Appeal to motive, also known as Argument from Motives, or Questioning Motives, is a true bane of honest intellectual and spiritual discourse. One of the main reasons why is the fact that it is never truly a standalone fallacy, but rather, it is one that encompasses (or is closely yoked with) other such fallacies. The goal is to show the interconnected nature of it… but first, we need to define it.
“APPEAL TO MOTIVE: Is a pattern of argument which consists in challenging a thesis by calling into question the motives of its proposer. It can be considered as a special case of the ad hominem circumstantial argument. As such, this type of argument may be an informal fallacy.
A common feature of appeals to motive is that only the possibility of a motive (however small) is shown, without showing the motive actually existed or, if the motive did exist, that the motive played a role in forming the argument and its conclusion. Indeed, it is often assumed that the mere possibility of motive is evidence enough.”
With Appeal to motive being a subset of both the Ad Hominem (Abusive) and Ad Hominem (Circumstantial) sub-fallacies, we should define those as well:
- The Ad hominem abusive is the fallacy that that an agent’s belief has not been proved (or is mistaken) because that person is somehow deficient as evidenced by some undesirable aspects of that person’s character, personality, morality, or competence.
- The Ad hominem circumstantial is the fallacy that someone’s belief has not been proved (or is mistaken) because that person’s position is motivated by actions or personal circumstances which most likely bias that person’s judgment.
Thus, “He’s wrong! He’s only saying [xyz] because he’s an ungodly man,” is an example of the abusive form. Whereas “He’s wrong! He’s only saying [xyz] because he is trying to make a name for himself,” is an example of the circumstantial form.
All of these fallacies attempt to redirect the mind away from the point(s)/argument(s) at hand, onto something personal as it relates to the one making the arguments. It is an intellectually and morally dishonest approach, one that (when introduced within a new environment) manifests as the closely-related fallacy of…
Poisoning the well: [Which is] to commit a preemptive ad hominem (abusive) attack against an opponent. That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.
Any time one points out a problem with the stance of another, they are potentially influencing the audience. However, that is not the essence of the poisoning… fallacy. The gist of this fallacy is when you fail to address the arguments brought forth, choosing instead to engage in ad hominem attacks, deceptive innuendo, etc., especially as a means of pre-biasing the current audience.
Finally, the …motive… fallacy is also similar to (or perhaps even a form of) the straw man fallacy, which is defined in this manner:
A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. A common form of setting up such a straw man is by use of the notorious formula “so what you’re saying is ….. ?”, converting the argument to be challenged into an obviously absurd distortion. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.
The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and the subsequent refutation of that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the opponent’s proposition
When one engages often in such, it usually indicates incompetence, and/or insincerity, as it relates to the fair handling of the topic(s) at hand. Sadly, many may not even be aware that they are engaging in it. Even sadder is the reality that some know precisely what they are doing. The worst employment of such trickery is the purposeful employment of it (particularly, as a means of deceiving others when spiritual matters are concerned).
Thus, whether with commentary or joint dialogue, if the aim is to truly help edify others, such sophistry must be avoided (so that the heart of the matter can be more easily discovered, pondered, and eventually… embraced — once the truth of the matter is properly determined).
To God be the glory,