Tag Archives: Objectivity

The ad hominem fallacy & the Tankard Reist affair

4 Mar

Someone today directed me to a post on the feminist blog RAW/ROAR where there’s an argument as to whether or not my blog on Melinda Tankard Reist (the one that inspired the defamation threats) is based on ad hominem arguments about her religious beliefs.

There isn’t any reason why the post’s author, tammois, should know that I’ve been writing against Reist’s (and others) views on pornography and abortion for about two years now, and there’s some 28 posts on the topic on this blog, plus posts at the Drum and On Line Opinion. Nowhere do I argue that I disagree with Reist’s views because she’s a Christian. I’ve never read of anyone else making that argument either. However tammois feels quite comfortable attributing this viewpoint to me:

 ‘I disagree with her [MTR’s] anti-porn work because she’s a fundie Baptist and by the way you know she’s pro-life/anti-choice?!’

I left this reply:

I have written at length for the last two years on my blog and in other places about why I disagree with MTR’s stand on pornography, and her theories of inevitably debilitating post abortion grief, and I have not found it necessary to discuss her religious affiliations as part of my disagreement.

The particular blog to which this author refers specifically addressed questions either not asked by interviewers, or asked and inadequately answered about Reist’s religious views and the influence they have on her views on pornography and abortion.

As Reist has herself stated that she feels her religious views would negatively impact on her moral campaigns and that is why she will not discuss them, it is perfectly reasonable for me or anyone else to ask what that impact might be, and why she fears it will be negative.

I believe Reist’s moral views are influenced by her religious beliefs and indeed, Reist seems to hold some fears about this herself, though not from the same perspective of course.

This last blog, for which I have been threatened with defamation action, asks questions that have been asked by many others for at least the last six years. I have never heard anyone claim that they disagree with Reist’s views on porn or anything else “because she’s a fundie Christian.” The question is always about her influences, and how they affect her very public moral campaigns.

I’m astonished at how someone can mount an entire argument based on a  falsehood and at the same time claim they’re protesting the use of an ad hominem fallacy.

The ad hominem is not always fallacious. There are arguments for making what’s know as a circumstantial ad hominem. There are those who argue ad hominem reasoning can be essential to understanding moral issues. Arguments that question the opponent’s possible dogmatic bias, for example, or vested and conflicted interests, are legitimate critical responses.

The circumstantial ad hominem is an allegation of bias, and intended to serve as a warning that the arguments need to be scrutinized. Allegations are just that. They aren’t proof that an argument is incorrect or flawed, and are not used as proof: they merely raise legitimate questions about possible bias.

Making an allegation is not a biased act. Conflict of interest of all kinds can affect objectivity. It is perfectly acceptable to allege a conflict of interest when there are grounds to do so. It isn’t conducive to free speech and healthy debate for such allegations to be prevented, or silenced by dismissing them as fallacious.

I have more than enough reasons to allege Reist’s moral views are not objective but are influenced by dogmatic bias, and I’ve named all of them over the last two years, as have many others. As the allegations have never been denied by Reist it is necessary to keep on making them when arguing against her moral position.

There seems to be  a popular opinion that the ad hominem argument, of which there are I think three main types, is always the same and always fallacious. This isn’t the case. It might be a good idea for those who intend to use the accusation of ad hominem as a means of discrediting an argument to do their homework first.


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