to link to his argument or documented evidence for something, in arguing to others, I would have to warn them "hey, I know this guy is considered loony about some things, but he has a worthwhile point here that isn't poisoned by his looniness on other things, so you need to hear him out." I can't simply use Sungenis' material without a caution or word of explanation, as if there weren't any rational basis for doubting its worth beforehand.

BenYachov said...

@Tony
>Although I didn't read absolutely every comment, it seems to me that Kozinski wasn't told to go to h*ll by everyone here, mainly by one or two very vocal people here. There's a difference.

One of those people who told him to drop it(& I was willing to let it go at that point) was Prof Feser himself. But he wouldn't shut up about it.

Just so you know.

>the evidence for the holocaust, or to doubt the received account of 9-11, and remain reasonable - reasonable enough to bear discussing with them and being polite and such. Especially for youth, who have a primary claim on our forbearance while they mature.

I'm all for treating the misguided young in that fashion however a mature & educated person should know better.

>it is a whole nother ball of wax for dealing with someone who doubts the standard 9-11 accounts, to INSIST on bringing it into discussions that have nothing to do with that.

If you read the whole thing that is what Kozinski did. I just mentioned Sungenis in passing and he opened up about his own private "unconventional" view to give it more charity than it deserves.

>For example, I am extremely confident that Robert Sungenis is a true, veritable crank. A real nut-job. Nevertheless, not everything he says is wrong or goofy. If I wanted to link to his argument or documented evidence for something, in arguing to others, I would have to warn them "hey, I know this guy is considered loony about some things, but he has a worthwhile point here that isn't poisoned by his looniness on other things, so you need to hear him out." I can't simply use Sungenis' material without a caution or word of explanation, as if there weren't any rational basis for doubting its worth beforehand.

I can understand that & have done that at one point or another. But at the end of the day he is too far gone & there are better more worthy Catholic and Traditional persons to cite.


All right people can we drop it now? I have been at peace for years not having to relieve the Sungenis nightmare. So let's all agree holocaust denial is satanic bullshit & move one.

PS I am not mad at you Eduardo or Smith or even Tony (thought that Ratzy crack on the other thread bugs me but I can let it go).


Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: So what do you do with a person who asks what people thought about NAMBLA & hasn't made up his/her mind one way or another?
[...]
A parting question, "What do you do with a person who asks what people thought about CHICK COMICS & hasn't made up his/her mind one way or another?"
You can also substitute "THE AWFUL DIS CLOSERS OF MARIA MONK".
[...]
It like a reader of CHICK COMICS saying "Well I don't believe the Vatican & the Jesuits ordered the death of President Lincoln but I am sure they wanted him dead."
Because that level of lunacy is not as sever as the Society of Jesus actually conspiring to the kill the President it is somehow more legitimate?


I would call those prime examples of "red herring fallacies". You are seeking to equate views you find offensive, seemingly for no other reason than that you find them offensive.

Or it could be some views such as holocaust denial either in the strong sense(it never happened) or the weak sense(a few hundred thousand people died the rest where inflated by the Zionist lobby) are by definition the views of a lunatic?

Which of these is Kozinski's view? Do you know? I tried to go back to the thread in question but all of Kozinski's posts have been deleted.

But that's not really the point. The point is whether his views were dismissed on their own merits or based on the fact that we find them repugnant? I am not defending any particular conspiracy theory - just pointing out that there seems to be ad hominem fallacies applied when arguing against things we view as "lunacy" (sometimes perhaps based on a politically correct 'public perception' of the issue).

Kozinski is a nutcase who got what he deserved. He has nothing to teach any of us.

This is the ad hominem fallacy in action. It does not address the truth or error of his views - they are just dismissed under the "nutcase" banner.

Don't you see BenYachov that this is exactly what Dr. Feser described in his example about gay marriage?

"Doubts" about the "official view" is code for anti-Semitic nonsense.

That is both assertion and ad hominem. You have asserted, without reservation, that the only reason one could possibly have to doubt the official account is anti-semitism.

I hope that last bit doesn't mean you actually sympathize with such nonsense because I have little tolerance for bigots & you should know better.

I have never researched the holocaust, so I have no reason to doubt the official story. I do, however, have many reasons to doubt other "official stories". For instance, I seriously doubt the official reasons given for invading Iraq. I also doubt the official cause of gun violence (guns). I also doubt the official position that human life begins when viable outside the womb. I could go on, the list is pretty long, but I think you get the picture.

