The No True Scotsman Fallacy Examples

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

We have all been through fallacious arguments, either as subjective makers of those arguments or as passive receivers. Many of us do not even realize such fallacies that we make in our daily lives but bound to think what we have said is valid. Results? We face communication problem and fail to make an argument that is logical and valid. This article aims to introduce one such fallacy with an objective to make the readers aware of it so that they can make better arguments.

What is a Fallacy in General?

A deceptive argument is known as fallacy. Generally, an argument which contains a lack of reasoning is defined as a fallacious argument (Logical Fallacies, 2009). This differs from a factual error, which is simply wrong about the facts. In fallacies, premises do not provide necessary support for the conclusion, and they involve a logic fault. The ‘No True Scotsman’ is a fallacy of ambiguity or as a fallacy of presumption with its reinterpretation of the evidence to fit its conclusion rather than forming its conclusion on the basis of the evidence (Logical Fallacies, 2009). This essay first explains what the ‘No true Scotsman fallacy,’ is through examples in political, religious, economic and socio- cultural contexts. Then, it argues, the fallacy occurs because people create solid boundaries for certain ideologies and blame the people who do not fit in those boundaries as ‘no true members’, without necessarily questioning the ideologies. Finally, it discusses some of the ways in which the boundaries can be redrawn or made fluid.

What is the ‘No True Scotsman Fallacy’?

A ‘No true Scotsman fallacy’ is a logical fallacy, which involves the act of setting up some boundaries for certain beliefs or ideologies, and calling the members who deviate from those boundaries a ‘no true member’ of those particular beliefs (Logical Fallacies, 2009). This fallacy was initially illustrated by Anthony Flew in 1975, in his book “Thinking about Thinking.” He explains this fallacy by a hypothetical scenario which goes as below: A Scotsman reads about a horrible crime in the newspaper that takes place in the English town of Brighton and smugly thinks to himself, ‘No Scotsman would ever do such a thing.’ Something much worse happens in nearby Aberdeen and is reported on the next day. Rather than admit that he’s wrong, he instead thinks, ‘No true Scotsman would ever do such a thing’ (Source: Tv tropes). It is obvious from the scenario that the Scotsman, who reads the news paper, defines and shifts the meaning of a Scotsman from ‘someone who lives in Scotland’ to ‘someone who meets my standard of Scottish behavior.’ This indicates that the fallacy involves the act of setting up particular standards for certain scenarios, and redefines those standards to avoid undesirable outcomes for the believers of certain ideologies. Another way of explaining the fallacy is through the below example:

Angus: No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge!

Bonnie: But my uncle Scotty MacScotscot does just that!

Angus: Well, then he’s no’ a true Scotsman (Logical Fallacies, 2009).

As the example illustrates, the meaning of a Scotsman shifts or is redefined from a person who was born in Scotland to a person who does not put sugar in his porridge. In this way, Angus is attempting to avoid an unpleasant outcome that he cannot tolerate from a Scotsman. This fallacy can be explained logically by the statement, all As are Bs, which asserts that all As should be Bs, and excludes those As who do not belong to B, as no true members of A. This, again, reinforces the act of re-setting up certain boundaries without taking into consideration of any changes in the original definition under varying circumstances. This is how the act of creating boundaries along with redefining certain standards, as explained, becomes a no true Scotsman fallacy. Usually, the fallacy is committed in two ways; one is when people try to enforce conformity and orthodoxy within certain groups, and the other is when people, who are outside of a group, define a group in negative ways.

No True Scotsman in Practical Contexts

This section discusses the prevalence of no true Scotsman fallacy in four spheres; political, religious, economic (through advertisements) and socio-cultural.

Example 1:

A: No Muslim can be a terrorist.

B: But Muslim terrorists have encountered suicide-bombings and terrorist attacks.

A: Well, they are not ‘true Muslims.’

