"You are an idiot" Is this an ad hominem?

From my understanding, calling someone an idiot is not an ad hominem. How can I explain that it is not an ad hominem in an easy way (unless I am wrong).

Furthermore, are these ad hominem?

“You are defensive”

“Only an idiot would think that.”

Any resources would be much appreciated.

It’s only an ad hominem if you are engaging in a debate. IOW, “your position does not have merit because you are an idiot.”

If you are just calling someone an idiot, it’s just an insult (or possibly a factual statement about their intelligence level).

In Latin, ad hominem means “at the man.” It means you are attacking the person instead of the argument. What makes something an ad hominem is not whether it’s personally insulting per se, but if a personal insult is used as a response to a logical argument or assertion.

“You’re an idiot,” all by itself is not an ad hominem outside the context of some sort of logical debate or argument.

Responding with “you’re an idiot” to someone saying, I believe in God because the stars are so beautiful." is an ad hominem. The insulter is responding to an argument with an insult rather than with a rebuttal to the substance of the argument.

They all seem like A Hs to me. Can you give us an example of something you think is an A H?

Incidentally, ad hominems can be used in the third person too, and can include trying to rebut a citation by attacking the character of the person being cited.


“Newton said that an object at rest will stay at rest unless something puts it in motion.”
“Yeah, well, Newton believed in alchemy.”

What about this one? “Only an idiot would think that.”

That’s an ad hom, yes.

Okay, I’m confused. This website http://plover.net/~bonds/adhominem.html

says: "Put briefly, ad hominem is “You are an ignorant person, therefore your arguments are wrong”, and not “Your arguments are wrong, therefore you are an ignorant person.” The latter statement may be fallacious, but it’s not an ad hominem fallacy. "

I don’t know why it would be an ad hominem to tell someone that they are an idiot if they believe that drinking mercury is healthy. Only an idiot would think that.

Also, what about implying? Is “you are an idiot” an ad hominem simply because it could imply that the person is too stupid to form an argument? I don’t think it’s an ad hominem, but I want to learn about the reasoning.

Knigel writes:

> I don’t know why it would be an ad hominem to tell someone that they are an
> idiot if they believe that drinking mercury is healthy.

It’s bad rhetorical strategy. In an argument you’re trying to convince the person you’re talking to of the correctness of your argument. If they think that drinking mercury is good for them, you can quote a doctor’s opinion or show them a medical journal’s article on the subject and thus demonstrate that there is a lot they need to learn about the effects of mercury on humans. Telling them that and showing them the standard medical opinion of the subject is implicitly assuming that they are rational and willing to change their opinion on the topic. Telling them that they are an idiot is giving up on them. It’s telling them that they are too stupid to understand any arguments you make and not worthy of your time in talking to them.

Look at it the other way around. Suppose you are arguing with someone and at some point they call you an idiot for your poor arguments. Now if you were able to be completely objective you could say to yourself that either (A) that person is wrong and just prefers to give up on arguments and insult people or that (B) you are wrong and are just not intelligent enough to understand their arguments. Which one are you likely to assume, (A) or (B)? Are you actually that objective? Are you really willing to give up arguing if someone tells you that you are too stupid to follow their arguments? Do you understand then that other people will tend to act the same way and not be persuaded when you tell them that they are idiots?

Another resource I use.

Wikipedia’s master list, although it’s not as easy to use as Kosopedia.

What if you’re debating in front of an audience, and the goal is to convince them?

The people in your audience will consist of three groups:

(A) The ones who already largely agree with you

(B) The ones who already largely agree with the person you are debating

© The ones who are undecided

The people in group (A) probably won’t become more convinced of your arguments because you called the other person an idiot. They may in fact become annoyed with you because, even though they mostly agree with you, you aren’t making a good argument. The people in group (B) will probably become more angry with you if you call the person you’re arguing with an idiot. Implicitly you are also calling them idiots. The people in group © will probably not become more convinced because you called the other person an idiot. There’s some chance that they may also enjoy insulting people themselves and thus enjoy your insults, but there’s also some chance that they will dislike the whole idea of insulting people.

“You are an idiot” is not an ad homenin.

“You are a Republican/Democrat/Atheist/Liberal/whatever, therefore your argument is invalid and you are wrong and an idiot” is.

The meaning isn’t the obvious ad hominem “Your statements are idiotic because you are an idiot.”, it’s “Your idiotic statements make it clear to everyone that you’re an idiot.”

For group (A), aren’t you just saying that it’s a bad argument because it’s a bad argument?

