Critical Thinking: The Fallacy of Ad Hominem (Inconsistency)

in this video in our fallacy series we're looking at another one of the varieties of ad hominem called ad hominem inconsistency so what we're going to do our eight main things we're gonna look at what the ad hominem inconsistency variety is we'll look at the structure of the argument we'll talk about what makes it a fallacy what makes a bad argumentation then we'll look at some common situations in which you can expect to see this this occurring or arising we'll look at three examples of the fallacies so we can do a little bit more analysis we'll talk about some pointers for how to spot it or what to be on guard form we'll talk about what other fallacy is not to mistake it for for those students who need to be able to distinguish it apart from other fallacies and then we'll finish by talking about how to avoid the fallacy in your own argument your own communication your own reasoning processes so what is this this particular version of the ad hominem fallacy now it has a couple different names sometimes it's called a two-way argument although that is sometimes also used for the two wrongs make a right which we'll talk about as sometimes getting confused with this sometimes it can be called an accusation of hypocrisy or a very popular term in politics these days is flip-flopping now it's a variety of the ad hominem argument so it's against the person which focuses on some inconsistency some either real or alleged inconsistency on the part of the person making the claim and how does this work the claim that's being made by the person is rejected on the basis of saying that there's an inconsistency between the particular claim that's being disputed and other claims that the person has made in the past or the present or might even be imagined to be making in the future or with their their actions either present or past it could even extend to if we're talking about entire you know groups or institutions we could be thinking about policies as well and it it says because there's this inconsistency therefore the claim must be false that's where the real problem lies now if we look at the structure of this it's it's not a very complicated fallacy a is claiming something to be true we'll call it X and a is also being pointed out as in some way committed to why Y could be an action Y could be some other belief Y could be some stupid thing that the person said twenty years ago and the hidden premise is that X is in some way inconsistent with Y so that therefore X must be false and if we look at it in this way we can see that this is not particularly good reasoning you know it's not going to be a valid deductive argument it's not even really a particularly good inductive argument if we try to weaken it a bit if we look at the structure and graphic terms what you see is we've got two people here person B is the one who's engaging in the fallacy person a is claiming that X is true and then person B points out you know look there's some sort of inconsistency here on the part of person a Y because there's also some claim or some action Y which supposedly contradicts X or is in some way incompatible with it so what does that lead us to the conclusion that X is therefore false now what's what's wrong with this kind of argumentation why is this a fallacy well we need to remind ourselves as we do with so many other fallacies that a claim can be true independently of and that in this case whether the person who makes the claim is or seems to be committed to something inconsistent with the claim these are two different things it's quite possible in fact it happens all the time that a person who is inconsistent makes true claims or provides good justification for claims very often people are not consistent entirely across the board what's being ignored here is the possibility of a person becoming better informed about a matter and then changing their beliefs or actions with respect to it we'll see a few examples like that where people are accused of flip-flopping and another thing to point out here as well is that in general situations that are similar ought to be treated similarly that's a basic principle but only if the similarities are relevant one so there are quite a few cases where somebody's going to be accused of inconsistency well they're not really being inconsistent there are cases in which some you know situations should be treated unequally it depends on what the relevant factors are so what are common situations in which we're gonna see this arising well you know one common type of situation is where a person has been making claims based on their best knowledge at the time but they have altered their view there are many processes in which we should expect this to be the case for for example the process of education or even training right if you come in and you know it all already there's nothing to change on your part you know situations of therapy are a great example as well where people you know arrive at a hopefully a more adequate perspective it also is common in situations in which comparisons are likely to be made between people between situations so you know what are some of the common ranges of contexts well personal relationships and conflicts this is a very common accusation on the part of many people and indeed there may in fact be inconsistencies but that doesn't necessarily mean that the person what they're saying thereby becomes false common living situations when you've got to live with other people you observe them from day to day to day inconsistencies will often come to light politics and policymaking we see this all the time the Internet has made this even more of an issue in part because everything gets saved somewhere now you know anything that somebody says there's there's many more resources for doing fact-checking or you know suppose it fact-checking seeing whether people are being consistent across the board giving advice sometimes you know people think that if you give advice to a person in one situation you should be giving exactly the same advice to another person and what may be a very different situation and they want to point out in consistencies their journalism there's a lot of gotcha journalism that goes on this ties in with the politics thing as well but also with you know popular culture there's a there's a tendency on journalists part to think that if they uncover an inconsistency they've really done something amazing and what we always have to ask is well what is the relevance of that that inconsistency educational settings this goes both ways too by the way you know students love to point out any sort of inconsistencies on professors or instructors parts well ignoring consistencies on their own part you know in return many professors do this as well and you know grade student papers in a way that their own work probably couldn't couldn't measure up to the workplace happens a lot in terms of reporting in terms of policies in terms of you know hiring decisions and in trade and commerce as well you know if you're going to say that we should do this in this case why aren't you saying the same thing about this over here perhaps your claim is thereby false so let's look at a few examples now here's a common sort of accusation made in politics and which has made its way into the popular culture about other things as well flip-flopping you know going back and forth about something in this case I'm using John Kerry you know we could also use Mitt Romney about the the abortion issue where he had one stance and then shifted to another stance so John Kerry took a lot of flack and by the way I'm not a fan of John Kerry for a lot of reasons but this was actually this is not a fair attack on him was the Iraq war a major mistake John Kerry now says yes but you can't trust him on that he voted for the authorization he was forced and he came out saying that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and needed to be disarmed he was by his own admission for it before he was against it now this was became a catchphrase in terms of an appropriation that that bill that that Kerry was involved with having to do with appropriating money for continuing military