During an argument with some people, I come to the conclusion that they are either stupid, ignorant or liars.

Let's imagine that we have 2 guys discussing what color they should be painting a room. Person 1 clearly wants his way (paint it black), and refuses any and all arguments from Person 2. Person 2 attempts to reason with Person 1, and provides several good reasons not to paint it black. Person 1 responds with insults.

Person 1 clearly appears to be insensible and illogical. This can be due to being ignorant (not understanding the premise/vocabulary), it can be due to being a liar (pretending to be ignorant), or alternatively it can be due to being stupid.

Assuming Person 1 is being honest in this situation, and understands the language completely, it's relatively safe to assume that he's stupid. The problem is the following:

After concluding someone is stupid, via logic, when is it ethical/correct/not a fallacy to point out that that person is, in fact, stupid?

Furthermore, is it acceptable to attempt to continue trying to provide arguments against such people?

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    Insult is a concept of law for the most part. And there, the subjective feeling that it is an utterance that goes against one's honor. Even if it was, in some sense, true. As an aside: Never argue with an idiot - he will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience. – Philip Klöcking Feb 23 '16 at 8:55
  • I understand what you mean. And Thank you for reminding me of that, it's something I haven't thought about in a long time. However, the question somewhat stands, it would be an attack at the person in order to descredit him, however, it's forced due to the absence of arguments from the person who (following that logic) proved itself to be >insert adjective<. In that case, the "ad hominem" would be true, and by definition of the adjective (eg: stupid), it would mean that his own arguments are illogical and thus (regarding that conversation), you... wouldn't really need anything else to argue – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 9:10
  • Think another way: Even if you are provoked, offended, mobbed, etc. by a person and you would've had a looooong list of good reasons and (subjectively) no other option left - it would still be unethical (and illegal!) to beat this person but to stop an ongoing attack. Every single slap, kick or whatever that goes further will be wrong. Now, do you really think it can possibly be ethical to insult a person just because he is ... not intelligent? It is you that crosses the line. And you should know and do better than that. – Philip Klöcking Feb 23 '16 at 9:17
  • That example itself would be a good discussion for chat, as, for example it could raise the question on how to stop someone who won't stop 'ad hominem' attacks. You could try to get a restraining order, but it's unlikely it would succeed, on the other hand, you could beat him into being quiet after the legal attempt failed. On another note, thank you for your input. It does make a great point regarding on whether bad traits should be pointed out or not. – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 9:23
  • After a comment to my post I conclude that this question has nothing whatever to do with philosophy. – gnasher729 Feb 23 '16 at 14:57

Logic and rhetoric are not linked in this way. There is no point at which the quality of a human being's ability to interact has anything to do with his logic. So there is no point where an ad hominem fallacy stops being bad logic.

That does not mean it is bad behavior, especially not bad psychology. Shame is an appropriate rhetorical and psychological tool. You don't need input from philosophers, you need input from the Super-Nanny. 'The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense' suggests that the appropriate way of dealing with arguments that are not arguments is to pretend you only understand logical statements until the other party becomes bored with you, and then start the argument over without them.

  • So, yu're implying that an ad hominem attack, whether the adjective used being factually true or not is still ad hominem, and as such making said attack a falacy rather than an argument for 'You are incapable of Argumenting, this is done'? – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 16:42
  • @Oak Ad hominem belongs to a larger class of fallacies called relevance fallacies. It doesn't matter whether what you're saying is true or not if it has no bearing on the argument at hand. – Era Feb 23 '16 at 16:47
  • @Era Exactly. However if you sucessfully prove that the person is incapable of providing logical arguments, wouldn't branding that person as incapable be considered (at least for that discussion) somewhat of a meta argument? Meaning, due to being incapable of providing arguments, it's stands to reason that it's highly unlikely that any of the following arguments are actually logical – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 16:52
  • You never know when someone is incapable of providing arguments, only when they are actually doing so or failing to do so. Making them willing to behave and display their actual abilities is psychology, not logic. Predicting behavior that is determined by motives is also a use of psychology beyond logic. – jobermark Feb 23 '16 at 17:47
  • Assuming the irrational person will not suddenly become reliable is as reasonable as assuming that the opposite never happens. But we see that all the time -- someone makes sense until you hit a nerve, or an area of ignorance they wish to avoid, and suddenly they emit a bizarre and unconsidered argument. – jobermark Feb 23 '16 at 18:00

We are usually talking about the "ad hominem fallacy": Claiming something about the person making an argument doesn't make the argument right or wrong, and assuming it does is a fallacy.

It's not a fallacy if you don't make any claims about the argument. "I hate X and there is no way I do what they propose, whether it's right or wrong". You made no claim about any statement or argument by X. You just hate X. That's not a fallacy.

Of course what Person 3 says is an "ad hominem attack". Which doesn't make it a fallacy. When Person 3 says "I can't take him seriously because...", well, you can decide if that is enough of a serious (fallacious) argument to call it an "ad hominem fallacy" or not. If you are discussing fashion then "I can't take him serious because he is ugly" is surely an ad hominem fallacy. If you are discussing physics, then I would say that statement is so much nonsense that it isn't even worth being called a "fallacy".

  • The question isn't whether the example conversation contains fallacies, but rather After concluding someone is stupid, via logic, when is it ethical/correct/not a fallacy to point out that that person is, in fact, stupid? Furthermore, is it accepteable to attempt to continue trying to provide arguments against such people? – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 11:08
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    @Oak you seem to be conflating several distinct questions. The ethical or "acceptability" of calling someone stupid has nothing to do with the content of the argument you're having with that person. It's always irrelevant to the argument to point out that a person is stupid (unless their argument somehow hinges on their not being stupid). Whether you choose to continue arguing with someone is a matter of personal judgment, and has nothing particularly to do with logic. – Era Feb 23 '16 at 16:52
  • Televised Political Debates for example. If person A is mostly throwing false arguments and ad hominem attacks, wouldn't that be making it so others conclude that Person A is likely to be illogical, and as such further arguments wouldn't be taken into consideration? – Oak Feb 23 '16 at 17:00

Someone's "stupidity" may change the probability of him making a strong argument, but it does not change the strength or validity of any argument he happens to have made. You seem to be asking whether, in a situation where your opponent is substituting personal attacks for reasoned arguments, you can be justified for responding in kind. It certainly isn't illegal or unethical, but it also isn't valid logic. Anytime you challenge ANYTHING except the structure of the argument and/or the truth of the premises, you've exited the world of logic. If your goal is to imitate someone you've already judged as stupid by trading insults, there's nothing to stop you. If your goal is to present the better arguments, however, you'll not want to take that option.

You appear to have created a strong argument indicating that reason is wasted on this person. Your argument implies that for this person arguments and insults are equivalent --that insults might actually be more effective. But that result does NOT magically transmute insults into arguments, it just implies that your interlocutor can't tell the difference.

NOTE: You could make an argument along the lines of "You are demonstrably too stupid to make a good decision, therefore you should let me make the decision." In this case, the person's stupidity isn't functioning as an insult or ad hominem attack, it's being treated as a meaningful fact about the person and his capacity. If the premise is true, the argument is, in fact, strong. It's hard to imagine anyone responding well to such an argument, however.

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