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If I say to a lawyer

It is all the more ironic that with all that legal knowledge at your disposal you have not come up with a single logically coherent argument or couter-argument. I do not know whether your clients should laugh or cry.

Given that the first statement is true, does the statement constitute ad hominem?

  • @JohnAm: I would not think this is irony. Irony refers to a statement where the literal meaning differs from the underlying one. I would think it is sarcasm. If you do not think it is ad hominem, could you please give a reason? – Hans Feb 7 '17 at 20:13
  • @JohnAm: I agree with your explanation of ad hominem. However, I do not think translate.google.com is a good source for making subtle distinction of words. A much better source is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony#Definitions. According to that source, irony and sarcasm are not the same, although they may overlap in some cases. As I have stated in my first comment, irony refers to a statement where the literal meaning differs from the underlying one. My statement means what it says. So it is not irony. – Hans Feb 7 '17 at 22:55
  • @JohnAm: On the other hand, according to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcasm, the second second sentence in my statement is sharp, cutting and taunting, so it is a sarcasm. – Hans Feb 7 '17 at 22:57
  • which statement? if you mean the first, no it is not an ad hominem argument. an ad hominen would be more like "you are a well-known jackass and child molester, therefore whatever you say is wrong." but your first sentence does not attack the person. – user20153 Feb 7 '17 at 23:55
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I am just answering the question since there is no reason to leave this question marked as being unanswered.

The given set of statements does not constitute an argumentum ad hominem fallacy. For the fallacy to occur, the following two conditions must be met:

  1. An irrelevant appeal is made, and
  2. An argument must be present.

The given set satisfies neither. The appeal to him being a lawyer is relevant (violating 1) to the conclusion (criticism) of his inability to present an argument (violating 2).


Thanks, Dwarf, for the comments! I offer a reference for the two conditions of mine. This is an article you can assess on the internet: "Argumentation Schemes and Historical Origins of the Circumstantial Ad Hominem Argument" (http://www.dougwalton.ca/papers%20in%20pdf/04historical.pdf) by D. N. WALTON

Not all attacks on character should be classified as ad hominem arguments. To qualify as an ad hominem argument, the character attack must be used in a dialogue in a certain way. One party must use it to attack an argument put forward by the other. (italics mine) (p.362)

Walton provides the basis for the two conditions:

  1. The character attack must be based on the irrelevant aspect of the presenter relating to the argument.

  2. The character attack must be used as an attack of the argument put forward by the presenter.

Walton's idea is commonly adopted in academia. For example, http://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/person.html in II, A, 2 asserts as follows:

Note that for the argumentum ad hominem fallacy to occur, (1) an irrevelant appeal is made and (2) a (logical) argument must be present.

  • I'm voting against this, since we aren't done the honor of being told who lays down these "conditions". – user26700 Jun 22 '17 at 20:12
  • @Dwarf, I added a reference. – Nanhee Byrnes PhD Jun 22 '17 at 21:48
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    @Dwarf There is no place for this habit you have of running around pointlessly insulting people and then being aghast at any correction given to you. It needs to go. – user9166 Jun 23 '17 at 18:20
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Given that the first statement is true, does the statement constitute ad hominem?

It depends how one understands the phrase "ad hominem". It is often simply used to mean an insult or abuse. I would say your statement likely is abusive, it sounds so. But that is to impute it with a certain intent. Common sense would hold it to be ad hominem, this is the usage now current on the Senate Floor of the U.S..

If it means an informal logical fallacy, concerning ruling out an argument, a priori, because of its source, that's wrong because you are stupid, ergo, all you say is wrong, then I would say this does not fit. Because as a matter of logic we can't bring in common sense, thus we must believe that the premise "you have not come up with a single logically coherent argument or counter-argument" is a fact. And not what it likely is, an insult or mere depreciation.

In the tradtion ad hominem was largely a phrase used to oppose eristic argumentation. Standing back and saying things without exposing oneself to persuasion. In the current usage, "adversarial" is what is opposed to ad hominem in the sense of the tradition. In Plato's Republic for instance, Socrates uses ad hominem argumentation to show Polemarchus that he did not truly have the opinion about Justice he believed himself to have. This was possible because he entered the argument in a friendly fashion, exposing his being to transformation. Of course, a defense attorney would be wrong to do that, since he would thereby abandon his duty to zealously defend his client, it is for the judge to enter the argument in that situation.

  • Could you please explicate your statement "Socrates uses ad hominem argumentation to show Polemarchus that he did not truly have the opinion about Justice he believed himself to have. This was possible because he entered the argument in a friendly fashion, exposing his being to transformation."? It is not clear to me this logic derivation of the transformation of initially friendly fashion into adversarial argument helps with forming a logical argument. – Hans Jun 25 '17 at 23:02
  • Polemarchus, unlike, Thrasymachus (who was more like someone trained in lawyerly adversarial method, the modern form of agonistics and eristics), was ready to enter into the argument. To expose his opinion, himself, to change. He saw that his thoughtless opinion, Justice is returning what is owed, was insufficient.He, he himself, changed. Principle is here, in the formal definition, a high way of saying opinion. Opinion that is the product of diologic discussion, or of serious deliberation. It's in essence the dogmatic or inner, rather than empiric or outer-historical, which ad hominem names. – user26700 Jun 26 '17 at 17:42
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The content appears in the conclusory first sentence, relating to the poor quality of the legal argument. The example assumes this sentence to be true.

The implication is as follows. Because of the absence of a coherent legal argument, the lawyer's clients should (a) laugh or (b) cry. The speaker does not know which.

Take the implication as a straight (non-sarcastic) statement. There is a lot of information missing. For example, the implication assumes without proof that there exists some situation where a client should laugh, and others where the client should cry, but the statement offers nothing to resolve this issue. In other words, accepting the argument at face value drains it of its meaning. It does not get as far as being fallacious.

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