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I know that the strict translation of ad hominem is against the person, but still I wonder if the logical fallacy named ad hominem is equally applicable when used against organizations. For example, it is a common argument tactic these days to dismiss a premise because its source was (take your choice) Fox News or the New York Times.

I have repeatedly had people say that the ad hominem fallacy does not apply to organizations, but only to individuals.

Say it ain't so, Joe ...

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2 Answers 2

There are two things here.

First, maybe ad hominem was historically born for using with individuals (I don't know about its history). But since its purpose is to point to a logical error, I don't see why one could not use it to refer to the same error, only applied to institutions. I don't know of a fallacy specific to insitutions, so I don't see a problem in referring to ad hominem.

Well, that said, there's the second thing. A fallacy is usually an error in argument. In this case, if one says "A because of B", I'm commiting ad hominem if I argue that it is wrong because the person saying is ugly. That is because the ugliness of a person is irrelevant to the argument's truth and validity.

Even if we use "stupid" instead of "ugly", it would still be a fallacy. Even though "stupidity" may hinder someone's capability of argumentation, their argument should be considered on its own merits.

But that doesn't mean that anything citing someone's characteristic is an ad hominem.

For example, if I say "A because of B", there is the premise B and the conclusion A. You could challenge my conclusion by saying that A logically does not follow B. Or you might challenge my premise B.

If you know I'm a pathological liar, and you don't know if B is true, then you have all the right to question my premise B based on my history of lying. So you can't say that my logic is wrong because I'm a regular liar, but you can doubt the truthness of B.

Yes, it is "against the person" in a way, but not necessarily irrelevant to the argument. Hence an ad hominem fallacy does not necessarily apply.

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Yes, the same fundamental fallacy of irrelevance that underlies ad hominem can certainly be applied to organizations. And since there is no recognized term for that variation, ad hominem is still probably the best way to describe it.

Another answer makes this point:

If you know I'm a pathological liar, and you don't know if B is true, then you have all the right to question my premise B based on my history of lying.

I disagree. If the premise is questioned solely on the basis of a history of lying, then however understandable this skepticism may be, it is still an ad hominem. You may honestly and logically profess ignorance, agnosticism, or ambivalence about the premise, but any valid argument must still address its substance.

Sometimes you will see an article published by a news organization with a reputation for inaccuracy, deserved or otherwise, in which the author attempts to compensate for the publisher's reputation by carefully laying out their arguments and citing their sources. Invariably, most critics still dismiss them out of hand. This is clearly fallacious.

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Dismissing an argument based on its source is a different fallacy than ad hominem. It's genetic fallacy. An ad hominem literally attacks the person rather than responding to the argument. Genetic fallacy responds poorly to the argument. –  virmaior 2 hours ago
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