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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 0:49

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.


A lot depends on context. What issue or subject is being discussed? Does the fallacy appear to be unintentional?

Keep in mind that there's a HUGE difference between the scientific/philosophical arena and the political arena. In the former, we engage in discussions with peers, colleagues or (in philosophy) interlocutors. In the political arena, we're generally talking about verbal combat.

If two or more sincere people are attempting to conduct a rational discussion, then they should be mature enough to consider all the arguments. In this spirit, if one person engages in a fallacy, I would suggest tactfully pointing out that fallacy, at the same time noting that it may have been unintentional.

You wouldn't even necessarily have to label it a "fallacy;" you could simply describe it as an illogical statement.

I would expect a group of scientists or philosophers to have a mature discussion, pointing out flaws in each other's arguments without engaging in suits. In theory, such a discussion could and should be possible in the political arena as well.

Unfortunately, politics is what it is - and it often intrudes in the scientific and philosophical arenas as well.

I generally steer clear of political discussions unless I know the person I'm talking to is sincere (e.g. honest) and relatively intelligent. But if I do find myself in a conversation that someone is deliberately trying to sabotage with fallacies, I won't hesitate to call them out.

As noted in the other answer, this might provoke your opponent into retaliating, pointing out YOUR fallacies. This is the moment of truth.

If you've been making an honest effort to discuss a topic in a rational manner, you should not have committed any fallacies. Yet it's possible to introduce faulty logic into a discussion without realizing it.

So now you have to think fast. If you've been exposed, should you admit that you committed a fallacy yourself? If so, should you elaborate or claim that it neither intentional nor as serious as your opponent's fallacy? (Notice I used the word "opponent" rather than "interlocutor.")

And will you even have time to make such an argument? Will the audience understand all your comments and arguments regarding fallacies?

As Frank Hubeny pointed out, you could wind up distracting attention from the primary topic.

Going back to square one, I'd be very careful about getting involved in a conversation with a person I don't know and respect. And if there's an audience, that suggests a public forum or media event, both of which are shamelessly rigged. Generally speaking, you'd be a fool to get roped into such a discussion.

But if I did get involved in that kind of discussion, and my opponent was trashing my logic with fallacies, I'd consider that a declaration of war, and I'd fire back.

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