Appeal to Ridicule
This logical fallacy is difficult to classify in some ways because of the huge potential for blending and overlapping with other fallacies (especially ad hominem). Appeal to Ridicule is a form or subclass of the Appeal to Emotion fallacy, and is often used as a kind of Red Herring to distract the opponent from the topic under discussion.
This fallacy is something that I encounter very frequently and in various forms:
- Creation science is stupid. This is the “purest” form of the fallacy, where the topic is directly ridiculed.
- You must be an idiot fascist because you believe in God, and religion is stupid. Now you can see an ad hominem attack mixed with the ridicule.
- Intelligent design is stupid and unscientific because it’s just “Goddidit”. A Straw Man fallacy is mixed with the ridicule.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The emotional aspect of an Appeal to Ridicule can be powerful. If you are not on guard against it, you can find yourself hopelessly chasing a school of red herring to nowhere. And getting angry. You could find yourself defending your intelligence and personal integrity instead of having your opponent justify his assertions. (I have seen attacks that reek of desperation by jumping on typos, mixed metaphors [such as a school of red herring swimming] or grammar instead of dealing with the point at hand.) And if you’re distracted from your subject, the simple act of wasting your time is a sort of victory for your opponent, you savvy?
Ridiculing your topic is not necessarily ridiculing you, but wait a while; the personal attack will not be far behind.
I know it is easy for me to say, but try to maintain your composure and stay with the topic at hand. Of course, if your discussion is adversarial and unproductive, feel free to withdraw.
Appeal to Motive
Keep an eye out for this fallacy, not only in discussions about faith and reason, but in political arenas.
In its simplest sense, the Appeal to Motive fallacy is rather easy to spot. It is a form of the argumentum ad hominem fallacy. I posted some song lyrics in the comments section of a Weblog, and someone said that I posted them “to feel better about myself”. (What gave him the idea that he had insight into my mental processes, I have no idea.) It seems to me that one of the most common indicators that this fallacy has been engaged is terminology resembling, “He/She/You are doing this because…”
But the accuser has no way of knowing what is going on inside your soul.
In a more difficult manifestation, the Appeal to Motive is not always a fallacy. This is when something tangible can be brought into question, such as, “Snidely is suggesting that we use General Universal Widgetarium because he holds stock in that company”. Well, that may be worth further investigation, but to reject Sindely’s suggestion out of hand because he holds stock in the company could have negative consequences.
On a variation on this theme, someone could very well have an ulterior motive that is either good, or at least, harmless: “We can’t let Ray give away this video because he wants to present the gospel message!” So? Either ignore or receive the message, but his motive is probably not a good reason in and of itself to refuse to allow him to give away a video.
When you are on the receiving end of the most blatant Appeal to Motive, you can easily counter it by saying something like, “How do you know what is going on inside my head?”, or, “Your guess about my motive has no bearing on the validity of what I said.” (That is, if you think the attack is worth giving a response in the first place.) Many times, I have seen this fallacy used simply to attack a person instead of engaging in honest discussion.
Being aware of its existence can help you keep a cool head and not get wrapped up in emotional distractions and you can get back to business.
On the other hand, when you are seeing or hearing a remark from someone who is questioning the motives of someone else, exercise restraint. It may not be a fallacy if the questioner has some kind of insight about the motives. Also, you may be right about someone’s motives based on your own experiences, interactions and evidence. But it may not be a good idea to speak up too quickly, or even to speak up on that at all.
So, the Appeal to Motive fallacy is a frequent kind of ad hominem attack, and you can parry the thrusts of your opponent. But be careful, sometimes it is valid to question someone’s motives if you have actual knowledge and want to examine their statement or proposition further.