The one example I can cite based on my own experience is the Sandy Hook school shootings. I was labeled a nutcase and my views dismissed just for bringing up the conspiracy theories floating around out there. So I've experienced this first hand. I still have my doubts about the official story there, but I would not go so far as to say it is false. I don't have enough information. My only observation is that there are a lot of strange happenings surrounding that event that I have yet to see explained. Perhaps they are explainable within the official storyline, perhaps not - I don't know. All I know is that I was judged a crackpot for merely entertaining the idea that the official storyline might be incorrect.

That's what I know. And that's ad hominem.

The thing is, the official accounts of things, in my view, should always be questioned if we are seekers of truth.

Eduardo said...

PS I am not mad at you Eduardo or Smith or even Tony (thought that Ratzy crack on the other thread bugs me but I can let it go).

-------------------------------------

Ben I am used to your MO lol, I don't think that you are often mad or anything like that. You are harsh on words, but you have steel conviction, I mean I think I know when you are starting to get REALLY mad, and when you are just being pushy.

Alat said...

@Ben Yachov

I'm not Daniel Smith, but I'll bite the bullet you sent him regarding NAMBLA (09:51). I think differences regarding moral views and facts need to be kept apart.

An example. We both agree, I think, that to even consider NAMBLA's case as one view among others, all of them morally licit, is evidence of moral degeneracy. But the Holocaust-denying equivalent of NAMBLA would be someone who said "Damn Hitler, he didn't kill six million Jews, and he should have!", not someone who says, "I don't think the case for the consensus view of the Holocaust we have today is waterproof". That the second case is very rare doesn't mean two different phenomenons should be conflated.

The same criterion applies to all conspiracy theories, IMHO.

Best,
Alat

Tony said...

Actually, in light of the widespreadness of "how dare you offend me"-ism, I think it a good idea to err on the side of putting a check on one's (perhaps well-justified) personal indignation and just dealing with arguments.

I didn't follow that. Given the wide-spread, indeed excess use of "how dare you offend me" ism, seems to me the necessary corrective is to do and say things that undermine the very premise of the "offended" reaction. Something like "How dare you imagine that I care whether you might be offended!" Or some other approach yhat short circuits the offendedness - including just being polite (if all else fails, I suppose) if they aren't manufacturing the offended sensibilities for debate reasons.

Some positions, like that of NAMBLA, can be usefully and temperately debated in certain circumstances - like in private. But to temperately take on a debate about that in public inadvertently gives the ideas inappropriate color of reasonableness. I can see doing a polite "I'm not going to discuss that" without either direct rudeness nor appearing to countenance that such opinions are decent.

Fred Thiemann said...

Folks, I read the comments by Kozinski on the other thread. The guy is unequivocally a nut case. First of all why on earth would anyone have any interest in inflating the numbers of Jews killed in the holocaust? Secondly, the Nazis kept meticulous records. Are you seriously going to tell me that they were all forged after the war? By whom? And why haven't the forgeries been detected by now? Is everyone who could identify the forgeries part of the conspiracy? Or maybe silenced by the conspirators? It just gets nutsier and nutsier on the face of it. There's no reason to take it seriously. Trutherism is even sillier. It would have involved a conspiracy of literally thousands of people in airports, airplanes, air traffic control towers, and the World Trade Center itself. All of whom kept the secret before, during, and since the event. And why do it? For oil? Right. Destroying billions of dollars worth of property, murdering 3000 of our own citizens, and sending our economy into the tank for a year so we can endanger the very oil fields truthers say we wanted to conquer is a much more efficient way of getting cheap oil than dropping the sanctions against Saddam and letting Iraqi oil come back online. Oh right, we went in to fight Israel's wars. After all, it's not like the Israelis have decimated every Arab army that has gone against them since 1948 or like it would have taken the IDF a week or so to obliterate the motley collection of terrorists and regime-protection thugs Saddam called an army. Some things are just nuts on their face. So, yes, anyone who "doubts the official accounts" of the holocaust or 911 does, in fact, forfeit his right to be taken seriously by sane people.

rank sophist said...

Fred,

You're my hero for making that post. I could not have said it better myself.

Tony said...

I was labeled a nutcase and my views dismissed just for bringing up the conspiracy theories floating around out there. So I've experienced this first hand.

Daniel, try to be a little more complete in the description: among the most serious of the reasons your comment was roundly put down (by exactly ONE person) is that it was completely off topic.

DavidM said...

Fred: "anyone who "doubts the official accounts" of the holocaust or 911 does, in fact, forfeit his right to be taken seriously by sane people." - Nonsense. Mere doubt is not a sufficient reason to treat someone with contempt. Might as well say that no sane person would take David Hume seriously, just because he doubted things he shouldn't have.

