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Ad Hominem Fallacies, Bias, and Testimony


An ad hominem fallacy is committed when an individual employs an irrelevant personal attack against an opponent instead of addressing that opponent’s argument. Many discussions of such fallacies discuss judgments of relevance about such personal attacks, and consider how we might distinguish those that are relevant from those that are not. This paper will argue that the literature on bias and testimony can helpfully contribute to that analysis. This will highlight ways in which biases, particularly unconscious biases, can make ad hominem fallacies seem effective, even when the irrelevance is recognized.

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    Following van Eemeren and Grootendorst (1992), the term “personal attack” will be used as a neutral term, without any suggestion that a fallacy is committed. The terms “ad hominem argument” and “ad hominem fallacy” will only be used to refer to fallacious personal attacks.

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I would like to thank Cindy Holder, Mike Raven, Bryan Renne, as well as two anonymous referees for helpful comments and discussions about this paper.

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Correspondence to Audrey Yap.

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Yap, A. Ad Hominem Fallacies, Bias, and Testimony. Argumentation 27, 97–109 (2013).

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  • Critical thinking
  • Informal logic
  • Ad hominem fallacies
  • Credibility
  • Testimony
  • Bias
  • Unconscious bias