Translated to English, ad hominem means against the person (Latin homo, where hominem is a form is gender-neutral. In ancient Rome it referred to all free men, and by extension to all free human beings).
The term is used to describe a rhetorical argument, that is directed towards the person who says something, not about the cause at hand. It is a way to use reputation and rumour and hearsay to change minds.
Because it works and is also unfair to everyone who would benefit from what they say, it is considered to be a weak or poor argument. Formal disapproval of those who use it is common in a court or in diplomacy, where danger is high.
What an ad hominem argument looks like [change]
Normal (valid) proof [change]
Ad hominem example [change]
- Person A thinks abortion should be illegal
- Person A is uneducated and poor
- Therefore abortion should not be illegal.
In this example it can be seen that the (completely unrelated) fact that person A is uneducated and poor is used to prove that abortion should not be illegal.
Related pages [change]
- Fallacy for a list of other types of (false) rhetorical arguments.