"Some positions, like that of NAMBLA, can be usefully and temperately debated in certain circumstances - like in private. But to temperately take on a debate about that in public inadvertently gives the ideas inappropriate color of reasonableness." - Not at all. You can perfectly courteously say, "Sorry dude, but your view is completely unreasonable; here's why: ..." Why should such tolerance cause scandal to anyone?? Scandal taken is not always reasonably taken, in which case the scandal-giver is quite possibly without fault.

BenYachov said...

Thank you Fred for being the voice of sanity.

@Daniel Smith!

My birthday is coming up soon & as I sit here and reflect the words of DR WHO come to mind.

"I am so old! I used to have so much mercy! You get one warning then that's it."

Dr. Feser himself read Kozinski's wacko nonsense and said he went from shock to jaw-drop! He said the man went from one moment being C.S. Lewis sipping cherry to an wacky Occupy Wall teenager! He also told him no more of his nonsense. Her didn't listen and Feser gave him the boot!

Think for a minute. So Fred, Feser, Rank and myself don't know what we are talking about?

>Which of these is Kozinski's view? Do you know? I tried to go back to the thread in question but all of Kozinski's posts have been deleted.

Feser cited him as saying only hundreds of thousands died in the holocaust(not millions).

Either Feser deleted them as an act of charity to protect Kozinski from himself or Kozinski did it out of shame and embarrassment.

Either way F***ing DROP IT ALREADY!!!

I refuse to waste my intellect on arguing fruitcake topics.

My back is still killing me so don't poke the bear.

This is you one warning.

Edward Feser said...

For the record, Kozinksi deleted those comments himself.

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov and others,

My point is NOT about whether conspiracy theories hold water or not - it's about whether we use ad hominem (the topic of this OP) against them.

I'll say it again - I'm not arguing for or against any particular conspiracy theory - I'm just pointing out that conspiracy theorists are often victims of ad hominem attacks. My hope (as one who more than occasionally questions the official government accounts of things) is that we restrain ourselves from using ad hominem attacks against people and simply deconstruct their positions by rational argument.

Emotional name-calling and labeling doesn't further the cause of truth - it impedes it.

Mr. Green said...

Daniel Smith: Either way, the views expressed by the conspiracy theorist are often dismissed rather than considered on their merits.

Dismissing conspiracy-theorists is often ad hominem, but it's usually not a fallacy. "You're a nutcase, therefore your claims are false" is a formal fallacy. "You're a nutcase, therefore it would not be the wisest use of time to engage you in debate" is not. Nor is, "You're a nutcase, so quit dragging this conversation off-topic." Likewise, "You're a nutcase, and the last thing I need is people saying that I harbour Neo-Nazi propagandists on my website."

In theory, sure, any question is just a question. But in real life, we have to choose which questions are worth taking up. Dealing with conspiracy-theorists usually isn't worth the one-in-a-million chance that this time, it would be productive. Frankly, we should apply this criterion to more of the anonymous cranks who post here — if someone can't reasonably state the argument he is supposedly attacking in his own words, then we shouldn't waste space arguing with a crackpot. Good judgement trumps a [hypothetically] good question.

The thing is, the official accounts of things, in my view, should always be questioned if we are seekers of truth.

That's an official motto of the modern age. And I question it. (And here's an answer: it's impossible to question everything. There simply isn't enough time. Therefore prudence demands that we question only the circumstances that are questionable.)

Mr. Green said...

DavidM: Might as well say that no sane person would take David Hume seriously,

I do say that! I say it all the time. In fact, I've been known to stop people at random on the street and say that. Some things just need to be said, and of all such things, that thing to be said is surely one of the most needy.


MR. GREEN: No sane person would take David Hume seriously!!!
MAN IN THE STREET: What? Take whom seriously?
MR. GREEN: No, don't!
MAN: Don't what?
MR. GREEN: Don't take Hume seriously.
MAN: That's what I want to know — whom?
MR. GREEN: Yes, Hume!
MAN: So will you tell me — whom do you mean??
MR. GREEN: Of course.
MAN: OK. Then tell me.
MR. GREEN: Tell you what?
MAN: No, tell me whom!
MR. GREEN: Um... [holding my head] I can't!
MAN: I. Kant? Oh, man, what a crackpot. No sane philosopher should take him seriously!

Daniel Smith said...

One note: I didn't say to "question everything" - I said to question the official accounts.

Officials are human and may have ulterior motives behind their stories.

Edward Feser said...