operations he was for it before he was against it it could be that he actually arrived at a better conclusion you know more information became available you're not gonna find many supporters of the the Iraq war and the way it was handled these days even among people who originally supported it so you know if we want to say the Iraq war was therefore justified that's a big stretch Kerry was wrong and in opposing it because of inconsistency it could have arrived at a better conclusion here's another common situation who are you to tell me X Y Z where X Y Z is something that's bad for you or bad for another person or you know foolish or something like that so this is very common with children and parents and you know between the two generations who are you to tell me that that I shouldn't smoke you smoked for years and you started as a teenager so therefore it's false that I shouldn't smoke and you know this goes against the evidence that smoking kiss in fact bad for you perhaps even worse for you as a kid than it is as an adult and there's a lot of things that could dismiss this way this is a fallacious example but we could we could you know tie this in with all sorts of imprudent decisions on people's part here's another one nobody should get special treatment you're treating that person differently than all the other job applicants because he's your cousin that's unfair sure he is the person most Qala five for the position but you shouldn't go to the head of the line just because he's related to you so the the what's being rejected here is is saying you know your view that this is the person most qualified or the right person for the job is wrong because you're being inconsistent probably also being unfair and nepotistic and all these the things that we could we could roll in there as well you're not treating equal cases equal but in this case you're treating unequal cases unequally which seems to be the right thing to do so how do we spot this fallacy now well you know one thing to do is pay attention to what uses are being made of another person's previous or current assertions in evaluating the truth of a present claim what are they actually doing with that also be on guard against certain types of people there are there are some people who spend an awful lot of time and energy on ferreting out inconsistencies on other people's parts and less time on determining whether these inconsistencies are actually relevant they lack a sense of perspective they're more interested in trying to find some sort of you know contradiction or or something they can point to and they often don't spend a lot of time evaluating the claims on their own basis they're they're content to you know focus on who actually has a totally you know consistent story a lot of times and here's another thing a lot of times those who focus on alleged inconsistencies of those who they disagree with are not consistent themselves in applying this across the board so Republicans focus on Democrats and consistencies and then give their own people a pass Democrats do the same exact thing with Republicans you know the same thing happens in the the atheist versus theists discussions there are glaring errors and and foolishness –is that are tolerated by people on one side where if the other side commits that they're right they're ready to criticize it and so there's a there's an inconsistency in the way that in consistency is often handled and you want to be attentive to that now for those of you who are students who need to be able to identify this fallacy in opposition to other fallacies we want to look at a few other you know ones that are easy to confuse this with so it is an ad hominem fallacy and you might blur this into the circumstantial variation depending on what sort of you know a tack on the person is being made the key to distinguishing these is looking at the grounds that are being relied upon for dismissing the person's claim is it is it fundamentally about inconsistency or is it fundamentally about you know what their commitments are there are cases where it does get kind of blurry because we often do reveal our commitments or our background or circumstances through the things that we say and do but you can usually distinguish those it's also different from although very very similar to I'll admit that two wrongs make a right what's the fundamental difference there here you're rejecting somebody's claim and saying look there's some inconsistency here think about the the smoking one for example if the the the conclusion was hey it's okay for me to smoke because you smoke too and you know smoking is stupid for you to do so it's okay for me to do something stupid that's two wrongs make it right when it's when it's couched more as an attack on the person as well who are you to make a judgement when you do the same thing yourself that's the inconsistency fallacy now if the other person's actions or claims are largely or entirely irrelevant to the claim under consideration then what we're probably dealing with is either a non sequitur or there's no connection between these things whatsoever or the red herring fallacy you know you point out with a red herring fallacy you point out well so-and-so said this and let's explore this for a while and you totally distract from what the original subject was with this inconsistency this fallacy of ad hominem in consists we are looking at what the person did say and we're comparing it to other things so it's not one of those fallacies now here's an important thing to think about how do you avoid engaging in this sort of thing yourself and I've got a couple different pointers here for you so one thing right off the bat always a good thing to do when you're assessing the truth or falsity of claims made by a person try to focus on the claim itself and whether the claim can be justified independently of the person making the claim if you need to reject a claim on the basis of who the person is or what they've said there's something kind of strange going on there here's another point when you see what appear to be inconsistencies in a person's claims or actions you've got to ask are these actually relevant there are going to be inconsistencies it's a question of whether they they apply whether they fit and that's not something that there are hard and fast rules for a lot of that depends on cultivating prudence or practical wisdom realize as well that just like you other people sometimes you know start out with an inadequate position that they think is adequate at the time and they say all sorts of stuff and they do all sorts of stuff and then later on they come to realize well I kind of made a mistake in my commitments and now I view it this way instead sometimes you need to give them a pass sometimes actually that should be evidence that they're there you know more reliable if they've gone from from less knowledge to more knowledge from foolishness to wisdom you know you don't want to dismiss what they're saying just on the basis of some inconsistency that you're seeing between past and present also you know this is something very important to keep in mind realize it's extraordinarily rare to find a person or a group who is entirely free from any perceived inconsistencies and also realize it's possible to hold or develop a position that seems free of inconsistencies but is still mistaken the lack of of inconsistencies is not the the hallmark of absolute truth or reliability and it's foolish to take it as being such because you can be totally crazy but manage to make your crazy system consistent and we don't want to say that that's good critical thinking so you want to have a little bit of intellectual humility when it comes to this sort of stuff last thing I want to say is this this particular video is part of a series on the fallacies and that particular series is part of a larger channel which is devoted specifically to critical thinking logic and argumentation so if you enjoy this video or you found it useful share it with other people check out the other videos and series in this channel we're constantly adding new content to this we'll be building it over the next few years or so

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