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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Who Is a Hypocrite?

Do your realize that just because someone is a hypocrite, that does not make them wrong? Many try to label hypocrisy as wrong by using a fallacy known as an ad hominem (argument against the person) attack.
An ad hominem attempts to change the subject. It consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the source making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim. For example, children may accuse their parents of hypocrisy if the parent admonishes them for using drugs or smoking, or warns their children of the dangers of such activities, if the parent used them in the past. Such ad hominem attacks are used by people while judging others to justify their own actions. Also, unfortunately, some people genuinely fail to recognize that they have character faults that they condemn in others but still commit these attacks. On the other hand, a hypocrite is a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives. Adlai Stevenson once said, "A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation." This, of course, implies a politician who professes his love of conservation doesn't believe in it because of the importance of the redwood. So it follows, in another example, that a doctor who truly believes smoking is dangerous yet smokes is not a hypocrite simply because he/she practices dangerous behavior. Instead, to accurately label as hypocrite a doctor who advises patients that smoking is dangerous, the doctor would have to actually believe smoking is not dangerous, yet in front of others pretend to believe the opposite, regardless of whether the doctor also smokes. One of the following example is not ad hominem. Which of the following is NOT an example of an ad hominem fallacy? 1. "John has been proven to be a liar numerous times, therefore you should reject his testimony and acquit my client." 2. "He says we shouldn't enslave people, yet he himself owns slaves" 3. "He's physically addicted to nicotine. Of course he defends smoking!” 4. "He says the gap between the rich and poor is unacceptable, but communists also say this, therefore he is a communist" 5. A prosecutor asks the judge to not admit the testimony of a burglar because burglars are not trustworthy. 6. A group of blacks respond to arguments about reverse discrimination by saying the opposition is just being racist and using hate speech. 7. "Apparently, you are too stupid to comprehend the difference between an insult and an ad hominem argument." 8. "You say this sausage is loaded with cholesterol but I notice you eat it every morning." 9. "Why don't Pro-lifers adopt the babies they don't want aborted?" 10. "You have claimed that John Edward doesn't really talk to the dead, but how can we believe what an atheist says?" The answer is number one. Because it is not an attempt to get the person to reject John's argument, but instead reject his testimony. A testimony is not an argument: it is a report of events. The fact that a person is a known liar has no bearing on whether or not they present a conclusion supported by premises - but it does affect how we evaluate their reporting of alleged facts. Notice the difference between this argument and argument number five.
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