Mr. Green,

Classic!

benYachov said...


>Emotional name-calling and labeling doesn't further the cause of truth - it impedes it.

Smith if what Kozinksi said was the "truth" then why pray tell did he erase it? I mean if it was so obviously reasonable?

You didn't read it. The rest of us did. It wasn't flattering.

> I'm just pointing out that conspiracy theorists are often victims of ad hominem attacks.

Who cares? That is like saying White Supremacists are often victims of ad hominem attacks!

Boo freakin Hoo cry me a river!

Oy Vey!!!!

Tony said...

Not at all. You can perfectly courteously say, "Sorry dude, but your view is completely unreasonable; here's why: ..." Why should such tolerance cause scandal to anyone??

I didn't say you shouldn't talk to them, or shouldn't put their views down, I say you shouldn't debate them in public.

E.H. Munro said...

DavidM: Might as well say that no sane person would take David Hume seriously,

I do say that! I say it all the time. In fact, I've been known to stop people at random on the street and say that. Some things just need to be said, and of all such things, that thing to be said is surely one of the most needy.


MR. GREEN: No sane person would take David Hume seriously!!!
MAN IN THE STREET: What? Take whom seriously?
MR. GREEN: No, don't!
MAN: Don't what?
MR. GREEN: Don't take Hume seriously.
MAN: That's what I want to know — whom?
MR. GREEN: Yes, Hume!
MAN: So will you tell me — whom do you mean??
MR. GREEN: Of course.
MAN: OK. Then tell me.
MR. GREEN: Tell you what?
MAN: No, tell me whom!
MR. GREEN: Um... [holding my head] I can't!
MAN: I. Kant? Oh, man, what a crackpot. No sane philosopher should take him seriously!


You've clearly put Descartes before D.Rorty (for Dick, sorry, best I could do).

dover_beach said...

Mr. Green, I've split my sides.

Daniel Smith said...

benYachov: Smith if what Kozinksi said was the "truth" then why pray tell did he erase it? I mean if it was so obviously reasonable?
You didn't read it. The rest of us did. It wasn't flattering.


I did read it, I just couldn't remember the specifics so I went back to re-read it.

But you are completely missing my point. The issue is not whether what he said was true or not, the issue is over the method of argumentation used against him.

Who cares? That is like saying White Supremacists are often victims of ad hominem attacks!

There you go again. You find some offensive view (NAMBLA, White Supremacy) and label any conspiracy theorist as equivalent.

This just IS the ad hominem fallacy Dr. Feser decries in the OP.

CJ Wolfe said...

PT Geach has a great discussion of this point in his little practical logic primer, "Reason and Argument," p26:

"This latin term indicates that these arguments are addressed to a particularman- in fact, the other fellow you are diputing with. You start from something he believes and infer a conclusion he won't admit to be true. If you have not been cheating in your reasoning, you will have shown that your opponent's present body of beliefs is inconsistent and it's up to him to modify it somewhere. -This argumentative trick is so unwelcome to the victim that he is likely to regard it as cheating; bad old logic books even speak of the ad hominem fallacy. But an ad hominem argument may be perfectly fair play... Ad hominem arguements are not just a way of winning a dispute: a logically sound ad hominem argument does a service, even if an unwelcome one, to its victim- it shows him that his present position is untenable and must be modified. Of course people often do not like to be disturbed in their comfortable inconsistencies; that is whay ad hominem arguments have a bad name."

Anonymous said...

PC means Personal Computer. A Mac is a PC and a windows based system is also a PC. Your argument doesn't make sense when your terminology is incorrect.

DavidM said...

"I didn't say you shouldn't talk to them, or shouldn't put their views down, I say you shouldn't debate them in public." -- So anyone who was to debate, say, Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins or the ghost of David Hume (or anyone holding grossly erroneous views) in public would be causing scandal?? Bullshit, hombre.

DavidM said...

"No sane philosopher should take him seriously!" - Whom? 'Hoom'? Or 'hyoom'? Kant? Can't? Why not? Get it? Got it? Doubt it.

Glenn said...

Anonymous,

PC means Personal Computer. A Mac is a PC and a windows based system is also a PC. Your argument doesn't make sense when your terminology is incorrect.

1. Intel: Since PCs and Macs hit the market, the debate has existed over which is best.

2. Apple: Why get a new PC and just upgrade your computer, when you can get a Mac and upgrade your entire computer experience?

3. Anonymous: Yes, well... I'm of a more 'integralist' bent.

Tony said...

