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Re: Summary of the debian-devel BoF at Debconf9

On Tue, Aug 18 2009, Steve Langasek wrote:

> On Tue, Aug 18, 2009 at 03:25:30PM -0500, Manoj Srivastava wrote:
>> > And really, if some logical conclusion is so broken that this brokeness
>> > has its own name, then everybody should be able to see it.
>>         This is a nice theory, but in reality one does see people arging
>>  against the person, or their perceived personality, or their
>>  traits, or ascribing motives to them all the time.
> Except that this is *not* the definition of the ad hominem fallacy.  The ad
> hominem fallacy is claiming that a person is bad, *and therefore their
> arguments are wrong*.

        I would say it is attacking the character or motives of a person
 who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself. The most obvious
 example of this fallacy is when one debater maligns the character of
 another debater (e.g, "The members of the opposition are a couple of
 fascists!"), but this is actually not that common. A more typical
 manifestation of argumentum ad hominem is attacking a source of
 information -- for example, responding to a quotation from Richard
 Nixon on the subject of free trade with China by saying, "We all know
 Nixon was a liar and a cheat, so why should we believe anything he
 says?" [0]

> Pointing out that someone is being a jerk on the mailing list is *not* an ad
> hominem fallacy.

        But saying that their message should not be heeded because at
 some other point in the past they had been jerks is one. Discounting a
 message because of a (perceived) character trait of the author is also

>>         These attacks on people, as opposed to discussion of what they
>>  said, is one of the major reasons discussion threads devolve into
>>  unproductive chaos. We should be managing to police discussion better,
>>  and the first step is identifying that such a post has been made. 
> Given the sorts of things you've objected to as "ad hominem attacks"
> in the past, I definitely don't agree.  A number of these have been
> legitimate complaints about behaviors that distract from or derail
> technical discussions.

        So you are saying that I misidentified some mail as an attack on
 a person. Which is perhaps an argument for my point: we need to
 identify that such a post has been made. I do not see the basis for
 your refutation here.

        Also, if the rationale for the disagreement is that you are say
 that a trait you say I possess (mistakenly objecting to non attack as
 an attack) is the reason my message (we should identify and curtail
 attacks on people) should be discounted -- sound familiar?


> Sometimes heated complaints -  but no less legitimate for all that.

        Complaining about the behaviours of a person might be
 legitimate, but not if it is put forth as the reason to discount the
 actual content of the message. It also is probably off topic for the
 thread. And in no way is it a counter argument.

         In all of these cases, the relevant question is not who makes
 the argument, but whether  the argument is valid.

[0] http://www.csun.edu/~dgw61315/fallacies.html
All the existing 2.0.x kernels are to buggy for 2.1.x to be the main
goal. -- Alan Cox
Manoj Srivastava <srivasta@debian.org> <http://www.debian.org/~srivasta/>  
1024D/BF24424C print 4966 F272 D093 B493 410B  924B 21BA DABB BF24 424C

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