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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Ad Hominem

One form of argumentation that is often mistaken for the logical fallacy of name-calling, or labeling, is argumentum ad hominem (“ad hominem”). I think it’s important to understand how this type of dispute functions so that one knows how it may or may not serve one’s intentions regarding persuasion.

According to one source, “Ad hominem means ‘against the man,” and this “type of fallacy occurs when someone attacks the person instead of attacking his or her argument.” Noteworthy, there’s a subtle difference between this fallacy and labeling.

Unlike name-calling, whereby an insult about the person is made (e.g., “Okay, Boomer”), an ad hominem attack smears the individual as an ineffective source of knowledge or ability (e.g., “Do you even know how to code?”).

Saying someone is ineffective at coding because the person is of the baby boomer generation—who presumably has few technological skills—meets ad hominem criteria. To better understand how ad hominem works, consider the following clarification from one source:

Logical Form:

Person 1 is claiming Y.

Person 1 is a moron.

Therefore, Y is not true.

Example #1:

My opponent suggests that lowering taxes will be a good idea – this is coming from a woman who eats a pint of Ben and Jerry’s each night!

Explanation: The fact that the woman loves her ice cream has nothing to do with the lowering of taxes, and therefore, is irrelevant to the argument. Ad hominem attacks are usually made out of desperation when one cannot find a decent counter argument.

Although ad hominem arguments can be unhelpful, they aren’t always inaccurate. Of this, one source reports that clearly distinguishing between cases of appropriate and inappropriate usage is important when “evaluating the validity of statements people make to us about others. Good or fair uses of ad hominem critiques should, in fact, persuade us, whereas unwarranted uses should not.”

Using an example of an appropriate character critique that doesn’t rise to the standard of ad hominem, consider the following fictional scenario:

Several years ago, person X was found guilty of having operated an illegal dogfighting ring in Gladitdoesntexist, Alabama. Now, he owns and operates a doggy daycare in Itgetsreallyhotin, Texas. Customer Y conducts an internet search and discovers person X’s past abuse behavior. Confronting the doggy daycare owner, customer Y states, “You have a history of animal abuse and are unfit to care for dogs!”

Given person X’s criminal background relating to abusive behavior towards animals, customer Y’s argument is relevant and fair. Therefore, at minimum, customer Y’s critique of person X’s character may warrant further examination of the argument at hand.

To determine the persuasiveness of customer Y’s argument, I ask whether or not you would leave your dog in the care of person X. Well, would you?

Keep in mind that herein, I’m not arguing that person X shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to own and operate a doggy daycare. This is because I’m uninterested in demanding that people must follow my prescriptions of the world in such a way.

Instead, I’m making a case for logic and reason as a means of persuasion. Then again, you probably wouldn’t understand why I take this stance since you had to turn to a psychotherapist’s blogpost to learn about ad hominem attacks.

(See what I did there?)

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


Excelsior Online Writing Lab. (n.d.). Ad hominem fallacy. Excelsior University. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 31). Demandingness. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 5). Description vs. prescription. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, November 10). Labeling. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2023, January 8). Logic and reason. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Hollings, D. (2022, October 7). Should, must, and ought. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

Logically Fallacious. (n.d.). Ad hominem (abusive). Retrieved from

Raley, Y. (2008, June 1). Character attacks: How to properly apply the ad hominem. Scientific American. Retrieved from

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