So anyone who was to debate, say, Peter Singer or Richard Dawkins or the ghost of David Hume (or anyone holding grossly erroneous views) in public would be causing scandal??

I wasn't aware that Dawkins was promoting NAMBLA's major tenet. Sorry, my bad.

But, I didn't say it was "grossly erroneous views" that cause the problem. It is, I think, people who publicly promote heinous views which are so disgusting that virtually all decent people should be able to say "that's morally revolting" without having to parse through a long debate to be (rightly) confident of that truth. In that situation, granting a debate to such a reprehensible character is tantamount to saying "that's a matter that is well worth deeper consideration, because it isn't easy to sort out." Yes, NAMBLA's position is morally revolting, and no, we don't need to publicly discuss it in detail as if the matter were intellectually troublesome.

BenYachov said...

I would say the same applies to holocaust deniers heavy (i.e. it never happened) or light(only 100,000 people diet the rest inflated by the Zionist propagandists).

Revolting is revolting.

DS writes:
>There you go again. You find some offensive view (NAMBLA, White Supremacy) and label any conspiracy theorist as equivalent.

What about holocaust deniers or those who defend them?

Well?

Peter DO Smith said...

smug hacks like Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss - beautifully put!

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Edward Feser: Something called “Feser’s tone” is the subject of occasional handwringing ... Complaining about this is like complaining about police who shoot back at bank robbers.

There is a very important difference. Police and bank robbers are engaged in a zero-sum game. Polemicists, in contrast, are engaged in a positive-sum game, at the expense of the public.

In a shoot-out between cops and robbers, a successful shot by one party equals a loss for the other. In particular, one party's shooting can keep the other from getting off a shot at all. So, if we, the public, want the cops to win, then we want them to shoot back at the robbers.

Polemical debate is different. Here, often, the two debaters are playing a positive sum game. They represent different "tribes" (e.g., theists and atheists), so they can both get a status boost from the exchange, within their respective tribes. Unlike gun shots, rhetorical shots from one debater don't hamper the other debater's ability to get off rhetorical shots of his own. On the contrary, the first debater's salvo gives the second debater an opportunity to showcase his own polemical wit.

Furthermore, one sides's "winning" (within his own tribe) doesn't exclude the other side's winning (within his own tribe). Each tribe can believe that its champion won. Each debater receives cheers for the witty barbs he aimed at his opponent and sympathy for the unjust calumnies he received.

So, unlike cops and robbers, both debaters have an incentive to seek out polemical arguments, because both can "win" at the same time. If they play their cards right, they will both walk away with in-tribe status boosts. In fact, each debater has an incentive to give the other a status boost, because then each can say that he got a higher-status opponent to pay attention to him.

The only loser in this positive-sum game is the public. The public has to watch the contending parties devote energy to being witty instead of to being right. The public discourse is filled with polemical fireworks that have little value for finding the truth. Being witty (as judged by one's own tribe) has, at best, only a weak correlation with being right. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so easy for two witty people to disagree, as they often do. Hence, the result of such debates can be expected to have about as much correlation with the truth as would the results of Trial by Combat.

In fact, Trial by Combat might be somewhat better than Trial by Rhetorical Wit. At least Trial by Combat is zero-sum, so the participants don't have this perverse and mutually reinforcing incentive to engage in it gratuitously.

rank sophist said...

Tyrrell,

Total buzzkill.

DNW said...

These remarks should not be taken as a direct reply to McAllister.


But looking in, somewhat from the outside, it appears to me that too often conservatives, or realists for that matter (much less Christians), find themselves in the position of being maneuvered by a jeering audience into trying to rescue someone who is, in effect, gleefully determined to die.

They are expected by the audience to take an imagined higher road, to prove to the abusive nihilist not only that he is wrong, but to do so in a kindly and gentle manner which sensitive observing spirits will find comforting and reassuring.

Now no one appreciates gratuitous or petulant attacks. And a blundering misfired ad hom makes the one delivering it look ridiculous and unserious.

But there are many who would quail at shoving the invective knife in even if there were a guarantee that it was logically justifiable and that it would find its mark and stick there quivering.

Maybe it's conceived by some as a Christian's duty to simper and glide softly: as a matter of principle.

I am sure we have all seen those paintings of a delicate, passive, and scantly bearded Jesus, his mild eyes rolling heavenward as he is stripped or scourged.

It seems to have excited, or at the least satisfied the imaginations of a good number of certain kinds of Christians over the years.

And, without trying to gratuitously offend, that seems to be emblematic of the strategy the hierarchy of the American Catholic Church has pursued for some decades now. I will leave it to active Catholics to judge the fruits of the program.

