Lesson 2: Ad Hominem Circumstantial (Preview Content)
In this session, teacher Joelle Hodge leads the discussion about the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy. This fallacy is similar to the ad hominem abusive fallacy in that it attacks a person; but note that it attacks the opponent’s circumstances in particular rather than simply generally abusing the opponent.
Outline of Session
(00:20) A student distinguishes the ad hominem abusive from the ad hominem circumstantial.
(01:04) Definition of ad hominem circumstantial from the Art of Argument textbook. They “try to discredit an opponent because of his background, affiliations, or self-interest in the matter at hand.”
(01:57) Joelle provides an example of an ad hominem circumstantial—using the example of a student who wants to film this video series at her house because she doesn’t want to bother with getting ready to go to another location. This is attacking the student’s “circumstances,” instead of the real issue.
(04:01) Dr. Perrin introduces another example of an ad hominem circumstantial.
(5:22) The students exchange good-natured attacks on each other, based on the circumstances surrounding each of them.
(06:27) Joelle points out that many arguments quickly go off track and devolve into ad hominem attacks. Thus, the necessity of staying focused on “What is the issue at hand?”
(07:06) Seth gives another example—a person from England can’t understand the American governmental system because she is from a country which has a monarchy.
(08:41) A student brings up the example of abortion—some may argue that a man cannot be pro-life because of his gender (his circumstance).
(10:30) Dr. Perrin notes that this is a good example of a common maxim in the Art of Argument textbook—“That may be true, but it’s irrelevant.”
(11:29) Joelle asks the students to dig deeper into how someone would feel when they are attacked by an ad hominem circumstantial.
(12:55) Dr. Perrin shifts the discussion to the topic of women in combat.
(14:34) Dr. Perrin points out that many disagreements between children and parents (or students and teachers) boil down to an ad hominem circumstantial—“You can’t understand because you’re older/younger!”
(16:05) Joelle reminds everyone of the necessity to bring arguments back to the issue at hand, and to not be distracted by circumstances.