No true Scotsman fallacy

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m (edited the example to the original 1975 example, but kept the custom ''scotsman'' tags to keep clearity)
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The classic story goes something like this:
 
The classic story goes something like this:
  
:'''Scotsman A:''' "No Scotsman would ever put sugar on his porridge!"
+
:'''Scotsman A:''' "You know, laddie, no Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."
:'''Scotsman B:''' "But what about Angus McMutton? He puts sugar on ''his'' porridge."
+
:'''Scotsman B:''' "Is that so? I seem to recall my cousin Angus puts sugar in his porridge"
:'''Scotsman A:''' "Och!  What I meant was no ''true'' Scotsman would ever put sugar on his porridge."
+
:'''Scotsman A:''' "Aye... but no '''true''' Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."
  
 
The implication is that since Angus puts sugar on his porridge, Angus is not a true Scotsman by definition, even though he (presumably) comes from Scotland.  This is playing fast and loose with the definition of "Scotsman".
 
The implication is that since Angus puts sugar on his porridge, Angus is not a true Scotsman by definition, even though he (presumably) comes from Scotland.  This is playing fast and loose with the definition of "Scotsman".

Revision as of 20:13, 29 April 2008

"No true Scotsman" is story used to illustrate a very common fallacious argument, often used by apologists to take advantage of the ambiguity of definitions of a certain key word (or words) in their argument.

The classic story goes something like this:

Scotsman A: "You know, laddie, no Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."
Scotsman B: "Is that so? I seem to recall my cousin Angus puts sugar in his porridge"
Scotsman A: "Aye... but no true Scotsman puts sugar in his porridge."

The implication is that since Angus puts sugar on his porridge, Angus is not a true Scotsman by definition, even though he (presumably) comes from Scotland. This is playing fast and loose with the definition of "Scotsman".

In a similar fashion, many apologists try to prove that all Christians are good people by categorically denying that anyone who does a bad thing is a "true Christian". Unlike the word "Scotsman," there is no generally accepted definition of the word "Christian," so you can pretty much define it however you want. A very inclusive definition might be "Anyone who claims to follow the religion of Christianity." A very exclusive definition might be "Only those people who precisely practice the sect of Christianity that I agree with."

Obviously there is a lot of wiggle room between those two extremes. Since the Scotsman fallacy relies on ambiguity in the definition of the word Christian, it is a form of equivocation.

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