But frankly, and returning to polemical philosophy, granting some twerpy preening nihilist his premise for the sake of argument, and pinning his head to the wall with logically demonstrable implications seems unobjectionable to me.

But then, unlike most here, I wouldn't be interested in, say, saving Richard Dawkin's soul; even assuming he had one: Just in exploring the implications for him personally, in assuming, as he would insist, that he doesn't; and in granting that power and strict inference are all that really matters to the man with intellectual and moral integrity.

Daniel Smith said...

BY: What about holocaust deniers or those who defend them?
Well?


I don't even know how to respond to you anymore. I haven't been to Junior High in 40+ years - but today I'm feeling it all over again.

Eduardo said...

DNW

Considering that the niihilist XD would actually fall prey to his own principles, nothing stops him from just saying: Heyyy these rues only works on you guys ò_Ó!!!

AND YES, I have seen people like that, it was very funny talking to him too XD.

Eduardo said...

... Aren't you a bit old to like Heavy metal Daniel XD??

*At least that is what I remember from your description*

Anonymous said...

DNW,

I disagree that gratuitous personal attacks are always a bad look. Looking petulant is bad. Being very aggressive has its bad sides, even for its greatest practioners, and has to be done well, but it can be pulled off in an interesting and entertaining manner. I think especially of Cobbett. Now, when you read Cobbett you can't help but think he sometimes was over the top, but when you read him describe Hume as that great fat fellow and say of archbishop Cranmwer, after referring to him as the Prince of Hypocrites, that his very existence makes you doubt the justice of God, until you realise he was burned amidst the flames that he himself had be response indispensable in lighting, you can't help but take great delight.

Tyrell, the problem with your analysis is it implies a general level of rhetorical flair and wit that simply doesn't exist. This flair and wit is essentially non-existent on the anti-traditional, anti-religious side (the best they can do is John Stewart!) and it is, today, even rare enough on the traditional and religious side.

Fireworks? There's barely a spark to go around.

BenYachov said...

@Daniel Smith

>I don't even know how to respond to you anymore. I haven't been to Junior High in 40+ years - but today I'm feeling it all over again.

That is just a cowardly dodge & by your own standards an ad hominem against me implying I am somehow on the level of a Jr high school prig.

Your boy Kozinksi whom you sickeningly referred too as a "truth seeker" defended a man who accused the Jewish People of inflating the number of people murdered during the holocaust & himself implicitly downplayed the number murdered & implied that "the real story" hasn't been told.

Stop being a whiny coward & stop dodging! Is that not an offensive view or not? Because if it is I am not obligated to treat those who perpetuate such views with any respect. Only contempt & I am not going to waste my intellect arguing with such loons.

Tyrrell McAllister said...

Anonymous: Tyrell, the problem with your analysis is it implies a general level of rhetorical flair and wit that simply doesn't exist.

I'm talking about tribe-relative wit, wit as each tribe judges it. The crudest class clown exhibits this kind of "wit", provided that his classmates think that he's witty.

Tribes tend to have their own champions and their own notions of "wit". Each tribe showers praise and status on its own champions according to how it judges wit. These champions will often appear pathetically unwitty to other tribes, but, since the champions are mostly motivated by status within their own tribe, they don't care what the other tribes think. In fact, within each tribe, the opposing tribes are usually very low status, so being thought witty by the opposition would actually be a bad thing for one's in-tribe status.

In-tribe "wit" may not be real wit. (I'm not being a relativist about wit.) But in-tribe wit is what really motivates the tribe to grant in-tribe status to its champions, and in-tribe status is a major incentive driving the polemics of these champions.

My point is that in-tribe status is not a zero-sum limited resource. When two polemicists clash, they aren't fighting over the same limited resource. On the contrary, one is fighting for status within his tribe, while the other is fighting for status within the other tribe. These two kinds of status are not the same. They are not mutually exclusive. It's perfectly possible for both polemicists to get what what they want at the same time, while the public suffers from a poisoned public discourse. That's why the analogy with cops and robbers fails.

Daniel Smith said...

Eduardo: Aren't you a bit old to like Heavy metal Daniel XD??

There's no age limit!

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov: Your boy Kozinksi whom you sickeningly referred too as a "truth seeker"...

This tells me you didn't even bother to read what I wrote.

#1) Kozinski is not "my boy" - nor did I express an affinity for his views. The closest I came to anything like that was this statement: "he just seems to have doubts about "official versions" of history - a trait I also share". You'll notice that that statement was immediately preceded by this: "I'm not one BTW" (a holocaust denier). So the only affinity I share with Kozinski is that I have doubts about official stories. I gave the specific stories I doubt and the holocaust was not on that list. I even said that I "have no reason to doubt the official story" of the holocaust.

