“An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: “argument to the man”, “argument against the man”) consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject.
It is most commonly used to refer specifically to the ad hominem abusive, or argumentum ad personam, which consists of criticizing or attacking the person who proposed the argument (personal attack) in an attempt to discredit the argument. It is also used when an opponent is unable to find fault with an argument, yet for various reasons, the opponent disagrees with it.”
The ‘Old Boys Club’
Product defects plague a company’s profitability; warranty repairs, returns, and lost sales robbing the organization of its already slim profit margins. Executives assembled an engineering team to assess product designs and material quality in hopes of identifying a root cause to the defective product issue. A junior member of the assessment team, a young, recently hired assembly line supervisor, identifies the lack of routine calibration of critical cutting tools as a contributor to the poor fit of key product components. The tenured company engineers on the team discount the supervisor’s observation because he’s too young and too new to know what’s really important. These senior engineers have just made an ad hominem argument to advance their position.
Ad hominem arguments are bias-based logic fallacies made to support business decisions every day. As with all logic errors, decision-makers fall prey to the appearance of reasonableness, especially when the assertion supports their desired course of action. Although difficult, recognizing and eliminating the use of ad hominem arguments in decision-making is absolutely necessary.
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Additional insight to the warning signs, causes, and results of logic errors can be found in the StrategyDriven website feature: Decision-Making Warning Flag 1 – Logic Fallacies Introduction.
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