Imagine a scenario in which your opponent is as coherent as this woman. Responding simply with “You’re an idiot.” is akin to declaring “The arguments you just made are so poorly thought-out that no effort on my part is required to refute them. It is already clear to everyone that they have no merit.” If this debate is on a message board, the entire message is quoted for effect.

Group © may become less receptive to your opponent’s other arguments. Some members of group (B) may be to embarrassed to step in and rephrase your opponent’s ramblings (some of which sway some members of group © if presented skillfully), even if they can’t be swayed to your side. Members of group (A) may become more enthusiastic in their support of your position (“You wouldn’t believe this idiot who was arguing in favor of <policy I oppose> the other day…”). You risk losing these gains if you dignify your opponent’s feeble arguments with a courteous point-by-point refutation.

I’m not saying that it obeys all of the formal rules of logic and rhetoric, but simply calling your idiotic opponent an idiot can be an effective strategy.

In cases like that it’s best to simply walk away from the argument after making your best case. I’m not convinced that people who already agree with you are necessarily more likely to become more enthusiastic because you called the person you’re debating with an idiot. Even if they do, how long is that enthusiasm going to last? What might be happening is that you will get a lot of cheering at the moment, but later (perhaps much later) the people who cheer will be ashamed of their enthusiasm for your ability to insult your opponents. Furthermore, you invite retribution. Your future debating opponents will feel that it’s O.K. for them to call you an idiot too. Heck, they might decide that it’s O.K. to wait and beat you up later, since you’ve turned a debate in an all-out fight.

Make your best case politely and get out of there as quickly as possible. Some people who disagree with you will never be convinced. Some might later decide that you made some good points.

It depends on why you said “you’re an idiot.”

If you’re trying to use your opponent’s alleged idiocy as evidence that their position is incorrect, then it’s ad hom. (BTW you can soundly argue that since someone is an idiot, their utterances shouldn’t be taken seriously.)

But if you’re using your opponent’s taking his position as evidence for his idiocy, that’s not ad hom.

So tell your friend, “No, I wasn’t trying to disagree with you on the basis of your idiocy–I was trying to explain that your position is what makes you an idiot in the first place.” I’m sure that will patch things up.

Okay, from my understanding…

If someone tells me that 2+2=5, I can tell them that they do not understand math.

I could even say that by saying 2+2=5, they are proving themselves to be an idiot.

The evidence supports the conclusion; therefore, it is logically sound and not a fallacy.

If someone demonstrates that they are an idiot, we can logically call them an idiot, correct?

The problem with the situation you describe, Knigel, is not that saying, “If you believe that 2 + 2 = 5, then you are an idiot” is a logical fallacy. Clearly it’s not. The problem is that it’s a bad rhetorical strategy. Calling someone an idiot is generally likely to make it harder to persuade them that they are incorrect in their arguments.

Somebody is going to say, “But what if you’re not trying to persuade that person? What if you’re trying to persuade some other group of people that your argument is correct? Is it then O.K. to call the person claiming that 2 + 2 = 5 an idiot?”. First, surely there’s no real situation in which you would be debating something as trivial as what 2 + 2 equals. I’ve never seen a public debate organized in which one sides defends the idea that 2 + 2 = 4 and the other side defends the idea that 2 + 2 = 5. There don’t even seem to be any private discussions in which people would argue about this. The only case in which someone would discuss what the result of a mathematical calculation is would be when the answer is truly hard to understand. For instance, on the SDMB we have occasionally discussed why it’s true that .9999999… equals 1. This is actually rather hard to understand without the proper mathematical background. You have to understand what that mathematical notation means, and that takes some careful exposition.

Suppose then that you are trying to explain a rather tricky mathematical statement to someone else. If they didn’t understand it, you would go back and try to give them the mathematical background to understand it. If everything you tried failed to make them understand it, you would just say, “I’m sorry. I think you don’t understand this mathematical statement, but I can’t think of any further way to explain it.” Telling them that they are an idiot is giving up and insulting them. At that point they will cease to listen to any further arguments that you make. Furthermore, anyone listening into your discussion might say to you, “Look, I know you understand math better than the other person does, but that’s no reason to insult them.”

This is why I think it’s a bad rhetorical strategy to call someone an idiot, since it justs causes them to cease to listen to you.

No, it’s not a matter of impressing people with your quick wit. It’s a matter of presenting your opponents as easy to argue against.

“You are an idiot” is not likely to present your opponent as someone who’s easy to argue with. It’s more likely to present you as someone who may or may not be smart but is an obnoxious jerk in any case.