3

Well, I was discussing some topic with a really brilliant and gifted PhD. It seems we couldn't understand each other and we strongly disagreed about all our arguments.

Even if I still think her arguments were wrong, let's assume that she is probably right, and I am probably wrong, as she is a brilliant scientist.

At some point she said it was a waste of time to argue with a stupid person like me. Should it be considered "Ad Hominem" even in cases like this? Or perhaps just a way to put into words that she couldn't explain herself better? Or perhaps a way to put into words that she thinks I lack the skills to understand her arguments?

3

Ad hominem occurs when in the course of argument we don't defend our position or attack the opponent's arguments but attack the opponent with whom we are arguing. We state or imply that our opponent is not the right or an appropriate person to make the arguments they are using or perhaps even to discuss the subject. In the case you describe your opponent argued, she advanced considerations against your position, and you did the same against her. When all her arguments failed to persuade you or she couldn't find a good counter-argument, she then said that since you were impervious to her arguments, it was 'a waste of time to argue with a stupid person' such as you. She ceased to attack your argument, and attacked you instead.

I assume you are not stupid, and so abusing you was irrelevant to your arguments.

It is not the case, let me clarify, that to call someone 'stupid' as grounds for terminating an argument is always fallacious. It might be that someone really is stupid and in no position to argue a point, and it may be a perfectly legitimate (if hardly diplomatic or gentle) move to dismiss them as stupid or otherwise incompetent. Attacking the person may be the most effective way to avoid wasting time all round. I have concentrated on the circumstances you described, and in those circumstances I think ad hominen did occur and not legitimately.

Reply

My answer has been criticised on the grounds that 'A fallacy is always an argument or part of an argument (although it may be implicit/implied/understated). If somebody just calls you stupid, that's not necessarily their argument, it may just be them stating their opinion.'

I reply that argument did occur on both sides - indeed, extended argument. The termination of that argument on the opponent's side was an accusation of stupidity; unable to defeat the OP's arguments, or at least to persuade him that he was wrong, the opponent impeached his status as a competent opponent. This was not ad hominem ? Not an attack, and for the matter of that presumably unjustifiable, on the mental capacity of the opponent rather than on the opponent's arguments ?

4

No, but not quite for the reason of the accepted answer. An ad hominem argument is of the structure:

"A is so because Person X is a "bad" person." (where A is the proposition you are trying to argue for, Person X is who you are arguing against, and "bad" is whatever character flaw you want).

Whereas that is not the structure of what your argument opponent used. Your opponent used actual arguments (presumably), but in the end, simply gave up on arguing with you. She then cited her reason why she gave up, which is that you are unable to understand her arguments. That is not the same thing as a support for her position; it's just an explanation for why she is giving up.

  • But the explanation for giving up perhaps includes an implicit ad hominem fallacy, right? As I said, both of us had our arguments. We couldn't agree after hours. When you give up, claiming your opponent is stupid, aren't you trying to claim your arguments are the right ones? I agree it is not exactly the same as support for her position, but there is some implicit support. – sapito Jul 30 '18 at 18:55
  • @sapito Imagine your opponent could win $10k + $x if a panel of judges--experts in logical fallacies--decides all her "submitted" arguments on this matter are not fallacies. An argument is "submitted" if she decides to include it in her application to this panel. For each point of argument she made and submits to the judges, she gets $100 extra. Now, do you think she would wish to include "you're too stupid" as one of her submitted arguments for her case, even though she'd lose $100 by excluding it? No--she knows it was never a valid argument, nor was it ever intended as one. – Chelonian Jul 31 '18 at 5:24
  • perhaps I am introducing superfluous details. But the fact that she called me stupid after we closed the topic, sounded to me as "ad hominem" last argument in order to try to support her position. Why calling someone stupid if the arguments are already over? – sapito Jul 31 '18 at 10:55
  • 1
    @sapito You're just repeating yourself. We've all already explained this. – Chelonian Jul 31 '18 at 16:30
  • Her calling you stupid is not necessarily any more an argument (and appears not to be, in this case) than if she said that she didn't have time to argue with you. ("Ad hominem" applies only to arguments.) – John B. Lambe Nov 23 '18 at 16:38
3

She didn't say "Your argument for X is wrong because you are stupid / uneducated / young / male / whatever", She said, "I don't wish to waste more of my time trying to explain (presumably valid) arguments to you, because I believe you won't understand them." That's just an expression that she values her time, and has nothing to do with the quality of her arguments (which may or may not be valid for other reasons).

