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Here’s my response to this week’s challenge:
I don’t think pointing out somebody’s inconsistency is necessarily an ad hominem. If the inconsistency is in their point of view, then one of their beliefs refutes another of their beliefs. In the case of the death penalty, somebody might try to get you to admit that you are all for the death penalty, then use that premise as an argument against your pro-life position, like so:
1. It’s not wrong to take human life.
2. Abortion takes human life.
3. Therefore, it’s not wrong to have an abortion.
I’m not saying the argument is sound, of course. I’m just pointing out that their attempt to show an inconsistency can be used as an argument against the pro-life position that is NOT an ad hominem argument.
One of Greg’s favourite tactics with moral relativists is to show that they are inconsistent. They claim there are no objective moral values, but then they behave (and even speak) as if there are. Imagine if one of the moral relativists responded this way:
“You’re just making an ad hominem argument. The fact that I’m inconsistent doesn’t invalidate my argument for moral relativism. It’s completely irrelevant.”
If it’s fallacious for pro-choice people to use inconsistency as an argument against the pro-life position, then it’s also fallacious for moral objectivists to use inconsistency as an argument again moral relativism. The reason is because it’s essentially the same argument. But if it’s NOT fallacious for moral objectivists to use inconsistency as an argument against moral relativism, then it’s not fallacious for pro-choice people to use inconsistency as an argument against the pro-life position.
So I think it’s best just to say that pro-lifers are NOT being inconsistent. If anything, the pro-choicers are inconsistent since they apparently think it’s okay to kill the innocent, but not okay to kill the guilty (or at least that applies the pro-choice people who oppose the death penalty).
Thanks for your comment. I was thinking about what you said, but then as I reflected more on my argument, I think I stand by my claim that this IS an ad hominem. Let me offer a few thoughts.
I agree with you that claiming someone is inconsistent doesn’t always commit an ad hominem fallacy. However, in this situation it does seem to make this mistake and here’s why.
In the case of moral relativists, showing their inconsistency is to point out a contradiction: Relativists believe morals are relative (by what they SAY). Relativists don’t believe morals are relative (by what they DO). As such, their position is inconsistent and our critique of them is not an ad hominem.
The claim that a pro-lifer is inconsistent (because they believe in the death penalty) does not demonstrate any contradiction (to believe guilty murderers should be killed does not contradict that innocent children should not be killed). More importantly, it gives NO attention to the merits of the pro-life arguments (fetus is human because x,y,z). It is MERELY an attack on the person. The pro-lifer has reasons to believe their pro-life view that are independent of their position on the death penalty. As result, it is a legitimate ad hominem.
By the way, (and I’m not trying to trump you with “my boss says I’m right” 🙂 ), but I did ask Greg and he agreed with this distinction. The reason I asked him is because initially I thought you were right and I was willing to stand corrected. But as I explained the above, he agreed.
Also, I just checked Beckwith’s book Defending Life and on page 127 he also says that this charge is an ad hominem.
Anyway, hope I was clear on that.
after years of studying capital punishment i have come to some necessary concluusions about this dialectical iisue oh let me give u an 21 cen. definition of my key dialectal concerns the other 2 being infrastructure and primary school education in this benighted land i ,ve got to take a break in the action rite now so please x scuse me while i put on some classical music just for the relaxing and therauptic effect ahhh…..the conclusion by the way we r living in the midst of the stupidest generation of americans in thee last 200 plus yrs.!!look i,m from ny area i know what curruption is what dysfunctional gov,t from albany to west. and long island which gets my vote as the infrastructural toilet bowl of north am.!!listen that is a major reason i left the stupid state in 1993 an exodus not that fla. was the promised land either but here in the sunshine st. i don,t pay adime of taxes not a dime and being a vet i have a homestead exemption hallelujah!yes ny conn. nj r criminally negligent in regards to infrastructure those swine have blood bespattered hands for this systematic neglect of its roads and bridges i want to be there when these same currupt munisipal officals get the shove into hell!thanks to tourism and a vision this west coast of fl. where i live i can easily drive to a world class beach anyday of the week at 75mph to 80 mph i call this lounging in my lexus lightyears from the shelp commutes in the greater nyc area hereafter feferred to as sodom whose present ceo is the blasphemous michel bloomburg!