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  1. #1
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    The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    The ad hominem is perhaps the most popular informal fallacy. It is latin for "against the man". The object is the person not the argument. In logic, it is the argument that is addressed, not the person.

    The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made.

    The only qualifier is the object of that which is addressed. Is it the one making the argument? Or is it the argument itself that is being addressed? If the former, then it IS an ad hom. If the latter, then no.

    An ad hominem is not contingent upon the missing phrase of "I believe". An ad hom is merely an "attack against the man" as opposed to the argument itself. An ad hom doesn't necessarily even have to be insulting. There are direct and indirect ad homs. One's "belief" on the issue has absolutley no bearing as to whether it IS or IS NOT an ad hom.

    Also, emotional appeal and prejudice are not qualifiers of the ad hominem. One could make an emotional appeal (which is a fallacy in and of itself) and still not commit an ad hom.

    One of the more common mistakes made by those who call "ad hominem", is that of "false charge" of fallacy. It is mistakenly believed that all personal attacks are ad hominem fallacies and that all ad hominem fallacies are personal attacks. Such is not the case. One can make a personal attack w/o commission of the fallacy, as well as commmit the fallacy without a personal attack. It is also possible that both can be made at once.

    Examples:

    Personal Attack Only:

    Zhavric: Hi.
    Apok: You're an idiot!

    This is not an ad hom because there is no argument. The Ad Hominem is a fallacy of relevance. If there is no object to which one should be referring (the argument for example), one cannot commit the fallacy...there is no redirect of relevance if the object that is being redirected FROM (the argument), does not even exist.

    Ad Hominem Only:

    Zhavric: Morality is subjective.
    Apok: What do you know, you are an atheist.

    What is addressed here is not the argument, but rather the person (Zhavric). I dismiss the claim because of who made it. It is of no relevance who made the claim here, and I redirect to attack him (the person) instead of the argument. Also, there is no personal attack here, he really is an atheist. It is not a derogatory term, not intended to be derogatory or insulting. Me calling him an atheist was a redirect from his argument...THAT is why it is fallacious.

    Personal Attack & Ad Hominem:

    Zhavric: Morality is subjective.
    Apok: You are an idiot, that's an absurd claim.

    Obviously, "idiot" is a personal attack, it is derogatory in nature. Also, I fail to address the argument in any form. I merely dismiss it because "he's an idiot".

    Often times, the ad hominem is not intended. As such, it can be hard to spot. The litmus test to be used is simple however. Examine the statement and merely ask: "Does the statement address the argument?" If it does not, or cannot, it is most likely a fallacy. A fallacy is merely an error in reasoning. And if it is the case that the argument is to be examined in debate (through the exercise of logic - which "scores" the argument), but instead it is not and we have addressed something else, we have a problem of "relevancy". And IF that object being addressed is isntead the person...the ad hominem has been committed.

    Sources:
    Dr. Michael C. Labossiere, the author of Fallacy Tutorial Pro 3.0 1995
    S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) (St. Martin's, 1994), pp. 198-206.
    Barker: 166, Cedarblom and Paulsen: 155, Copi and Cohen: 97, Davis: 80
    Dr. Bruce Thompson, Prof of Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Logic; Cuyamaca College
    Dr Madsen Pirie , Adam Smith Institute
    Wikipedia: Ad Hominem
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  2. #2
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Can you do "straw man" next? Because I see you, Zhav, and a few other people throwing that around and I don't understand why, or the reasoning behind it.
    What is it like to be Libertarian and an Atheist? Imagine having the freedom to believe whatever you want, without the responsibility of it ever becoming accepted in the majority.

    It's a truly magical feeling. Equal parts happiness and depression.

  3. #3
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Sure. I'll be using these "essays" in our ODN Fallacy List. This list will be able to be easily used and referenced while debating. This feature is fully integrated, but without much content. It will go live once I get more fallacies entered.

    As see: Arguments, Fallacies, and Authority, oh my! which addresses the basics of an argument, what fallacies are, and the fallacy of Appeal to Authority.
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  4. #4
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Harrison, in a very nutty nutshell Straw Man is where you attack an argument that the opposition never acctually put forward (I think anyway!)
    - Quack

  5. #5
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Correct, but I'll provide a more in depth explanation and provide easy examples in a separate post.
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  6. #6
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Groovy baby. Groovy.
    What is it like to be Libertarian and an Atheist? Imagine having the freedom to believe whatever you want, without the responsibility of it ever becoming accepted in the majority.

