Re: [OPE-L] ad hominem

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Jul 10 2006 - 13:39:20 EDT

Some time ago Mike L asked for interpretations of the following
quote from Marx. On another list, Chris Wright (in also addressing a
book by Mike Davis) offers his answer. I am forwarding it to OPE-L
with his permission.

In solidarity, Jerry


Chris Wright <cwright666@...> wrote:

"It is clear that the arm of criticism cannot replace the criticism
of arms. Material force can only be overthrown by material force; but
theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the
masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it
demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it
becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter.
But, for man, the root is man himself."

  Contribution to the Critique
  of Hegel's /Philosophy of Right/

There is an interesting discussion of ad hominem argument at
s/ad.hominem.html, though presented via formal logic.

To me, Marx's point is that insofar as ad hominem is an attack on a
person or their circumstances, if one shows the faulty logic of an
argument, it is not enough.  One must also show the human basis for
the argument, hence the ad hominem.  That Marx critiques ideas as not
merely false, but he goes to the foundation of the ideas, to their root in
human social relations.  It seems to me that Marx must, of necessity,
reject merely logical critique which stands abstracted from the class
interests it represents.  This is not about seeking an emotive
response, but about naming names and setting sights on a target.
Hence the reason Marx talks about this alongside his "Criticism of
weapons, weapon of criticism" line which people are so familiar with.

So one could argue that Mike is not going far enough in his critique
of Davis if he does not display not merely what the political
implications of his argument are, but what class interests it serves and
why Mike Davis might be given to such a direction.  Ad hominem in Marx's
sense is quite polemical and demands that people not merely bear
responsibility for their ideas, but that they not be allowed to act as if
those ideas were merely personal rather than expressing a certain social
reality and class view.

While people might feel uncomfortable with that re: Mike Davis, who
would reject such a point re: a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter?  So
then why with Mike Davis?

IMO, Marx makes use of this in very clear ways in his political
writing, such as the 18th Brumaire, where his assessments of actions
and ideas and the people holding them are often very ad hominem.


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