0

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?

6
  • 2
    What do you think? What research did you do about the meaning of "ad hominem"?
    – herisson
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:24
  • 2
    This is an interesting borderline case. The words are describing the person making the argument and not about the argument itself. But it is not fallacious because it is about the ability to make an argument. Since a lawyer is an expert in legal arguments, it is calling into question the expert's abilities which is definitely relevant. (e.g. it is relevant to say that a doctor is a bad one because his patients keep dying but not because he kicked a dog).
    – Mitch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:02
  • For what is said to be a good argument, there needs to be support for the statement, otherwise it is just an unsubstantiated judgement (and a fallacy , just not ad hominem).
    – Mitch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:02
  • 1
    This might be better asked at philosophy.SE though as it is not particular to English.
    – Mitch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:02
  • 2
    It's definitely not ad hominem if it's in a discussion of whether the lawyer is qualified to undertake some job (though even then it's extremely discourteous.) I would say that it is ad hominem if this is part of your rebuttal of an argument he is presenting, however. (Simply saying "you have not presented a counter-argument", without "all the legal knowledge", without "cannot come up with", and without the second sentence would not be AH, though.)
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:56

3 Answers 3

2

I don't think it's ad hominem. While it doesn't go into detail, it appears to be stating that none of the lawyer's arguments are logically coherent. This is a statement about the substance of the arguments themselves, not about the lawyer's character.

However, by making such a general statement about the lawyer's arguments, and referring to all the resources he had at his disposal, which should have allowed him to do better, it's also making a statement about the lawyer's abilities. This is a valid form of argument.

In other words, what it's saying is that he's a poor lawyer because he can't come up with coherent arguments. An ad hominem attack would be to say that the arguments are incoherent because he's a bad lawyer.

2
  • 1
    I agree with this. It is an assertion (that may be either true or false), dressed up with sarcastic irony. Of course, if the assertion is correct, it should be milked it for all it is worth.
    – Mick
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:34
  • @Mick And the OP states that the assertion is true.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:35
6

Yes, it is. In this statement, you are not actually addressing any of the lawyer's arguments, you are saying that the lawyer himself is incapable of forming a coherent argument, thus attacking his character rather than his arguments or actions, which is the definition of an ad hominem attack. It is also a very mean thing to say.

Ad hominem

(Latin for 'to the man' or 'to the person')

Short for argumentum ad hominem, is a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself." (Wikipedia)

Note, however, that this statement could very easily go from ad hominem to not, simply by changing the direction of the statement from the lawyer's ability to form the arguments to the arguments themselves; as you said in a comment below, to say "you have not" rather than "you can not" and give examples of why his arguments are not coherent.

9
  • 2
    I disagree. The first sentence appears to be saying that none of the arguments were valid, so they're attacking his arguments, not his character.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:21
  • The French Wikipedia article Argumentum ad hominem contradicts the english version, stating that such arguments is refering to the previous acts or saying of the person. When denigrating the person itself, without any link to the subject, it is an Argumentum ad personam.
    – Graffito
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:28
  • @Graffito ad personam doesn't seem to get used in English. The distinction that the French seem to be making is whether the target of the attack is the conclusions or the person himself, not what the basis of the attack is.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:34
  • 1
    @Barmar, as a standalone statement, this does not actually address the arguments at all, but rather the lawyer's ability to form the arguments. If the statement addressed why the lawyer's arguments were not coherent, it would not be ad hominem, but it does not.
    – Cameron
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:57
  • 1
    @Hans, yes, if you say 'you have not' rather than 'you can not', it is not ad hominem. My answer was posted before you made your edits and I have not had access to a computer in the meantime. Your statement would be particularly strong if you gave examples as to why his arguments were not coherent, but the key here is to direct it at the comments and not the man. I am currently on my phone, but I will edit my answer once I have access to a computer again (just posting a comment on this tiny keyboard is frustrating enough!)
    – Cameron
    Feb 6, 2017 at 23:20
1

No, it is not. Oxford Online defines ad hominem:

(of an argument or reaction) directed against a person rather than the position they are maintaining:

The example:

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

This quote does not refer to any reaction or argument made by the lawyer.

Because the quote does not argue any position, it is not an argument and is not a candidate to be considered ad hominem.

It is simply a personal attack. It makes no contribution to support or to disagree with any statement. It is useless fluff, not a fallacious argument.

15
  • 2
    "does not refer to any statement or argument made by the lawyer." It seems like it refers to all of them, claiming that none of them are logically coherent.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:22
  • Unless you think it's saying that the lawyer didn't come up with any arguments at all.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:23
  • One can argue that it disparages the lawyer, over and above the merits of his argument, and that would make it AH.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:58
  • @HotLicks: Why do you say it is over and above the merits of his argument, given the statement "given that the first statement is true"?
    – Hans
    Feb 6, 2017 at 23:17
  • @Hans - Because saying "your argument has no merit" is not AH, but saying "you're an idiot and your argument has no merit" is AH, even if the argument has no merit.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 6, 2017 at 23:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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