[OPE-L] ad hominem

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Jul 14 2006 - 17:01:03 EDT

I think Marx does not refer at all to an "ad hominem argument" here.

An ad hominem argument is an argument in which the truth or falsity of a
proposition is claimed to depend on the status or characteristics of those
who advance it, similar to an argument from authority (e.g. "Lenin said it,
therefore it is true", or, "Stalin said it, therefore it is false").

"Demonstrating ad hominem" I think probably means in this context proving
the truth of something to people in practical, lived reality, or people
acting on what they believe, and thus testing it out themselves
experientially - similar to the Theses on Feuerbach where Marx argues that
people have to prove the veracity of their thinking in practice, and that
ultimately there is no proof other than a practical proof.

The "radical" aspect then seems to consist in the circumstance that people
dare to do this, that they probe to the root of problems, and act on their
conclusions ("tackle the problem at its source").

Theory could become a tangible force "if" it grips the masses, but by
implication need not do so necessarily. One could walk the talk, or talk the
walk. If theory "becomes ad hominem", presumably it means in this context
that people believe a theory, and act on it in living reality.

Yet they might believe the theory also without acting on it. Or, they might
act in line with the theory, without even knowing what the theory behind it
is. The relationship between theory and practice is thus more complex I
think than easy Marxist verities about the "unity of theory and practice"
might suggest, and it easily gets conflated with questions of personal
integrity. However, the question of how theory can become separated from
practice in the first instance is just as important, which refers to the
problematic of "ideology".

I think it is typical of ultra-left sectarianism that a very direct,
immediate connection is made between very abstract theoretical propositions
(that somebody holds) and (their) specific political practices, using the
techniques of projection and transference. Thus, the ultra-leftist method of
character assassination typically proceeds by finding apparent
inconsistencies between what somebody believes and what he does, assuming
that immediate political conclusions can be drawn from even very abstract
theoretical propositions somebody subscribes to. But since:

- people are rarely completely consistent in everything they do,
- people may be less influenced by theory than by practical experience,
- people change their ideas and practices in the course of time, and
- a theoretical proposition may not have any specific, immediate practical
implication (it could have any number of implications),

the main thing that the ultraleft sectarians tend to prove, is that they
cannot actually explain what really motivates people's behaviour, or why
people think and act as they do, what motivates their behaviour. The false
assumption implied is that people must necessarily act in accordance with
some abstract idea they have in mind (and they may not), or that a necessary
practical course of action can be directly deduced from a theoretical
proposition (or vice versa).

"Humanism" here would seem to refer more to the ability and willingness to
"place oneself in the shoes of someone else", not so much in the sense of a
relativistic "Other", but in order to reach a greater objectivity and
insight about human practices and beliefs, within the context that they

Thus, I think a better kind of critique is one which (a) demonstrates that a
course of action, or line of reasoning does not actually produce a result to
which its proponent aspires or could agree with, (b) explains why it cannot
do so, in its own terms, and (c) shows the conditions for transcending it.
It is "humanistic" in the sense of respecting, honouring or acknowledging
the real intentions and motives the proponent has, rather than falsely
imputing motives or positions.


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