Tag Archives: Scotsman

Is there really “no true Scotsman”? or “Amishman”? or “Quaker”?


Ever hear of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy? There’s a delightful exposition of it, with great relevance for the church, on the Slacktivist blog. It is by Fred Clark, and it makes me want to read more of Mr. Clark’s stuff. Here’s how it begins:

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is a common way of exempting a group from any culpability for the bad actions of members of that group. More generally, the useful Wikipedia article linked to there describes it as:

An ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim, rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule.

The key point there is that final phrase: “without reference to any specific objective rule.” I want to clarify that even further, and say that such specific objective rules need to be credibly accepted as excluding the counterexample. But I also want to reinforce this aspect of the definition to ensure that we’re not seeing the “No true Scotsman” fallacy where it does not exist.

It’s helpful here to look at philosopher Antony Flew’s classic example of this fallacy, from which it derives its name. That example is structured, actually, as a joke: Continue reading