occurs when we attack the person(s) giving us factual information,
rather than the facts themselves. It's considered to be
a logical fallacy (an ad hominem fallacy), because it cannot and does not prove
anything to be true, or false.
All it does is attack the person
who's saying it, sometimes with true statements about the
messenger. While it may be true that the messenger has some sort
of unsavory motive for saying whatever he, or she says, that doesn't
make it untrue.
Why kill the messenger? Usually as a means to also kill the message.
But it really doesn't matter why someone says
something. What matters is whether we can verify the truth
or falsity of what they say.
already seen a prime example of this sort of thing in the story of the boy who cried wolf.
The owners of the sheep decided he was a liar, which as it
happens was true. So, since they knew he was a liar, they
decided this last claim that a wolf was attaching the flock was
a lie, when it wasn't. But deciding to ignore him when he told
the truth about the wolf attacking the sheep, was like killing
the messenger. And since they didn't check it out on their
own, their sheep were devoured.
sort of thing involves attacking the person's motive for saying
something. For example accusing the person of saying
something for personal gain, like getting money, or getting us
to do something they want us to do. Here are a couple
examples of how motives get attacked.
Scare tactics: Yep,
this is a prime one. It goes something like this: "They're just using scare tactics,
when they say, 'The sky is falling,' because they want us to
vote for them in order for them to keep it falling on us." Well, okay,
that might be true to some extent, but maybe
the sky really is falling. Maybe we should be scared. The fact
that someone is trying to scare us doesn't make what they say
invalid. We have to check it out on our own.
Financial gain: This
is another frequent attack. "He's just trying to make
money by saying that." How? Oh, by getting more
listeners for his radio show. Or by getting to fund her
research project. Again, the motive doesn't matter.
What matters is whether we can check it out on our own.
For those of you who'd like to know the technical term
for this, it's called the "ad hominem fallacy" in logic.
It does nothing to refute factual information. We have to
ignore who provides the facts. We have to check out the
facts on our own, or look for others who checked them.
see a list of Logical
Fallacies, including the "ad hominem fallacy"
To see a related article,
The Boy Who Cried Wolf -
Another moral to
go to the brief introduction to intentional efforts to obstruct, or avoid reality
go to the Articles Page.