    It's a truly magical feeling. Equal parts happiness and depression.

  7. #7
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    An interesting case I saw recently was in the "All drugs should be legalized" thread. I've removed a lot of the in-betweens, but in essence, the case is this:

    Person A:Drugs aren't harmful to the mind; I have had no problems after using drugs.
    Person B:You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.

    Now, this is mostly a hypothetical, as I've tweaked it slightly for the sake of the case. The question I have is, would this be an ad Hom? Ignoring the truth of the claims, consider that facts about a person can be relevant to the validity of the argument.

    This is an exception to the norm, and seems to occur only when the argument addresses sometheing affecting the mental state of a person. Thus, the arguer can be subject to this mental state, and thus, attacking the person may in fact be a valid arguement.

    Of course, I could be wrong, I am not nearly as well versed in fallacies as a few here are. What say you?
    -=]Iluvatar[=-
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  8. #8
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Ad hominem is fallacious when applied to deduction, and not the evidence (or premise) of an argument. Evidence may be doubted or rejected based on the source for reasons of credibility, but to doubt or reject a deduction based on the source is the ad hominem fallacy.

    Premises discrediting the person can exist in valid arguments, when the person being criticized is the sole source for a piece of evidence used in one of his arguments (similar to an appeal to authority).

    eg.
    A committed perjury when he said Q
    We should not accept testimony for which perjury was committed
    therefore, A 's testimony for Q should be rejected

    Scroll to bottom

    --------------------------

    Now, with your specific example, yes it would still be an ad hominem fallacy. It has not been shown that the use of drugs relates to the quality of given debate. Furthermore, the issue of drug use has not been addressed. Furthermore, it could be the case that if person A is indeed a bad debator, that there is another reason for it (not necessarily drug use)...in which case, yet another fallacy has just been commited.
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  9. #9
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    For Harrison383: Straw Men

    Yup, I didn't get it either.
    -=]sbgtfJC[=-
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  10. #10
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Thanks.

    I just thought it was strange to see someone say something have "straw man" as a response.

    And sbgtfJC; The system is down. Favorite song from that site.
    What is it like to be Libertarian and an Atheist? Imagine having the freedom to believe whatever you want, without the responsibility of it ever becoming accepted in the majority.

    It's a truly magical feeling. Equal parts happiness and depression.

  11. #11
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by Iluvatar
    Person A: Drugs aren't harmful to the mind; I have had no problems after using drugs.
    Person B: You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.
    In this example, person B is not committing an Ad Hominem fallacy, but rather combining two different fallacies.

    Person As argument restated, with suppressed premises revealed:
    If drugs were harmful to the mind, then I would have had problems after using drugs.
    I have had no problems after using drugs.
    Therefore, drugs are not harmful to the mind.

    Person Bs argument(s) restated, with suppressed premises (and sub-arguments) and committed fallacies revealed:
    If ones mind has been harmed, then one will not be a good debater.
    You are not a good debater; therefore, your mind has been harmed.
    (Here, Person B commits the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent.)

    Alternately, Person B can avoid this fallacy if he is instead implying the more questionable premise:
    Poor debate skills are indicative of a harmed mind.
    You display poor debate skills.
    Therefore, your mind has been harmed.

    In either case, Bs inference that Person As mind has been harmed refutes As second premise:
    If it is true that you have had no problems after using drugs, then your mind would not have been harmed.
    Your mind has been harmed. (derived from prior sub-argument)
    Therefore, it is not true, that you have had no problems after using drugs.

    As conclusion, however, depends upon an unsupported causal link:
    Your mind has been harmed, and you do drugs.
    Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.
    (This is a Non Causa Pro Causa (Non-cause for cause) fallacy, particularly that of Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (After this, therefore because of this) [or even Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc (With this, therefore because of this)].
    It is fallacious because the mere fact that event A occurred prior to [in conjunction with] event B (That of drugs being taken prior to [in conjunction with] evidence of an impaired mental state), is insufficient to support that it is the cause of the latter [simultaneous] event.)

