Loving Personal Attacks

Is it possible that ad hominem attacks are a sign of progress in debate? Indefatigable CAM critic Edzard Ernst thinks so, arguing that an ad hominem attack is “nothing else than an open admission by ‘the other side’ that they have no more reasonable arguments.” This rings true to me, but I’m not sure how helpful it is. Sure, you might get a tiny jolt of satisfaction, realizing that you’re stomping an interlocutor in debate, but what then?

Reading through the comments on Ernst’s post, I noticed that he was called out for referring to a CAM advocate as a “quack.” Ad hominems are not the same as personal abuse; as long as you address the arguments under consideration, you can be as sarcastic and offensive as you like. Misuse of the ad hominem as a label for an opposing position amuses me far more than an actual ad hominem, but maybe I should be more humble, given that David Hitchcock at McMaster university argues there’s no such thing as an ad hominem fallacy.