#2) I never called him a "truth seeker". I talked about "we" being "seekers of truth" - but that "we" includes you and me and everyone else who would seek the truth.

What I'm learning from this "debate" is that you can't seem to read my actual words without reading your own emotions into them - all because you have identified me as a sympathizer with someone whose views you abhor. Go back and re-read what I've said here and you'll see - you're attributing motives and views to me that I do not have.

BenYachov said...

OK Daniel Smith here is what you wrote:

What about ad hominem in the case of the conspiracy theorist?

I've noticed that often the person who reveals a notion toward some "conspiracy" is immediately labeled a "kook" and all arguments put forth are treated with utter contempt.

I experienced this myself on another blog when I asked what people thought about the conspiracy theories surrounding the Sandy Hook school shootings. I made it plain that I hadn't made up my mind one way or another but was immediately shunned just for bringing it up. (I still haven't made up my mind BTW.)

We've seen the same thing here. Thaddeus Kozinski was given the cold shoulder once he was labeled a "holocaust denier" (I'm not one BTW - but I was interested in hearing how a reasonable person could be. Judging from his responses, it appears Kozinski doesn't deny the holocaust either - he just seems to have doubts about "official versions" of history - a trait I also share.) What I did notice however was that his actual responses on the subject were met with a sort of ad hominem ("if you even hint at believing that nothing you say can be taken seriously").

Recast the above as:

Hence, suppose you put forward an argument against “the official story of the holocaust” and someone responds either by calling you an anti-Semite, or by suggesting that the only reason you are putting forward such an argument is to rationalize some religiously motivated prejudice.

It seems that sometimes we use ad hominem when someone's views make us uncomfortable - or if we see them as somehow "out of bounds". It's like we are afraid that we might go down the same rabbit hole if we give them a chance to express themselves so we shut the door immediately. Or maybe we're afraid of lending credence to unorthodoxy by giving them a platform?

Either way, the views expressed by the conspiracy theorist are often dismissed rather than considered on their merits.END QUOTE

BenYachov said...

@Danial Smith

>This tells me you didn't even bother to read what I wrote.

It seems you have forgotten what you actually wrote because it is that that has pissed me off from day one.

>#1) Kozinski is not "my boy" - nor did I express an affinity for his views. The closest I came to anything like that was this statement: "he just seems to have doubts about "official versions" of history - a trait I also share". You'll notice that that statement was immediately preceded by this: "I'm not one BTW" (a holocaust denier).

I reply: You left out the part where you said " but I was interested in hearing how a reasonable person could be". This at face value implies a reasonable person can be a holocaust denier. Don't you see how bad that looks?

>So the only affinity I share with Kozinski is that I have doubts about official stories. I gave the specific stories I doubt and the holocaust was not on that list. I even said that I "have no reason to doubt the official story" of the holocaust.

I reply: The issue here is taken at face value is it reasonable to conclude Kozinski came off as a F***ing loon? Thus was it not reasonable given his objectionable statements to blow him off? I maintained "yes" and for some asinine reason I have yet to fathom you have argued we should take this clown seriously and debate his views seriously?

I maintained "some views such as holocaust denial either in the strong sense(it never happened) or the weak sense(a few hundred thousand people died the rest where inflated by the Zionist lobby) are by definition the views of a lunatic..".

You choose to fight me on this and try to downplay Kozinski's views the very views you are more explicitly now distancing yourself from.

>#2) I never called him a "truth seeker". I talked about "we" being "seekers of truth" - but that "we" includes you and me and everyone else who would seek the truth.

I reply: Well if you remember from his post Kozinski called himself a "seeker of truth" or "truth seeker" & pleaded with us to give his views a chance and not let the Zionists pull the wool over our eyes. So adopting his phraseology isn't productive in distancing yourself from his ugly view. You might want to choose your words more carefully in the future.

But my point remains. Kozinski's views where so objectionable they merit only automatic repudiation not debate. You objected to me comparing his views to NAMBLA or White Supremacy & I challenged you why holocaust denial light wasn't morally objectionable?

You have yet to answer me & have maintained this defense of treating him as respectable. He's not.

>What I'm learning from this "debate" is that you can't seem to read my actual words without reading your own emotions into them - all because you have identified me as a sympathizer with someone whose views you abhor.