    Person B is attacking one of the premises person A uses to support his argument, namely, the claim that he has had no problems after using drugs. He does this by implying that the fact of Person A being a poor debater shows that his mind has been harmed. He further uses this inference to draw the conclusion that drugs are harmful to the mind.
    His argument is unsound, but not through the commission of any Ad Hominem fallacy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Apokalupsis
    Now, with your specific example, yes it would still be an ad hominem fallacy.
    Not so.
    It has not been shown that the use of drugs relates to the quality of given debate.
    True, but this doesn't in any way render such an implication an ad hominem, but merely an unsupported premise or an improperly derived one.
    Furthermore, the issue of drug use has not been addressed.
    What do you mean 'it hasn't been addressed'? The very statements made by Persons A & B are addressing the issue of drug use.
    Furthermore, it could be the case that if person A is indeed a bad debator, that there is another reason for it (not necessarily drug use).
    Which is why B's argument is unsound, but this doesn't show that any fallacy he has committed is an ad hominem variety.
    ...in which case, yet another fallacy has just been commited.
    'Yet another'? Perhaps the only.
    Quote Originally Posted by Apokalupsis quoting a wikipedia entry
    Premises discrediting the person can exist in valid arguments, when the person being criticized is the sole source for a piece of evidence used in one of his arguments.
    This is precisely what is being done in the example provided. Person A is using himself as the sole source for the evidence that drugs don't harm the mind. He claims that he has had no problems from drug use, and concludes from this alone that drugs therefore do not harm the mind. Person B is challenging this very premise by arguing that Person A has had problems as evidenced by his inability to debate well. Again, that such an inference is unsupported, does not render it an ad hominem type fallacy.

  12. #12
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Incorrect. "You are not a good debator" is the offense of the ad hom. No premise from A has been refuted. Also, affirm the consequent can only occur in a conditional argument. None exist despite your attempts to once again ignore the universe of discourse and create one.
    I restate...
    Quote Originally Posted by Apok
    The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made.
    It has not been shown that drug use results in the lack of skill in debate. Yet this is the very premise in which B stands on. It does not address the argument, but rather the person.

    That A uses drugs, has no bearing on "drugs aren't harmful to the mind".

    Look, there are a number of fallacies in the example (committed by both A & B). I'm only concerned with the commission of ad hominem. If you'd like, we can dissect them, but that isn't what was asked.

    Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. And in the immortal words of William Shakespeare: He draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument .
    Last edited by Apokalupsis; May 12th, 2005 at 08:18 AM.
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  13. #13
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by Apokalupsis
    Incorrect. "You are not a good debator" is the offense of the ad hom. No premise from A has been refuted. Also, affirm the consequent can only occur in a conditional argument. None exist despite your attempts to once again ignore the universe of discourse and create one.
    This is a false and rather silly accusation. Many arguments entail suppressed premises and inferences. They are often readily recognized and so need not be made explicit. However, in evaluating the chain of inference being made in a given argument in order to measure its validity, it is often useful to clearly identify these unstated elements. Pretending that suppressed premises and inferences are not genuinely part of an argument or that only what is explicitly stated comprises all premises and inferences that make up a person's argument is just erroneous and naive.
    I restate...
    "The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made."
    But in the example given, the circumstances of Person A have direct bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim he is making. He is appealing to his own circumstances to support his conclusion that drugs do not harm the mind.
    What personal circumstance does he appeal to? The claim that he has had no problems after using drugs. This is the only expressed premise that he makes. From this, he draws the conclusion that drugs do not harm the mind. The logical inference between 'having problems' and 'harmed mind' are obvious, and he need not make the inference explicit. This inference, however, is undeniably part of his argument.
    One method of expressing such an inference is the use of a conditional statement. Do you think that the conditional statement "If drugs were harmful to the mind, then I would have had problems after using drugs." is not implied in his argument?

