Bronze-level articleNo True Scotsman

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from No true Scotsman)
Jump to: navigation, search
Part of the series on

Logic and rhetoric

Icon logic.svg
Key articles
General logic
Bad logic

Alexander and Aristotle.jpg

No True Scotsman is a logical fallacy by which an individual attempts to avoid being associated with an unpleasant act by asserting that no true member of the group they belong to would do such a thing. Instead of acknowledging that some members of a group have undesirable characteristics, the fallacy tries to redefine the group to exclude them. Sentences such as "all members of X have desirable trait Y" then become tautologies, because Y becomes a requirement of membership in X.

The fallacy does not occur in defining a group or label narrowly to begin with, but in narrowing it by excluding evidence that contradicts an initially broad definition.

Contents

[edit] Origins

The term was coined by Antony Flew, who gave an example of a Scotsman who sees a newspaper article about a series of sex crimes taking place in Brighton, and responds that "no Scotsman would do such a thing." When later confronted with evidence of another Scotsman doing even worse acts, his response is that "no true Scotsman would do such a thing," thus disavowing membership in the group "Scotsman" to the criminal on the basis that the commission of the crime is evidence for not being a Scotsman. However, this is a fallacy as there is nothing in the definition of "Scotsman" which makes such acts impossible. The term "No True Scotsman" has since expanded to refer to anyone who attempts to disown or distance themselves from wayward members of a group by excluding them from it.

[edit] Usage

In its barest form, here is the fallacy:

A: "For all members in set S, predicate P applies."
B: "Here's X. It's a member of set S, but P does not apply, invalidating your statement."
A: "No. X isn't a member of set S, because P does not apply to it."

Person A has committed a form of circular reasoning. The counterexample is Morton's-fork-ingly used to reinforce the original statement. Here is a stupidly obvious concrete example:

A: "All the marbles in this bag are blue."
B: "But this marble is red, and it's in the bag!"
A: "No. I just told you that all the marbles in this bag are blue. Since it's red, it can't actually be in the bag."

In practice, application of the Scotsman is far more subtle than this! but the line of thinking always boils down to a denialistic attitude towards counterexamples.

Broadly speaking, the fallacy does not apply if there is a clear and well understood definition of what membership in a group requires and it is that definition which is broken (e.g., "no honest man would lie like that!", "no Christian would worship Satan!" and so on).

The True Scotsman fallacy can be used to uphold positive, neutral, or negative stereotypes by portraying people who do not conform to them as exceptions. An example would be claiming that feminists, being "well-educated and having strong opinions about gender issues," do not speak for "typical" women.

[edit] Prime examples

Phrases such as "un-American," "un-Christian" or "inhuman" are widely used in politics and media to distance oneself from a subject, defining them as outside the bounds of what the speaker considers to be truly 'American,' 'Christian' or 'human' behaviour. These phrases strongly suggest the No True Scotsman fallacy, since the use, for example of "un-American" to describe specific political activities by some American citizens implies some special definition of "American" beyond mere nationality. (It is not a fallacy if such a special definition is consistently applied, though that doesn't make it a sensible definition.)

[edit] Religious

No man can ever be opposed to Christianity who knows what it really is.
Henry Drummond

With respect to religion, the fallacy is well used, often even overused. Religious apologists will repeatedly try to use the No True Scotsman argument to distance themselves from more extreme or fundamentalist groups, but this does not prevent such extremists actually being religious - they themselves would certainly argue otherwise. Moderate Muslim leaders, for example, are well known for declaring Islamic extremists as "not true Muslims" as Islam is a "religion of peace." Similarly, moderate Christians, such as those in Europe, are sometimes aghast when viewing their fundamentalist counterparts in the US, immediately declaring them "not true Christians," even though they believe in the same God and get their belief system from the same book. Many of these statements stating that the extremists are not true believers are often used as a reaction against Guilt by Association. The No True Scotsman fallacy can also run the other way when it comes to extremism. Extremists will make a religious statement and when someone points out that there are many believers who don't believe the extremist's viewpoint, the moderates are deemed to be not true believers (ie: Christians who support gay marriage are not "real Christians" or Muslims who support women's rights are not "real Muslims"). Modern pagans do it all the time, perhaps even more than other religions, due to the fact that there is no agreed-on orthodoxy for the whole group, with some well-established practices in one setting being considered unpalatable in others. Silver Ravenwolf, one of the best selling "leaders" of neopagans, has done this with multiple ancient, well-established practices.

It's a tricky business, as being a member of a religious group, to the minds of those involved, encompasses adhering to a certain standard of behavior. For example, charity can certainly be called an essentially Christian ethic, considering the emphasis that Jesus placed on it. The man himself would most definitely disavow the greedy and "What's mine is mine" mindset of many right-wingers who call themselves Christians. However, strictly speaking, a Christian is defined as "one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ"; there's no rule saying they have to do it right.

Atheists can also be guilty of the fallacy, such as someone hypothetically exclaiming that "true atheists" don't believe in ghosts or UFOs when such disbeliefs actually have nothing to do with an atheistic philosophy (although they can be linked by concepts of observational evidence and rationalism). Another example would be Communism. Many of the world's most brutal Communists have been avowed atheists. Regardless of their irrational views on other matters, they did not believe in God (excluding a personality cult). Similarly, many socialists claim Stalin and Mao were not true socialists.[1]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. However, while these leading Communists were socialist and atheist, it is fallacious to suggest that all socialists and atheists are brutal murdering totalitarians.
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Community
Tools
In other languages
support