The Power of Ad hominem

* 'When we readers perceive in ourselves as well as in Nietzsche the poison of resentment we realize how much ideas can be affected by personal feelings. Thus the importance of one of Nietzsche's most valuable tools, the ad hominem argument. Ad hominem arguments are usually considered fallacies in mainstream philosophy, but Nietzsche uses them well. He attacks people, not just ideas. And in shaming them many of the great figures of philosophy he effectively embarrasses us as well.'

* 'Nietzsche wondered what made people "tick", and he rightly suspected that what they thought and said about themselves and their ideals was almost always misleading, mistaken, or just plain fraudulent. But nowhere is self-deception and hypocrisy more rife than in those aspects of life in which ordinary people as well as philosophers and theologians tend to make grand pronouncements about such lofty subjects as God, human freedom, and morality. Nietzsche's ad hominem arguments did not so much refute the doctrines of religion and morality as undermine them by exposing the sometimes pathetic motives and emotions that motivated them.'

* 'What could be more devastating against the boastful self-righteousness of some philosophers and theologians than an ad hominem argument that undermines their credibility, that reduces their rationality and piety to petty personal envy or indignation? What could be more humiliating than an accusation against a morality that incessantly preaches against selfishness and self-interest that it, too, is in fact not only the product of impotent self-interest, but hypocritical as well? And what could be a more effective argument against theism than ridiculing the ground from which such a belief has arisen?'

Robert C. Solomon, Living with Nietzsche

Comments

Komal said…
I'm actually beginning to question whether ad hominem is even a fallacy. Same with the genetic 'fallacy'.
Anonymous said…
Solomon says N is using ad hominem arguments, even fallacies. He is wrong. N is denying a premise in the arguments of his opponents; such as the premise that religion has holy motives, or the premise that art is disinterested, etc.

N respected logic.

As for Kamal's doubts about the fallaciousness of well known fallacies, the doubts you are having will not overcome a tautology. Fallacies are actual mistakes. There are cases that look like fallacy but are not, such as denying a premise about motive, as discussed above. Another is the qualifying of sources. "he is desperate, such people are to be avoided, therefore, he is to be avoided" is not a fallacy, though it may contain a false premise. But, 'he is desperate, such people are to be avoided, therefore, his claim C is false' is a fallacy because the premises are irrelevant.