Three Real Examples of Ad Hominem Attacks

By Lee Raye, Tutor, ADL Online Education on May 9, 2016 in Study Tips | comments

“Any argument which does not provide evidence is invalid”. 

This is the general rule we teach at the Academy for Distance Learning. However, there are some infamous argument types which, even when they do give evidence, are still not accepted. One of the worst contenders is the ad hominem attack. 

“Ad hominem” is a Latin phrase meaning “towards the human”. An ad hominem attack is an argument directed towards a person instead of towards their argument.  The ad hominem attack is generally used when a speaker is too lazy or too closed-minded to talk about an idea directly.

Example 1: George Bush and his Accent
The previous US president, George W. Bush was famous for having trouble with speeches. Sometimes he pronounced words incorrectly or in a surprising way. At the time, this was frequently pointed out by his political rivals to make him look stupid and undermine his decisions. Of course, Bush’s decisions could be criticised in a valid way, but talking about his accent instead of his ideas is an ad hominem attack: 
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Example 2: Political Cartoons
Modern political cartoons also provide good examples of ad hominem attacks because they are often drawn in caricature style. Cartoon caricatures draw attention to imperfections in a person’s face in order to cast doubt on their ideas.

Caricatures of the leaders of the G8 by Donkey Hotel, CC BY-SA 2.0. 

Example 3: Homer’s Odyssey
Of course, ad hominem attacks are not confined to modern politics. One of our oldest examples comes from ‘The Odyssey’. In Book VIII, Euryalus tries to convince Odysseus to take part in a sports competition. When he fails he resorts to an ad hominem attack:

‘I should never have taken you for an athlete, good at any of the games men play. You are more like a skipper of a merchant crew, who spends his life on a hulking tramp, worrying about his outward freight, or keeping a sharp eye on the cargo when he comes home with his extortionate profits. No: one can see you are no athlete.’ (Rieu & Rieu, 1991: 98)

By calling Odysseus an un-athletic profiteer, Euryalus attempts to goad him into taking part. In fact, Odysseus is so proud that this works, and so shortly afterwards we get to see what Greek games looked like before the Olympics.

If you need to learn more about valid arguments you should consider ADL's online distance learning course  University Preparation Package. This course gives you a full grounding in Critical Thinking and how to make valid arguments before teaching you to apply those skills in practice with lessons in Academic Research and Writing.