What does it say about us as a culture the fact that out of over 50 fallacies identified by ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians, the only one to have made it in the modern public domain and parlance is the argumentum ad hominem, more commonly known as the ‘ad hominem’. The diem in ‘carpe diem’ used to be, I think, the most widely used Latin accusative noun until hominem, the accusative case of homo, man, took over. The accusative in ad hominem is exactly what it says, namely an accusation.
There is little sensitivity to other errors of argumentation compared to the ad hominem. We know how to identify it when others use it against us and we often perhaps use it with others. On the other hand, the lesser-known argumentum ad verecundiam, the appeal to authority, is as fallacious as it is widespread, and it is marshalled by many who would otherwise claim to judge everything on their own merits. The argumentum ad populum, the appeal to the public, is a form of argumentum ad numerum, the argument to numbers, which assumes that wide consensus on an issue guarantees its truth. Neither populism nor democracy can ignore this insidious logical fallacy.
As the public square increasingly transforms itself into a cacophonous auditorium, verbal attacks and arguments ad hominem will end up dominating the scene. And the debate will descend into a string of accusative cases.
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