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Friday, December 01, 2006

No True Scotsman

I've only recenlty become aware of the concept of 'no true Scotsman'.

Wikidpedia.com says this:

No true Scotsman is a term coined by Antony Flew in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking. It refers to an argument which takes this form:

Argument: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
Reply: "But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge."
Rebuttal: "Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."

This form of argument is a fallacy
if the predicate ("putting sugar on porridge") is not actually contradictory for the accepted definition of the subject ("Scotsman"), or if the definition of the subject is silently adjusted after the fact to make the rebuttal work.

Thinking hard about this I realize I use it all the time. It's a great way to stick your opinion out there. For example: No true musician would write such a horrible song or No true man would wear pink. I absolutely love the idea of implying some sort of divine "truth" about a subject based on my own interpretation of it's characteristics. Some people have called it a paradox but is it really? Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't a paradox a statement which inherently contradicts itself. I see nothing here contradictory. The beauty (and what makes "no True Scotsman" unique) is that it is making a statement which cannot actually be proven right or wrong - in a way. Now if we used some sort of concretely defined subject and proposition then it ceases to be a "no true Scotsman" and becomes a statement which can, in fact, be right or wrong. Such as (Wikipedia example) 'no true vegetarian would eat a beef steak'. Based on the definition of 'vegetarian' this is a true statement. A real 'no true Scotsman' statement only works if it is a fallacy. You probably use them all the time. Here's one I say all the time: "No reasonable person would......" or "nobody in their right mind would....".

Based on my new found fondness for NTS statements I'm going to try to employ them as often as possible. Perhaps 'no true wife would deny sex in public'; 'no true Bama fan would consider Spurrier as a head coach' ( one I agree with); 'no true metal head would listen to Celtic Frost's Monotheist willfully'.

How can there not be a name for this line of reasoning or statement making? 'No True Scotsman' is a little long. I'll call it a 'nots'.


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