No True Scotsman

groundskeeper willie

No true Scotsman is an informal logical fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, 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. The term was advanced by philosopher Antony Flew in his 1975 book ‘Thinking About Thinking: Do I sincerely want to be right?’ 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 paper 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.’

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. At issue is whether or not something labeled as an ’emerging democracy’ is actually a democracy or something in a different conceptual category.

One Comment to “No True Scotsman”

  1. Is it the same fallacy when the ‘trueness’ is only implied, as in the statement that the Occupy X protesters are ‘UnAmerican’ (which I’m supposing is to be read as not ‘truly’ American)?

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