Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 3, 1954

Evasions Of The Law Of Rationality -- No. 3

Thomas B Warren. Fort Worth. Texas

(The reader is asked to refer to article number one of this series so that he may have clearly in mind what is meant by "the law of rationality" and "evasions" of that law.)

II. Argumentum Ad Hominem" — Argument To The Man

"We 'shall use this title to designate an attack which purports to be an attack against the truth of a proposition, but which directs its force against the man who asserts its truth rather than against the proposition itself. Proof that a proposition is false requires evidence of its falsity, and not an attack against the speaker. Its structure: The Proposition 'P' is false because the speaker is a certain sort of person."

It can be seen that this particular evasion of the law of rationality is a device by which a person seeks to show that a certain proposition is false because the person who stated the proposition is a certain kind of person. The implication is that his having a certain kind of history causes his statements to be untrue. Or, effort is made to psychoanalyze the person who sets forth a proposition.

1. Examples in ordinary affairs. (1) Let it be supposed that John Smith sets forth a certain proposition. Bill Brown does not believe the proposition to be true and sets out to prove it to be false. However, instead of presenting evidential proof, he says, "That proposition cannot be true because John Smith's father is a millionaire. He has a history of association with the rich and, therefore, cannot think clearly on any topic 'which deals with poor people." Or, it may take this form: Joe Green sets forth a proposition as being true. Tom Jones objects and says that it is not true. When he is asked for proof of its falsity, he says, "Joe Green is a member of a labor union. His thinking on subjects such as is involved in this proposition is bound to be clouded. Therefore, I reject his proposition."

Professor Ruby keeps the ground clear for us when he says, "We should not confuse the ad hominem with an attack against a man's character. If we say that X is a liar, or dishonest, or a spy, we have made allegations which are either true or false, but the ad hominem does not occur unless we contend that what X says is false because he is a certain kind of person." All must note that liars do sometimes tell the truth, and that one has not proved the falsity of a proposition by proving that the one who set forth the proposition has lied many times in the past.

(2) The method of psychoanalyzing an opponent is coming to a very popular way of "meeting" the argument which he has set forth. "Instead of meeting an opponent's arguments with evidence we seek to psychoanalyze him. If he says that a strong government is desirable, then we find that he is seeking a substitute for a 'father-image.' If he thinks a weak government is desirable, then he is in revolt against his father-image. We usually seek such explanations for views with which we disagree, since we seldom seek a psychological explanation of ideas with which we agree." By this approach men seek to leave the impression that a proposition is so clearly false that no intelligent person could accept it so there must be some psychological explanation for it.

Jack Jones sets forth a proposition. "It cannot be true," cries Harry Williams. 'Why not? Why can't it be true? "Because no intelligent person could believe it. Jack is just bitter because he was not elected president of the club. He is jealous because I, not he, have received the most recognition around here!"

Bill Smith sets forth a proposition. "False!" says Tom Jones. Why? "Because he is a Democrat, and all Democrats are bitter just because they lost the election." Bill Smith retorts, "Well, what you say cannot be true because you are a Republican, and all Republicans are so proud of their victory that they cannot think straight. Besides, your first cousin is a Communist!"

2. Religious examples outside of the church. Dave White sets forth a proposition. "False! it cannot be true!" answers Gene Blue. Why not? "Because he is a Campbellite, and all Campbellites are bigoted, narrow-minded, and self-righteous." But what Gene Blue is overlooking is this: even if Dave White were a "Campbellite" (and the people who are called that are not Campbellites) and all Campbellites were bigoted, narrow-minded, and self-righteous, such people do; at times, tell the truth. So to brand someone a "Campbellite" is not to meet the argument which he has set forth.

Again, Dave White sets forth an argument to prove that the Bible authorizes only one church. "False!" cries Gene Blue. Why? What proof do you offer against his arguments? "Just this: he is a member of the church of Christ, and all such people believe in 'water salvation.' I know, therefore, that he cannot teach the truth on this topic." Note that Gene Blue has misrepresented the members of the church of Christ in saying that they believe in "water salvation." But even if such were true, it would be no evidence against the arguments which had been presented to show that the Bible authorizes only one church.

3. Examples in the church. "Surely," a good, faithful brother says, "members of the church of Christ are not guilty of this evasion!" But it seems that they, at times are guilty of this very thing.

Joe Blow writes an article trying to set forth what the Bible teaches about caring for orphan children and other benevolent work of the church. He tries to show, by evidential proof, that certain "homes" do not fit the scriptural way of doing things. Jack X seeks to show his thesis to be false by saving, "Joe Blow is an 'anti.' He never seeks to do anything positive. No matter how you fix his soup, he doesn't like it. If you fix it thin, he doesn't like it. If you fix it thick, he doesn't like it. The truth of the matter is. he really cares nothing for poor, little orphan children. You need pay no attention to anything he says on this subject until he proves by his own plan that he is interested in orphans." But even if the charge that Joe Blow cares nothing for orphans is true, it would not disprove the arguments which he had made against the scripturality of a particular home. Why can't all see this?

To call a man a "big-headed, 'writin' brother" is no answer to the arguments he has made. The use of such terms as "Wolf! Wolf! editors" is not conducive to candid investigation of any question. To call a man a "loquacious know-it-all" will likely close the minds of some readers to what that man has said, even if everything he said is true! Now, who wants to be guilty of causing men to close their minds to truth?

One brother, whose work has been called in question by some, has sought to "psychoanalyze" his questioners by branding such opposition as "foul" and stating that it was caused by "ignorance, jealousy, narrowness, and covetousness."

Again, some brother writes an article in which he calls in question the principle of "cooperation" involved in such things as "The Herald of Truth." As an "answer" to the arguments which were made, other brethren say, "Oh, he is just an 'anti.' He is not for real plans which really get the job of preaching done. You need pay no attention to what he says. It doesn't bother him that one hundred and seventy souls are dying every hour." Or, it may take the form of "psychoanalysis" when a brother says of the writer of the articles, "You need pay no attention to what he said. He is merely jealous because he is not the preacher on the program. If he had been asked to be on it, he would have been for it." It seems that such speakers and writers forget that, if the other man would be willing to be guilty "ad hominem" also, he could say in return, "Well, you are for it only because you are on it, or because you are closely involved in it." In neither case would any evidence have been presented for or against the truth of the arguments made.

Brethren, may this sincere plea sink into good and honest hearts: let us grow spiritually to the point where our practices may be called in question without our making a personal attack upon the man who asked the questions. Surely we all want the truth. Surely all of us want to stop what we are doing if it can be proved by the Bible to be unscriptural. Then why not stop such practices as calling each other names and really get down to a candid investigation of the various questions which face us? "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thess. 5:21)