Ad Hominem, Demonic

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As noted above, an Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected based on some irrelevant fact about the person making the claim or argument. The demonic version of this fallacy involves two steps, the first of which distinguishes the demonic from the normal ad hominem. First, the target of the Ad Hominem is demonized. Demonizing is portraying the target as evil, corrupt, dangerous, or threatening.

This is usually done in three ways: selective demonizing, hyperbolic demonizing, or fictional demonizing. Selective demonizing is when a true negative fact about the target is focused on to the exclusion of other facts.  Hyperbolic demonizing involves greatly exaggerating a negative fact about the target. Fictional demonizing is simply lying about the target. Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument in question.

The demonic ad hominem has the following form:

 

Premise 1: Person A makes claim X.

Premise 2: Person B demonizes person A.

Conclusion: Therefore, A’s claim is false (or A’s argument fails).

 

This is a fallacy because demonizing a person has no bearing on the truth of their claim or the quality of their argument. In addition to the logical error, a demonic ad hominem also suffers from the fact that demonizing, by definition, involves deception. At the very least, demonizing involves taking facts out of context and often involves outright falsehoods.

A Demonic Ad Hominem can have considerable psychological force since demonizing typically goes beyond the usual Ad Hominem attacks and can trigger stronger emotions.

A common tactic is to demonize the target using stereotypes the audience already accepts and by appealing to their biases, fears, and prejudices. Such an audience will be inclined to accept the demonization as true, and their emotional response can lead them to accept the fallacious reasoning.

 

Defense: There are two main defenses against this fallacy. One is to be aware it is an Ad Hominem. Even if the demonizing claims were true, the reasoning would still be flawed: true but irrelevant negative claims about a person, no matter how terrible, do not disprove a claim or show an argument is flawed. The other is to be especially critical about extreme negative claims and only accept them if they are adequately supported by evidence.

This fallacy can be self-inflicted since a person can convince themselves that the alleged terrible qualities or actions of a person proves that person’s claim is not true. The fallacy can also be inflicted on others and is a staple in many political debates and advertising. It can be especially hard to defend against this fallacy when you dislike the person targeted for demonizing. As would be expected, this fallacy can be used to cause dislike in the target and thus incline people to believe the attack because of this manufactured dislike.

 

Example #1

Steve: “The president says that we should use more renewable energy and less foreign oil.”

Ted: “Yeah. Well, that guy really likes the young kids. If you know what I mean.”

Steve: “Are you saying he is a pedophile?”

Ted: “Oh, I’m just asking questions here. But I think we know that the answers are.”

Steve: “So you think he is wrong about energy?”
Ted: “Oh yes. Definitely. I mean, someone who is that way is going to be wrong about everything. Drill, baby drill!”

 

Example #2

Steve: “The president says that we should use less renewable energy and drill for more oil and gas in the United States.”

Ted: “Yeah. Well, that guy really likes the young kids. If you know what I mean.”

Steve: “Are you saying he is a pedophile?”

Ted: “Oh, I’m just asking questions here. But I think we know that the answers are.”

Steve: “So you think he is wrong about energy?”
Ted: “Oh yes. Definitely. I mean, someone who is that way is going to be wrong about everything. Solar and wind baby! Solar and wind!”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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