MAJOR PREMISE: “All true Scotsmen are fishermen.”
MINOR PREMISE: “Ole MacDonald is not a fisherman.”
CONCLUSION: “Ole MacDonald is no true Scotsman.”
Although the preceding argument is logically valid, it’s obviously mistaken. Everyone knows all Scotsmen are not fishermen — after all, Ole MacDonald had a farm. 🙂
In more precise terms, we could say the preceding argument is valid — in its having the right form.
BUT it is nevertheless unsound — in its disconnection from reality.1
The “no true Scotsman” argument gives its name to a rhetorical move notorious for shielding doubtful propositions from further examination by dismissing falsifying particulars as “inauthentic.”
The error in argument goes like this: A partisan makes the claim, “the Farmer in the Dell can’t possibly be a Scotsman,” with his rationale being “all Scotsmen are fishermen.”
A challenger objects by citing Ole MacDonald — a man widely known for not being a fisherman — as a violation of the alleged principle.
The partisan responds though by dismissing Ole MacDonald as “no true Scotsman” — a rhetorical move that rescues his principle from falsification — but at the same time, is far from convincing — unconvincing because few people are going to believe Ole MacDonald in not a true Scotsman — and fewer still are going to believe any larger argument that in some way depends upon Ole MacDonald being a fisherman rather than a farmer.
What’s the point in all this?
Any premise in the form of “all [X] are [Y]” should be grounded in an inductive process that reaches a universal conclusion by taking account of all the facts.
An obviously false premise like “all true Scotsmen are fisherman,” in contrast, ignores some of the facts to maintain a false conclusion in an attempt to shape reality toward a particular end.
When reality interferes with that objective, one way to preserve illusions is to use the “no true Scotsman” ploy to filter out troubling evidence that doesn’t support the false narrative. All true Scotsmen can thus be shown to be fishermen over against a multitude of “Ole MacDonalds” because the multitude of countervailing examples are all deemed to be “no true Scotsman.”
Needless to say, the “no true Scotsman” argument is a ploy — a trick, a dodge — to escape realities one wishes to avoid.
All of the above is preface to saying the “no true Scotsman” fallacy shows up frequently in discussions of Islam’s linkage to terrorism.
Secretary of State John Kerry at the 2015 World Economic Forum,
where Kerry essentially used the “no true Muslim” argument
to disassociate Islam from terrorism.
Photo from Embassy website. May be copyrighted.
It goes like this:
“All true Muslims are peaceful.”
“[X] is not a peaceful Muslim [i.e., he is a terrorist].”
“[X] is no true Muslim.”
Although the preceding argument is logically valid, it’s obviously mistaken. After all, everyone knows Islam inspires more terrorists than any other religion on the planet.
So doing damage control by disowning bad actors via the “no true Muslim” dodge simply doesn’t work.
Consider an illustration:
In ancient Western culture, music was widely seen as a good thing, and so bad musicians were deemed just that — bad musicians — without any damage to music’s high reputation.
Philosophy was different. Philosophy had a bad reputation, and so every disreputable philosopher was cited as just one more reason why philosophy was a bad thing.
In the modern world, Islam is a lot like ancient philosophy.
It took a long time for philosophy to overcome its reputation such that people could distinguish the practice of philosophy from its malpractice.
Similarly, it will take a long time for Islam to overcome its reputation such that non-Muslims can distinguish the practice of Islam from its malpractice.
The outcome for Islam is by no means certain. Radical Muslims have their own version of the “no true Muslim” fallacy to foster their vision of the future.
“All true Muslims are jihadists.”
“[X] is not a jihadist.”
“[X] is no true Muslim.”
So the soul of Islam is in doubt — but one thing is certain — “no true Muslim” will be unconvincing no matter which side uses it.
The “no true Scotsman” fallacy also plays a prominent role in gay ideology in dismissing homosexuals who don’t conform to gay orthodoxy as inauthentic.
The Left also routinely uses “no true Scotsman” to preserve its illusions in ignoring the voices of conservative Blacks, women, Hispanics, etc.
See the following article for how some are using it to create/preserve a lofty image for soccer fans (duh).
1If the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument is confusing, think unicorns. We can say all kinds of logically valid things about unicorns even though the statements in question would be unsound in saying anything about the real world because unicorns don’t exist in the real world.