No true Scotsman
No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing").
A simple rendition of the fallacy:
- Person A: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
- Person B: "But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge."
- Person A: "Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Essayist Spengler compared the distinguishing between "mature" democracies, which never start wars, and "emerging democracies", which may start them, with the "No true Scotsman" fallacy, since, according to Spengler, the US academic dogma is that no true democracy starts a war.
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton [(England)] Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen [(Scotland)] man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".
- Ad hoc rescue
- Begging the question
- Epistemic commitment
- Loaded language
- Moving the goalposts
- Persuasive definition
- Reification (fallacy)
- Special pleading
- Tautology (rhetoric)
- No True Scotsman, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Flew, Antony (1975), Thinking About Thinking: Do I Sincerely Want to Be Right?, London: Collins Fontana, p. 47, ISBN 978-0-00-633580-1
- Spengler. "No true Scotsman starts a war", Asia Times Online, Jan 31, 2006
- Obituary: Professor Antony Flew, The Scotsman, 16 April 2010