In this silly season of political argument that is more personal attack than debate on the merits of proposals and for those inclined to the blogosphere and internet forums with their own version of smear vs discussion, a video passed on by Pr. Paul McCain seems more than appropriate... You judge for yourself...
Ad hominems arguments are a little more complex. According to the book, Logical Self Defense, by Ralph H. Johnson and J. Anthony Blair (IDEA, Feb 10, 2006, Mathematics, p. 102ff), there are legitimate ad hominem attacks on a person:
"Instead of a rule of thumb or a general principle indicating when it is relevant to attack the person, and hence when such a argument cannot be considered an ad hominem fallacy, we describe three sets of circumstances under which an ad hominem argument may be legitimate.
"Appeals to Authority or to Expert Opinion. If in the course of developing my argument, I ask you to believe something I say by arguing that an authority or expert on the subject says it's true, you may legitimately question the background or motives of that authority....
"Candidates for Positions of Public Trust. No matter what arguments they put forward for being qualified for the office sought, it is always legitimate to consider the character and background of political office seekers. Not every facit would be fair game for critical appraisal....
"Case of Credibility Courtroom proceedings furnish the clearest examples here. Suppose someone has testified in court. If that person is found to be a habitual liar, then this fact damages his or her credibility...."
And in his article, "Is there an argumentum ad hominem fallacy?," David Hitchcock, McMaster University, concludes:
"In its original meaning, an argumentum ad hominem is a perfectly legitimate dialectical argument from the concessions or commitments of an opponent that one need not share... The purely abusive ad hominem can be a legitimate attack on an opponent’s ethos, a response long sanctioned in the western rhetorical tradition. Otherwise, it is an objectionable diversionary tactic, but not a kind of reasoning, and so not a fallacy."
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