No True Scotsman Fallacy | Definition & Examples
The no true Scotsman fallacy is the attempt to defend a generalization by denying the validity of any counterexamples given. By changing the definition of who or what belongs to a group or category, the speaker can conveniently dismiss any example that proves the generalization doesn’t hold.
The word “Scotsman” can be replaced with any other type of group affiliation. The no true Scotsman fallacy often arises in discussions around political, social, and religious matters.
What is the no true Scotsman fallacy?
The no true Scotsman fallacy occurs when someone tries to deflect criticisms of their argument, which is in the form of a generalization. Under this fallacious reasoning, any example that would serve as evidence contradicting the initial generalization is automatically dismissed from consideration as not being representative.
The no true Scotsman fallacy is an informal logical fallacy because the flaw lies in the content of the argument: it rests on a sweeping generalization, which is a problem in itself since it doesn’t allow any exceptions, and the speaker tries to defend this generalization by shifting the definition of what or who truly belongs to this generalized claim.
The no true Scotsman fallacy is thus a combination of other fallacies: it is a form of equivocation because it rests on shifting the meaning of a term and begging the question because it is a statement that assumes its own truthfulness. No true Scotsman is also related to stacking the deck fallacy, deliberately discounting all counterarguments.
The fallacy took its name from the original example, paraphrased above, that was used to illustrate it. It is also known as the appeal to purity, because the speaker rejects counterexamples by claiming that they are not truly part of the category under discussion.
How does the no true Scotsman fallacy work?
In its basic form, the no true Scotsman fallacy is about the relationship between a universal generalization and a case that does not agree with that generalization.
- A universal generalization would be “all X are Y,” where X can be any group membership and Y any quality or characteristic.
- A counterexample would be “some X are not Y.”
Logically, if you claim that all X are Y, and someone finds an X that is not Y, you should accept this and abandon your initial claim.
Under the no true Scotsman fallacy, instead of accepting this, you deny that this specific X was ever a member of the group. This is achieved by emphasizing that we are only talking about “genuine” examples of whatever group is under consideration.
Why does no true Scotsman fallacy occur?
No true Scotsman arguments arise when someone is trying to defend their ingroup from criticism (ingroup bias) by excluding those members who don’t agree with the ingroup. In other words, instead of accepting that some members may think or act in disagreeable ways, one dismisses those members as fakes.
This is how defenders of any creed or ideal often dismiss any criticism against or deviation from their beliefs, e.g, by declaring that “no true Republican wants a decrease of the military defense budget,” “no true Liberal is against Medicaid,” etc. This happens because people presume to be the authority on what it takes to be a member of a certain group.
No true Scotsman fallacy example
The no true Scotsman fallacy often appears in public discourse as a way of distancing yourself from someone who shares your political affiliation but whose views or actions you don’t want to endorse.
By resorting to the no true Scotsman fallacy, one can narrow a discussion by (incorrectly) dismissing the validity of counterexamples and ignoring them.
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Frequently asked questions about the no true Scotsman fallacy
- What is the appeal to purity fallacy?
The appeal to purity or no true Scotsman fallacy is an attempt to defend a generalization about a group from a counterexample by shifting the definition of the group in the middle of the argument. In this way, one can exclude the counterexample as not being “true,” “genuine,” or “pure” enough to be considered as part of the group in question.
- Why is no true Scotsman a fallacy?
No true Scotsman arguments are fallacious because instead of logically refuting the counterexample, they simply assert that it doesn’t count. In other words, the counterexample is rejected for psychological, but not logical, reasons.
- Is no true Scotsman always a fallacy?
“No true Scotsman” arguments aren’t always fallacious. When there is a generally accepted definition of who or what constitutes a group, it’s reasonable to use statements in the form of “no true Scotsman.”
For example, the statement that “no true pacifist would volunteer for military service” is not fallacious, since a pacifist is, by definition, someone who opposes war or violence as a means of settling disputes.
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