    Person B is challenging Person A's premise that A has had no problems/mind has not been harmed. Thus it is perfectly valid for him to appeal to Person A's personal circumstances that contradict the claim made by Person A. This is what B is doing when he claims that A is not a good debater. He is drawing an inference between A's skill as a debater and the health of his mind. Although he ought to make this inference explicit, it seems obvious to me that this unexpressed inference is a key element of his argument. He is not attacking A's person in order to draw attention away from the relevant arguments, or to poison the well, or to dismiss A's reasoning or objectivity and thus his conclusion - the point of the ad hominem fallacy.
    B's problem is that such an inference is weak and unsupported (presuming no other evidence or arguments are brought to bear to strengthen the case), but it is upon this inference that he builds his argument. Ad Hominem fallacies do not employ such use of inference.
    If B were able to demonstrate a strong correlation between the quality of A's debate skill and his drug use, and rule out other potential factors, he may make a strong inductive case that drug use harms the mind. Thus, his argument may be more cogent than it first appears. The fact of whether or not his argument employed an ad hominem fallacy by its very nature cannot rest upon his ability to produce such evidence.

    It has not been shown that drug use results in the lack of skill in debate. Yet this is the very premise in which B stands on.
    True. Specifically, it is the character of his deficiencies he presents in debate from which B draws an inference of mental impairment. (This is understood.)
    It does not address the argument, but rather the person.
    Untrue. Yes, it is an unsupported inference, but it is one that directly addresses the argument. The state of Person A's mind (thus his person) is the very basis for both their arguments.

    That A uses drugs, has no bearing on "drugs aren't harmful to the mind".
    But given that A uses drugs, the state of his mind does constitute evidence either for or against the general claim that drugs harm the mind. It is this very evidence to which both A and B appeal in forming their arguments. Person A is merely using himself as an example, but could just as easily refer to a third person.
    The presentation of such a case should demonstrate why the charge of Ad Hominem fallacy is clearly misplaced.

    Person A: Drugs aren't harmful to the mind; Person C has had no problems after using drugs.
    Person B: Person C isn't a good debater, and he does drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.

    In the above example, it is obvious that Person B is not employing the Ad Hominem fallacy against his opponent, but this argument is identical in form and character to the original one presented in Iluvatar's example.
    Had Person B instead said:

    Person B: You aren't a good debater, and Person C does drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.

    It would be an obvious case of an Ad Hominem argument, but a very silly one indeed.
    Clearly, this latter example does not accurately present the nature of the argument A was making.

  14. #14
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by Galendir
    Pretending that suppressed premises and inferences are not genuinely part of an argument or that only what is explicitly stated comprises all premises and inferences that make up a person's argument is just erroneous and naive.
    Straw man. I've not argued otherwise. My reference was to a whopping assumption you made that resulted in the complete breakdown of your argument. See below.

    Let's take this slowly....

    1) True or False: The fallacy of affirming the consequent (and likewise, denying the antecedent) can only occur in conditional arguments?

    2) True or False: The following is a conditional statement: You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.

    3) True or False: The only validily inferenced argument that results in the statement: You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind is a conditional argument (as opposed to a syllogistic argument for example).

    4) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Booger: I practice and adhere to a solid moral standard.
    Apok: Well that's untrue, you are an atheist.

    5) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Why should we believe Solomon (from the Bible) when he tells us to be satisfied with "the wife of your youth"? He wasn't. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

    6) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Why should we believe this expert witnesses' testimony about creation science, since he believes that UFO experiences are a Satanaic manifestation?
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    1) True or False: The fallacy of affirming the consequent (and likewise, denying the antecedent) can only occur in conditional arguments?
    True. However such an argument need not be explicit. If the argument is implicit (that is, unstated or 'suppressed'), the fallacy has still been committed.

    2) True or False: The following is a conditional statement: You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind.
    False. The statement itself is not a conditional statement; however, it seems to imply one.

    3) True or False: The only validily inferenced argument that results in the statement: You aren't a good debater, and you do drugs. Therefore, drugs are harmful to the mind is a conditional argument (as opposed to a syllogistic argument for example).
    False, as I've already demonstrated:
    Quote Originally Posted by Galendir's original post
    Alternately, Person B can avoid this fallacy if he is instead implying the more questionable premise:
    Poor debate skills are indicative of a harmed mind.
    You display poor debate skills.
    Therefore, your mind has been harmed.
    Perhaps in your haste and zeal, you overlooked this.

