The ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy

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In logic and debate–and thus in politics–dealing with generalities can get you into trouble. How do you handle the exception that seems to disprove the rule?

You don’t see if often, but Antony Flew identified the No True Scotsman fallacy in his book “Thinking About Thinking: Or, Do I Sincerely Want to be Right?” (1975).

Generally speaking, No True Scotsman works like this:

“Scottish Piper” by SteveWagner is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
  • Speaker 1 makes an assertion based on a generality.
  • Speaker 2 gives a counter-example that disproves the generality.
  • Speaker 1 dismisses the counter-example as an anomaly.

Or, in a variation on an often-cited example:

  • MacBeth: “No Scotsman takes honey on his porridge.”
  • MacDuff: “My uncle Ian takes honey on his porridge, and he’s Scottish.”
  • MacBeth: “Perhaps. But no true Scotsman takes honey on his porridge.”

Ironically, the Scotsman argument was recently used about a Latina. Congresswoman Mayra Flores took the oath to represent the 34th House District of Texas, a district held by Democrats since 1870, last month. The New York Times published an article about “The Rise of the Far-Right Latina” and CNN commentator Raul A. Reyes followed up with an op-ed saying that Flores and other candidates like her were “not the real deal.”

Reyes did back up his assertions with demographics to show that the Hispanic community still tends to vote with Democrats and that it sides with that party’s policy on abortion, gun control, and other issues. Flores tweeted back that the left was attacking her for her personal values.

Personally, I think people should be recognized for what they believe in rather than the groups they belong to. And for the record, I take my porridge with maple syrup. But then, I’m no true Scotsman.

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