Saturday, December 14, 2002

Word of the Day: Ad Hominem

I haven't done a "Word of the Day" for a while, so I thought I would indulge myself. As ususal I shall introduce it by citing the Macquarie Dictionary definition (which, in light of the comment I've made here might lay me open to charges of hypocrisy, but I can live with that. That wouldn't be an ad hominem argument anyway, but straight out vituperation):

1. appealing to a person's prejudices or special interests, instead of to their intellect: an argument ad hominem. 2. relying on personal attack.

Now, anyone who can count will notice that the Macquarie gives two distinct senses of the word. Unfortunately, a lot of people who should really know better confuse any personal abuse during the course of intellectual debate with an argument ad hominem, overlooking the much more prevalent and devious use of the first type of ad hominem argument. Personally, I can see nothing wrong with giving the original thinking of the hypocrite and the creativity of the liar the acknowledgement that is their due, as long as you can demonstrate them. Let's not confuse the icing with the cake.

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