The Muslim fundamentalists, who are the extremist groups of Islam, often identify Islamic militant groups as terrorists. The speaker A, who is an Islam Fundamentalist, is committing ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. In his/her fallacious argument, s/he is creating a boundary of a true Muslim who does not involve in violence. However, human beings have a choice how to shape their values and views of religion (Parekh, 2008). The Islamic fundamentalists have their own interpretation regarding what Islam means. While interpreting, they might cause a fallacy in their argument which they often overlook. Further explaining, although the fundamentalist Muslims have a certain faith regarding Islam, they have to give a reasoning of their faith (Parekh, 2008). In the example provided above, the Muslim fundamentalist, who is excluding the Muslim terrorist group from being Muslims, did not give any rational reason or evidence that shows that Muslim terrorists can be excluded from the religion. The fundamentalists claiming themselves to be true Muslims do not recognize that the terrorists can also be Muslims simply because they are followers of Allah. In fact, the fundamentalists are trying to save their ideology from any debate and trying to identity their belief regarding Islam as a ‘sacred’ belief and practice.

Example 2:

A: No Muslim can ever have a Jewish friend.

B: But, my friend has a Jewish friend.

A: Well, he is not a true Muslim.

In the above example, the person A is committing a ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy. The Quran, for example, says that Jews are not to be ‘taken as allies’, but limits it to a particular historical context, and it also says that as Jews are mentioned in the Holy Quran, they should be respected and trusted (Parekh, 2008). However, A only sticks to certain verses of Quran and makes a claim that Jews cannot be taken as friends; he decides not to choose the other verses which are not in favor of his claim that a Muslim can ever have a Jewish friend. There are lots of people similar to A, who might claim that God’s Word can ever be mistaken. However, they do not consider the possibility that they could be mistaken in their religious interpretations, and thus need to revise their faith or beliefs (Parekh, 2008). Therefore, they are committing a fallacious argument and claim they are successful to identify what is the ‘one truth’ regarding religious interpretations while dismissing the important fact; they are also interpreting their religion according to own choices, picking the scripture which matches their objectives. All these choices might have shortcomings, and ‘misinterpretation’ would go hand in hand with ‘no true Scotsman’ fallacy.

Example 3:

Considering the economic contexts, this section, particularly, analyses how the fallacy is widely used in advertisement to promote goods and services. The main purpose of using the fallacy is to attract or manipulate people by making a moral or emotional claim that indirectly induces the customers to buy products.

Considering an advertisement for the American Dog Magazine, there is a picture of two men demonstrating a posture which states “Be a real man and neuter your dog” (Action against poisoning, 2000). The main purpose of the advertisement is to make people neuter their dogs. In order to make people do so, the magazine makes a claim that true man will neuter their dog. It indirectly says that man who does not neuter his dog is not a real man. By emphasizing the fact that only real men neuter their dogs, they are enforcing men to neuter their dogs in order to be real men.

They are actually forming the definition of true man in narrow way or according to their wish in order to achieve their goal. The fallacy lies on their claim because neutering their dogs is not the only criteria for being real men, and there are other qualities which might be necessary for being real men. However, in the advertisement, other qualities are neglected and a narrow boundary is drawn to accommodate the real men within it. Analyzing another advertisement on swimming suits, the advertisement illustrates two pictures of women, one is wearing a swim suit which covers only half of her body with the sentence that “So-called liberated western – Christian swimwear-wearing women” (Femovi, 2012). Another woman is wearing a swim suit which covers her whole body including head and the sentence under the picture of that woman says that “So-called repressed Eastern-Islamic swimwear-wearing woman.” This advertisement is trying to influence Christians to buy and wear swim suits that cover half of their body by evoking their religious sentiment as well as portraying Muslims as suppressed group. Here, the fallacy is the advertisers are portraying all Christian women as liberated ones who wear swimming suites which do not cover their whole body; excludes the Christians who do not follow this rule as not liberated Christians.