1

The answer by Geoffrey Thomas is Wrong.

A fallacy is always an argument or part of an argument (although it may be implicit/implied/understated). If somebody just calls you stupid, that's not necessarily their argument, it may just be them stating their opinion.

If you assume that it's an ad hominem fallacy, you are implicitly making the assumption that the insult was made with a specific intent to miscredit your argument or otherwise move focus away from it. But this assumption is not necessarily justified. It often is, but not always. In fact, by making this assumption, you are the one being fallacious.

  • Thank you for your forthrightness. Argument does occur on both sides - indeed, extended argument. The termination of that argument on the opponent's side is an accusation of stupidity; unable to defeat the OP's arguments, or at least to persuade him that he is wrong, the opponent impeaches his status as a competent opponent. This is not ad hominem - an appeal to the ignorance of the individual, an attack on the mental capacity of the opponent rather than a continuation of solid argument ? – Geoffrey Thomas Jul 31 '18 at 6:35
  • 1
    +1 because I accept, what I never meant to deny, that there is not always Ad hominen in an accusation of stupidity. – Geoffrey Thomas Jul 31 '18 at 6:51
1

"Fallacy" is about something being a correct logical argument. If you are (hypothetically obviously) stupid, then you are less likely to be able to find correct logical arguments that prove correct statements, but just because you can't find a logical argument for something doesn't mean it's not true, and just because you are stupid doesn't mean your argument must be wrong. So that conclusion would be a logical fallacy.

However, we have arguments because we want to convince someone else, or learn something from someone who turns out to know better, and often because we enjoy an argument. So it's perfectly fine for her to say "It's pointless to argue with you, because you are too stupid to understand my arguments, you are not clever enough so I can learn from you, and I frankly don't enjoy it".

  • "It's pointless to argue with you, because you are too stupid to understand my arguments, you are not clever enough so I can learn from you, and I frankly don't enjoy it"... Are you sure this is not a fallacy? As the other person is claiming your arguments are wrong, but you say "you are too stupid to understand them"... What if your arguments are wrong, and the other person is not "too stupid"? It seems you assume that everytime somebody says so, this person has the right arguments. – sapito Jul 31 '18 at 12:34
1

"You're stupid, so your argument is wrong" is ad hominem, and that's not what she said. "Your argument is stupid, so you're stupid" is not ad hominem, because it doesn't try to devalue your argument based on who you are. It does require establishing that your argument is stupid, and your argument partner presumably was confident that your argument was stupid.

  • "your argument is stupid, so you're stupid" even if not ad hominem, seems to include several other fallacies anyway :) – sapito Aug 2 '18 at 7:19
  • "Your argument is stupid, so you're stupid" won't work as a general rule, but there's nothing inherently fallacious in it. – David Thornley Aug 2 '18 at 20:12
  • 1
    Hasty generalization at least: it is a fallacy. Even if the argument is actually stupid, claiming that somebody is stupid based only on one of his arguments, is fallacious. – sapito Aug 3 '18 at 6:29
0

Does ad hominem require that there be a fixed self to be, say, accused of being stupid ? If so, and there is no unique, stupid self, then there is no target for her judgement. It would therefore not be ad hominem even if it was intended as such.

Also, consider that she may have an IQ well above average, and that she judges anyone below hers but above 100 to be stupid when in fact they are merely average. Her reasoning would be fallacious again.

Really I think you need to provide both her definition of self and her definition of stupid before a judgement can be made on whether it was ad hominem or not.

-1

I would venture to guess that many famous philosophers looked down on the people around them as "stupid," irrational, uneducated or whatever.

As a political activist, I quickly learned that most U.S. citizens don't have a clue about politics - not just government, but the schools their children attend, office politics, etc. There are very few people I discuss politics with for the simple reason that most of them are apathetic, ignorant, stupid, mentally impaired or a combination of all the above.

That isn't a fallacy, and I wouldn't even be quick to call it name calling. It's a statement of fact, or at least opinion, and the popularity of the term sheeple supports my opinion.

Looking at it from another perspective, I doubt that many people would want to discuss mathematics with me, because I absolutely loathe math. I have a pretty good grasp of communications skills, but my math skills are very low. I don't think of myself as "stupid," but that would actually be more honest than calling myself a math whiz.

So the answer to your question is NO - calling someone stupid isn't always a fallacy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.