How to spot and avoid the "No True Scotsman" fallacy


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Now that the comparisons are somewhat apt, people keep moving the goalposts for a true Hitler.


No true fallacy can be so easily spotted.


Anyone who needs to listen to this is just a poseur, not a real Boinger.


You could throw in some egregious but obviously unrelated examples, and when they complain that your examples are not really examples you can hit them with the “no true scotsman” thing.

Also if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap!


Part of this depends on your definition of “true”. No true Scotsman would betray his country. No truly democratic country would imprison people without due process. Where an action goes against the basic principles of the group rather than an idealised representation of the members, it’s possible to say that a member isn’t acting like a genuine or faithful member of the group. Where there are enough exceptions, the group’s claim to this attribute comes into question.


They have only got it half right about trans exclusionary feminists, as the No True Scotsman fallacy equally applies to them (their belief that trans-women aren’t really women).


My favorite example of this, is when a black person claims that black people are immune from being racist, they can’t participate in racism, the worst they can be is a bigot.

(And if Barack Obama goes easy on the Isrealis for human rights abuses, for reasons of racism, that’s outside the bounds of the discussion)


Hmm…as much as I’m a fan of noting people’s goal post moving No True Scotsman arguments (eg. members of a religion who claim any person who puts them in a bad light isn’t a True Member of That Religion), sometimes people really may not qualify as a group member based on the normal definitions of the group. Jews for Jesus come to mind. I remember them fighting Yahoo, demanding to be indexed under “Jews” (or whatnot) - back when trying to create a subject index for the web was a thing.


I think this is a distinction between two ethical systems. One believes fairness will be best achieved by rooting out individual biases like racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on; the other believes we instead fight oppressive social structures like white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, et cetera. Strict adherence to individual fairness may often be counterproductive to social fairness and vice versa. A black person who is racist against white people might be exhibiting individual racism while also more effectively opposing white supremacy, and so be judged differently in those frameworks.


As long as achieving fairness is a goalpost that you can keep moving away from the current discussion, then I think you’ve made my point exactly!


That’s not really a No True Scotsman, that’s use of technical terminology, possibly in an inappropriate context. The popular definition of racism is simply racial prejudice, but the sociological definition is racial prejudice plus power. Even under the sociological definition, it would perfectly possible for black people to be racist if they were the politically and economically dominant group in the society in question.


That’s the thing about fallacies, though, isn’t it? Like stereotypes, they’re attractive because they’re easy on the ole’ noggin, and also because sometimes, in certain specific circumstances, they are actually true. The problem is that specific_case != general_case, which a lot of people (including me at times) seem to forget.


No true BoingBoing BBS’er would post such a thing.


Isn’t saying that a “No True Scotsman” argument in itself?


The ecological fallacy is a group’s characteristics assumed to be descriptive of an individual in the group, but aren’t. So, the no true Scotsman fallacy is the logical opposite of that: individual characteristics refuted to be descriptive of the group, but actually are.


I fear we may be on the edge of an infinite regress.


I guess it’s a plaid skirt, not a kilt? No true Scotsman…


No. In this case, we have a Well-defined Scotsman. The No True Scotsman fallacy does not occur if there is a well understood objective definition of what membership in a group requires and it is that definition which is broken. The No True Scotsman fallacy is well defined and @SheiffFatman did not break that definition to reject @anansi133’s example.

Or, to say it more simply, there was no shifting of goalposts by redefining a group to exclude a counterexample.


I have some friends who could really go for a “Well-defined Scotsman”…

However, I’m not actually convinced.

Group: Racists - people who discriminate based on race.
No True Scotsman Fallacy: Blacks cannot be “True Racists”.

I don’t think the term “racist” is as immutably “well defined” as you do. You can say that blacks don’t have power, but that is A) a generalization and B) presumes that there are no other races they can discriminate against besides whites.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that racism is a power thing, because I think it is, but I’m also against false universal claims, and I think it is racist to say blacks (or any other race) can’t be racist.

I think the some resistance to the idea that this is a No True Scotsman fallacy is because of the way I usually see the NTS argument used: to exclude individual “undesirables” from a group - as in “they aren’t one of us” - by opportunistically narrowing the definition of the group. In the case of racism, the reverse is happening, trying to exclude eligible individuals from being included an undesirable group by trying to opportunistically narrow the definition of the group to exclude them. But I think the NTS fallacy still applies. It is still goal post moving.