No True Scotsman Fallacy | Definition & Examples

The no true Scotsman fallacy is the attempt to defend a generalisation 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 generalisation doesn’t hold.

No true Scotsman fallacy example
Person 1: No Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge!

Person 2: But my friend Duncan likes sugar with his porridge.

Person 1: Yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge.

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.

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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 generalisation. Under this fallacious reasoning, any example that would serve as evidence contradicting the initial generalisation 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 generalisation, which is a problem in itself since it doesn’t allow any exceptions, and the speaker tries to defend this generalisation by shifting the definition of what or who truly belongs to this generalised 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.

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How does the no true Scotsman fallacy work?

In its basic form, the no true Scotsman fallacy is about the relationship between a universal generalisation and a case that does not agree with that generalisation.

  • A universal generalisation 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 emphasising 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.

Note
It is important to note that arguments in the form of “no true X would do Y” are not always fallacious. When there is a universally accepted definition, such statements are valid.

For example, if someone claims to be vegan but eats cheese, then it’s legitimate to say that this person is not a “true” vegan because the definition of veganism involves not consuming animal products.

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.

No true Scotsman fallacy in real life
Suppose a liberal and a conservative are debating the issue of censorship:

Conservative: No conservative would support censorship. We understand the importance of free speech.

Liberal: What about this conservative politician who called for a book to be banned last month?

Conservative: He’s not upholding conservative values, so he’s not a true conservative.

Here, the conservative responds to a counterexample (a conservative who does support censorship) by narrowing the definition of “conservative” to “conservative who doesn’t support censorship”.

By resorting to the no true Scotsman fallacy, one can narrow a discussion by (incorrectly) dismissing the validity of counterexamples and ignoring them.

No true Scotsman fallacy example
Person 1: Christianity has been a force for good throughout history.

Person 2: What about the Crusaders? They killed a lot of innocent people.

Person 1: True, but Crusaders were not living up to Christian ideals, so they weren’t true Christians.

Since the Crusades were by definition a series of religious wars carried out by Christian Europeans and supported by the Church, the argument is fallacious and the speaker tries to “shift the goalposts” to defend their claim.

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Other interesting articles

If you want to know more about fallacies, research bias, or AI tools, make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

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 generalisation 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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Kassiani Nikolopoulou

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex scientific information into easily accessible articles to help students. She specialises in writing about research methods and research bias.

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