Example 4:

Moving from religion, politics and advertisement to socio-cultural norms, the norms are not free from the fallacy. Considering the norms in Asian culture, the no true Scotsman fallacy is visible in the unequal perceptions of gender. In most of the Asian societies, male domination is prevalence, and there are culturally constructed norms that define true men by drawing boundaries that only men who dominate women are considered to be true men. Further, true men are not expected to perform certain kinds of tasks such as household work of cleaning, cooking and washing; men who do these work would be subject to facing social stigma and considered as no true masculine men. Consequently, committing the fallacy which considers men superior to women can be attributed to the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual harassments against women.

Why the Fallacy Occurs

Given the examples and explanations of no true Scotsman Fallacy, it is now important to discover the fundamental reasons behind people committing the fallacy. One of the major reasons can be given as the distance between the ideology and practice (Islam, 2012). That is, when people define their ideologies, for example the norms of a woman in most Asian cultures as an object which should reflect characteristics of modesty and submissiveness to men, they do not really consider how far those norms can be met by the changing circumstances. If we consider the countries that have liberal values, the role of women is not limited to household work and women who work are not considered as ‘no true women.’ By contrast, in countries that are conservative, the society simply blames the women who do not fit into the so-called norms. Therefore, the fallacy is actually committed by creating boundaries at personal and culture specific levels, and trying to make those boundaries universal to the members of certain groups; as a result, those who do not fit in to the boundaries are excluded as no true members.

Another way of comparing the distance is the analogy of software-hardware (Islam, 2012). The software is created by humans, and embedded in hardware as programmed applications. When the program does not work as expected, people easily go back to the software and look for means to fix the errors. They hardly put the blame on the hardware, because hardware is seldom taken for repair. For the most part, this analogy can be compared with the relationship between ideology and practice. In contrast to what happens with the software, that people do not blame the hardware but look to make changes in the software, when an ideology does not work the way it was thought to work, people simply put the blame on the people. They do not even want to question the ideology or the philosophy of their ideologies; rather they think something is wrong with the people who are not capable of following what is stated in the ideologies.

The above analogy can be objected by the fact that humans cannot be compared to hardware because hardware cannot think; in contrast, humans have the consciousness of discerning right and wrong by their thinking ability. This implies that, when software does not work, there will be a very little chance that the error could have been made due to hardware problem. However, when something goes wrong among human beings who follow certain ideologies, there are almost equal chances that the error might have been due to humans themselves because what people do are for the most part subjective, as opposed to the objective role of the hardware. For example, some Muslim terrorists create catastrophes in the name of their religion. In that case, the error is definitely not with their religious ideology but with the interpretations and purposes of terrorists themselves. However, in most cases, the no true Scotsman fallacy occurs, when people tend to have particular beliefs and perceive there cannot be other alternatives or ways to practice or maintain the ‘trueness’ of their ideologies. Therefore, it is important to question not only the people who follow certain ideologies but also the ideologies and their interpretations themselves, just like how the software is investigated, to find out the real errors and prevent people from committing the fallacy. So, how are we to redraw the boundaries? Can we even aspire for that? These are the questions the last part of this essay is going to answer.

Redrawing the Boundaries: Is it Possible

Boundaries are, usually, derived from social and cultural practices that have been followed traditionally, for the sake of passing on the values of traditions. Culture is not something fixed; it is very fluid and changes tremendously overtime. However, people, although being the agents of cultural changes, do not realize that they are contributing to cultural variations but perceive that culture is fixed, causing them to think in terms of boundaries. Therefore, it is possible to change the people’s perception through socialization. For instance, the fact that women as inferior to men is usually demonstrated through stories and images of media, and when people, especially, children are exposed to such images, they simply internalize the notion that women should be subordinate to men.

Similarly, the boys also get the idea of being dominant and superior to women. As a way of changing this cyclical trend of gender inequality, the UN has taken a new initiative to ban all the stories of children, in Europe, that portrays women as belonging to the roles of caring and nurturing (Mail Online, 2012). By doing this, it hopes to prevent children from being socialized to adapt boundaries that reflect gender inequality. The case of UN’s initiative is one example of how people’s perception could be changed. There are also other ways people can use to achieve their goals of coming out of from their limited world; critical thinking and questioning not only the people but also the ideologies are essential among all.

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