What is the No True Scotsman Fallacy

Not a true Scot - No true Scotsman

For information on how to wear a kilt without underwear, see True Scotsman.

Not a true Scot or Appeal to purity is an informal fallacy that tries to protect its universal generalization from a false counterexample by not properly excluding the counterexample. Instead of abandoning the bogus universal generalization or providing evidence that would disqualify the bogus counterexample, a slightly modified generalization is constructed ad hoc to definitively rule out the undesirable special case and similar counterexamples by invoking rhetoric. This rhetoric takes the form of emotionally charged but insubstantial purity platitudes such as "true, pure, real, authentic, real" etc.

Philosophy professor Bradley Dowden explains the error as the "ad hoc salvation" of a refuted attempt at generalization. The following is a simplified rendering of the error:

Person A: "No Scot puts sugar on his porridge."
Person B: "But my uncle Angus is a Scot and he puts sugar on his porridge."
Person A: "But none truer Schotte puts sugar on his porridge. "

Regular use

The No true Scotsman is committed when the Arguer meets the following conditions:

  • not publicly withdraw from the original, falsified claim
  • Offer a modified assertion that definitely excludes a deliberate, undesirable counterexample
  • Using rhetoric to hide the modification

A call to purity is usually associated with protecting a privileged group. Scottish national pride can be at stake when someone who is regularly viewed as Scottish commits a heinous crime. To protect people of Scottish heritage from possible allegations of guilt by association, this fallacy can be used to deny that the group is associated with that undesirable member or act. "No truer Schotte would do something so undesirable "; that is, the people who would do such a thing are tautologically (definitely) excluded from being part of our group, so that they cannot serve as a counter-example to the good nature of the group.

Origin and literature

The description of the error in this form is attributed to the British philosopher Antony Flew, since the term was originally used in Flew's book in 1971 An Introduction to Western Philosophy appeared . In his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking he wrote:

Imagine a Scottish chauvinist settled down on a Sunday morning with his usual edition of The News of the World. He reads the story under the heading "Sidcup Sex Maniac Strikes Again". As he had confidently expected, our reader is pleasantly shocked: "No Scot would do anything like that!" But the very next Sunday he found in the same favorite source a report on the even more scandalous events of Mr. Angus McSporran in Aberdeen. This is clearly a counterexample that definitively falsifies the universal proposition originally put forward. ("Falsifying" here is, of course, simply the opposite of "verifying"; and therefore it means "showing that it is false".) Since this is indeed such a counterexample, he should withdraw; Withdrawal, perhaps, to a weaker claim about most or some. But even an imaginary Scot, like the rest of us, is human. and none of us always do what we should be doing. So he actually says, "No true Scot would do that!"

In his 1966 book God & Philosophy Flew described the "no-true-Scotsman move":

In this ungracious step a bold generalization turns into like No Scotsmen put sugar on their porridge When confronted with false facts while you wait, in an impotent tautology: If alleged Scots put sugar on their porridge, that alone is enough to prove they don't true Scots are.

Essayist David P. Goldman, who wrote under his pseudonym "Spengler", compared the distinction between "mature" democracies that never start wars and "emerging democracies" that might spark them to the error of "not a true Scot". Spengler claims that political scientists tried to save the "academic dogma of the USA" that democracies never start wars against other democracies by counter-examples by declaring and thereby claiming to be flawed every democracy that actually starts a war against another democracy that there is no real and mature Democracy there starts a war against another democracy.

Not deceptive use

Robert Anderson argues that the phrase "not a true Scot" is not always deceptive: it depends on the syntactic context of the term "true" inserted into the phrase "not a true Scot".

See also