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: "I am Scottish, and put sugar on my porridge."
- Person A: "Then you are not a true Scotsman."
An example of a political application of the fallacy could be in asserting that "no democracy starts a war", then distinguishing between mature or "true" democracies, which never start wars, and "emerging democracies", which may start them. It is still debated whether an "emerging democracy" is actually a democracy, or occupies a different conceptual category.
The use of the term was advanced by British philosopher Antony Flew:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton 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 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".
When the statement "all A are B" is qualified like this to exclude those A which are not B, this is a form of begging the question; the conclusion is assumed by the definition of "true A".
- No True Scotsman, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Pinker, Steven (2003). How the Mind Works. Hukilau.
- Spengler. "No true Scotsman starts a war", Asia Times Online, Jan 31, 2006
- Flew, Antony (1975), Thinking About Thinking: Do I Sincerely Want to Be Right?, London: Collins Fontana, ISBN 978-0-00-633580-1
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