I reply: Given your unfortunate word choices it was not hard to reach that "wrong" conclusion. But what you have been doing is ignoring the brute fact his views are abhorrent by any decent standard & should not be treated seriously.

>Go back and re-read what I've said here and you'll see - you're attributing motives and views to me that I do not have.

Actually I asked that we drop it. You OTOH wanted to make a deathless defense of why we should treat his views as if they where respectful even if you don't hold them. My point is they are not respectable & deserve no such consideration.

Now stop obfuscating. Either refute me or drop it.

Your choice.

BenYachov said...

BTW for the record Daniel Smith I don't now accuse you or believe you are a holocaust denier.

You are what Karl Keating once called too open minded but sometimes the openness goes all the way threw(the skull).

Kozinski's weird views merit no respect only Jaw Drop.

Thank you come again.

Glenn said...

And,

o ...we say here that evil, in general, is all that is repugnant to right reason. ST I-II q18 a9 ad2

Daniel Smith said...

BenYachov,

I will only say this in closing as I too wish for this to be over.

I don't know enough about the Holocaust to accept or deny the official story - and I have no desire to even look into it right now. My point was about conspiracy theories in general.

Kozinski was used as an example because his was a recent happening on this blog - not because I agree with him.

BenYachov said...

Then it is dropped.

Next topic.

DavidM said...

Tony: "But, I didn't say it was "grossly erroneous views" that cause the problem. It is, I think, people who publicly promote heinous views which are so disgusting that virtually all decent people should be able to say "that's morally revolting" without having to parse through a long debate to be (rightly) confident of that truth."

And you might well say this for Humean reasons (i.e., lousy ones): you don't believe in the truth as an effective bulwark against evil, so rather than be clear about the truth in the face of evil, we should protect people's natural sensibilities in regard to the 'heinous' (as if this were possible in today's society!).

Dictatortot said...

Before everyone drops this tangent, I'm interested about how to treat those ideas that fall under the loose rubric of "conspiracy theories."

On the one hand, they don't generally meet Feser's ad-hominem criteria (though some do). At the same time, one strongly senses that engaging most of them past a certain level of seriousness has weirdly corrosive or destabilizing effects on the rational faculties, and that essentially ad hominem dismissals of many such claims can be a necessary act of intellectual hygiene. They seem to beg for a Feseresque response, but I can't fully articulate why.

Edward Feser said...

Dictatortot (great name BTW),

Take a look at these pieces:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/01/trouble-with-conspiracy-theories.html

http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2006/09/we-the-sheeple-why-conspiracy-theories-persist.html

Dictatortot said...

Many thanks, Dr.!

Bill Honsberger said...

Test case for an ad hominem;
Can I say Heidegger was a Nazi - which thus discredits his bizarre philosophical musings?
Or can I say that Heidegger was a stone cold scum sucking Nazi - which thus discredits his bizarre philosophical musings?
I lean towards option two myself, but am willing to hear other viewpoints on this.
thanks

Thaddeus Kozinski said...

Not that I should need to do this, but because of certain slanderous attacks on my person on this website combox, I would like to make a public statement.

I, of course, and again, this should go without saying based upon my life, family, writings, and good reputation with those who know me, my life, and my work, reject all forms of antisemitism as a grave sin, especially the willful and malicious denial of the evident historical record of premeditated, systematic violence against Jews on account of their race. It is only because of a certain person's slanderous and unprovoked attack on me that I have to state the obvious.

Let me also say that I wholeheartedly reject "conspiracy theories," if this means those theories that are the result of imposing one's psychological problems and delusions and unexamined prejudices onto reality and calling what such a superimposition looks like to you and other likeminded nuts, the truth. These are the real "holocaust deniers," and I repudiate this as a betrayal of Truth and as the gravest of intellectual sins. I have spent my whole professional career as a philosopher attacking such theories.

I do not, however, reject any honest inquiry into the details and overall truth of any official, publicly authorized narrative, no mater how "sacred" to governments, mainstream media, and the "beast" (Plato's term) of uninformed public opinion, and the sheepleish "academic community"--inquiries that are good-willed, use well vetted evidence and logic, and are motivated by the desire for truth, love of the good and of neighbor, and the exposing of propaganda.

Those who reject such inquiry and slander those who defend or participate in it are themselves betrayers of Truth and offensive to God.

This should also go without saying, but defending manifestly immoral behaviors and justifications of those behaviors, such as NAMBLA and neo-Nazi groups, is disgusting and not worthy of rational debate. Censorship, condemnation, ridicule, and perhaps prison are alone worthy of such subverters of the common good and enemies of truth.