    4) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Booger: I practice and adhere to a solid moral standard.
    Apok: Well that's untrue, you are an atheist.
    Probably false if you are under the misguided notion that atheism precludes any solid moral standard.
    True, if you know better, and are merely saying so to capitalize on the ignorance of your audience who may believe so.

    5) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Why should we believe Solomon (from the Bible) when he tells us to be satisfied with "the wife of your youth"? He wasn't. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
    Probably true, as the truth of his proverb should be irrelevant to his circumstances; however, if one is expected to accept that the proverb is true merely because Solomon said it and he was putatively very wise, it would not be fallacious to challenge this assumption by pointing out this apparent hypocrisy, and failure to heed his own counsel.

    6) True or False: The following is an ad hominem fallacy:

    Why should we believe this expert witnesses' testimony about creation science, since he believes that UFO experiences are a Satanaic manifestation?
    It depends upon the nature of his testimony. If one is expected to rely on his personal expertise as an authority, then it is not an ad hominem fallacy to introduce evidence that challenges his objectivity or credentials as such an authority. I don't know in what capacity he is acting as an expert witness, but it would seem that his belief about the nature of UFO experiences is not pertinent to the question of whether creationism employs genuine scientific principles, and if this is the object of his testimony, then it would seem that the introduction of his personal belief about UFO's is merely an ad hominem ploy to distract the court.

    Now what was this "whopping assumption" that I made that resulted in the "complete breakdown of my argument"? Care to offer any support for this outlandish charge? Or perhaps to (God forbid) actually address the salient points of my argument?

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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    [Thread bumped for relevance to recent discussions.]

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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Is the story of the boy who cried wolf an Ad Hom fallacy?
    "I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President."
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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by cdubs View Post
    Is the story of the boy who cried wolf an Ad Hom fallacy?
    Yes it is.

    "Nobody believes a liar...even when he is telling the truth!"

    This type of ad hominem is called tu quoque.

    This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that a person's claim is false because 1) it is inconsistent with something else a person has said or 2) what a person says is inconsistent with her actions. This type of "argument" has the following form:

    1. Person A makes claim X.
    2. Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
    3. Therefore X is false.

    The fact that a person makes inconsistent claims does not make any particular claim he makes false (although of any pair of inconsistent claims only one can be true - but both can be false). Also, the fact that a person's claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is a hypocrite but this does not prove his claims are false.
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/falla...tu-quoque.html
    "*" --Kurt Vonnegut

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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by cdubs View Post
    Is the story of the boy who cried wolf an Ad Hom fallacy?
    Quote Originally Posted by monesy View Post
    Yes it is.
    No. It isn't. It's a story, not an argument. The moral of the story can be interpreted as an argument, but that argument would simply be: don't lie else people will begin to distrust you -- not a fallacy.

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    Re: The Ad Hominem Fallacy

    Quote Originally Posted by Galendir View Post
    No. It isn't. It's a story, not an argument. The moral of the story can be interpreted as an argument, but that argument would simply be: don't lie else people will begin to distrust you -- not a fallacy.
    I am arguing that the villagers are committing the fallacy ad hominem tu quoque in the final instance when they assume that the boy is lying (on the grounds that the boy's past claims were found to be lies). It is, after all, found that the boy is actually telling the truth. It is within this context that I assumed cdubs question originated. I will defend my argument:

    From the link on tu quoque that I provided above:

    1. Person A makes claim X.
    2. Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
    3. Therefore X is false.
    Within the context of The Boy who Cried Wolf from the perspective of the villagers:

    1. The boy makes claim: "WOLF!"
    2. The villagers assert that the boy's past claim(s) are inconistent with the truth.
    3. Therefore, the boy's claim "WOLF!", is false.

    Hence, there are (at least) two important lessons within this story, although the explicit moral lesson intended for the boy, "don't lie or people will distrust you," certainly overshadows the implicit moral for the villagers: "Just because the boy has lied in the past, it does not guarantee that future claims from the boy are lies." While you could rightly argue that the latter lesson is not the main focus of this fable, it cannot be ignored that this latter lesson is indeed implicit, and that this lesson focuses around the fallacy ad hominem tu quoque.

    Admittedly, I should have elaborated more (with regards to context) in my response to cdubs.
    "*" --Kurt Vonnegut

 

 
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