19 sept. 2006

Someone objected over the weekend when I suggested that "ad hominem" attacks on Lehman were justified.

But the issue is precisely one of character, or lack of character.

A good example of an ad hominem fallacy is Lehman's book on Paul de Man, which makes the argument that, since Paul de Man was a scoundrel in many ways, deconstruction is a flawed critical method, tainted by de Man's ethical failings. That is fallacious, because if deconstruction is bad criticism, it will be bad even if de Man is a saint. And if it is good criticism, it will be good even if de Man had particular ethical failings.

The argument against Lehman is that his anthologies are bad, and that they are bad in part because of his preference for mediocre people in his immediate circle, including, apparently, a spouse. That is not a fallacious argument, because there is a direct connection to be made. He is unethical in the very act of making the anthology, and the lack of ethics actually makes the anthology worse. [If he makes bad anthologies because he simply has bad taste, that is also a direct connection. That would be like saying that de Man is a bad literary theorist because he is a bad literary theorist. Tautological but not ad hominem in the fallacious sense.]

Billy Collins is evil, because he takes the highest art form possible and waters it down, perverts it. It is this very act that is evil, hence this is not a fallaciously ad hominem statement.

Many forms of ad hominem argument are, in fact, valid in the public sphere. If a wealthy person argues for tax relief for the wealthy, it is valid to point to the "cui bono" principle. In other words, to look at "who's saying it" as opposed to merely considering the objective merits of the argument.

5 comentarios:

peter dijo...

i love all of the qualifications here. I mean i could write about this post for a while, trying to sort all it's twisted reasoning out (for instance, Evil is watering down the highest form of art possible? we then have to agree on what the highest form is[like that's possible] and then what it means to water it down, and then on whether there is even such a thing as evil and then what are we left with... i mean, was Hitler evil? and if so, is it because he watered down poetry?...in the meantime you've just made another ad hominem attack on Collins...) anyway, suffice it to say i appreciate you qualifing your previous, very blunt statement-- That Lehman DESERVES ad hominem. now you're at least saying "some forms" of ad hominem, in the "public sphere." and while ad hominem might occasionally be an effective argument it is never a GOOD argument (even in your final example)...

Jonathan dijo...

Well duh. Of course I qualified it. You asked for an explanation. I didn't think anyone would be obtuse enough to think I was saying that David Lehman deserves every and all ad hominem attacks. I was referring to Seth Abramson's review, to which I had linked in the same post, which made Lehman *himself* an issue, not just the quality of the anthology as a selection of poems. In this case, yes, go after the man, not just the work. Perfectly legitimate.

Don't you have hyperbole where you live? If I told you that smooth jazz was evil would you ask me whether smooth jazz ever committed genocide? Do I have to explain why I consider poetry to be the highest form of art, and why attempts to debase it should be condemned? If I explained that, then you'd probably accuse me of qualifying my remarks!

And speaking of Hitler, I see you named your blog after him. I guess you think that's cute. I don't.

peter dijo...

well, jeez, i suppose i might have come across as pissy though i didn't really mean to. i do that sometimes, sorry.

you're right, i asked for qualifications and i got'em.

Listen: all i was saying is that ad hominem isn't really fighting fair. you have now clarified and believe in certain cases it's justified. okay, that's fine. it's still not a great form of argument. before you said he "deserved" ad hominem (i think that's what you said, but since you've removed the post, maybe i've gotten it mixed up)and i just thought that wasn't a fair thing to say about anyone really. i mean, again, it's generally understood that ad hominem is a fallacy in argument.

I don't know why me questioning you on this provokes you so that you have to say i'm obtuse and don't understand language (hyperbole {though in this example you've got to give me a break for missing the hyperbole since you follow your statement that Collins is evil with the phrase "this is not a fallaciously ad hominem statement"...the way people talk it's not hard to imagine that some actually might think Collins is evil}) and then, in a classic ad hominem move, you drop the issue at hand and say you don't like the name of my blog, as if that shows something. but that's okay.

the blog itself isn't named after Hitler so much as it's named after my book, Hitler's Mustache. I wasn't really trying to be cute, so I'm not surprised that you don't think it is. sorry again for making you so grumpy. i'll try and slink away now.

Jonathan dijo...

Don't worry about it. You are just the type of person that seems to rub me the wrong way for some reason.

Robert dijo...

Interesting analysis of argumentation. Typically, I find blogospherical discourse falls under the, expando ad absurdum ad infinitum ad nauseum line of thought.