If I were in an argument, and my opponent was to use perhaps ad hominem and I caught it and pointed it out, what purpose does it serve? May I dismiss his/her argument or can I only acknowledge it as being fallacious?

Is there anything that I can do or is there no point in even flagging their argument?

  • 3
    It depends on the purpose of the argument you are having, and the nature of the opponent. What is that for you? Is it to have fun, to win, to decide something? Does your opponent argue in good faith, does he care about being logical, etc. ?
    – Conifold
    Mar 31, 2016 at 0:35
  • If it were a formal debate, in this situation, what purpose does it have and what can I do with it?
    – user20118
    Mar 31, 2016 at 0:38
  • I have to say that this is probably too far down the "opinion based" road to really fit well with Philosophy.SE. However, my preference is a very sly ab hominem attack, if I may invent such a named attack. "The position I am opposing is so hopelessly futile that the best defense that can be made for it is an ad hominem fallacy like my friend across the isle just made." =)
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 4:12
  • Regarding your second question asked- if you dismiss the conclusion, you are committing something called the fallacy fallacy (rationalwiki.org/wiki/Fallacy_fallacy) P1: Argument A supports proposition P. P2: Argument A contains a logical fallacy. C1: Proposition P is false. I have run into this fallacy before (either myself or another committing it), but we cannot dismiss a conclusion solely based upon one person's fallacioius logic
    – Matt
    Mar 31, 2016 at 17:29
  • 1
    So if I can't dismiss it from a fallacy, then what is the point of them? Were they created so that during debates they had a sort of "fair fighting" tone to them? (i.e. to prevent people from insulting one another or blatantly misrepresenting their arguments)
    – user20118
    Apr 1, 2016 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


If one is involved in a discussion such as the logical problem of evil or the logical possibility of philosophical zombies, if an opponent makes a formal logical error this needs to be corrected. The content of the argument is about the correctness of the logic. The audience expects both sides to correct the other's logical errors.

If one is faced with an informal fallacy such as the irrelevance fallacy of ad hominem one has to pay especial attention to the audience. Irrelevance and ambiguity (see Copi's classification) side-track the argument. Your goal is to get the argument back on track, not correct the opponent.

Bo Bennett warns if you do decide to accuse an opponent of an informal fallacy:

...what you certainly should be prepared for, is your opponents pointing out your fallacies....

Pointing out informal logical fallacies may only further distract focus from what is important in the argument.

Rhetorical discourse assumes there is a wider audience than the immediate opponent in an argument. One must keep this audience in mind when responding to any informal fallacies.

Bennett, B. "Being a Smart-Ass" Retrieve on May 31 from Logically Fallacious at https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/207/Being-a-Smart-Ass

Copi, I. M. Introduction to Logic. Macmillan. 1982.

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