October 4, 2013

Is the "No True Scotsman" fallacy a fallacy?

In recent years, as the logical objection "Correlation does not prove causation!" has spread to the lower depths of the Internet, the cool kids have increasingly turned to retorting "No True Scotsman." It's proving an increasingly popular safeguard against Noticing Patterns.
No true Scotsman 
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 
[For the practice of wearing a kilt without undergarments, see True Scotsman.] 
No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.[1] When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), 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 ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing").  ...
The use of the term was advanced by British philosopher Antony Flew: 
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing".[4] ...

An example of a political application of the fallacy could be in asserting that "no democracy starts a war", then distinguishing between mature or "true" democracies, which never start wars, and "emerging democracies", which may start them.[3] 

How is our understanding of the human world improved by snickering about "No True Scotsman" fallacies when somebody offers to refine their initial assertion to make it more accurate? Obviously, Flew's example is intended to be comical. In contrast, Wikipedia's example about democracies and war is not inherently implausible, but the Wikipedians don't seem to notice. To them, they're both examples of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

I have no idea what's empirically true about Wikipedia's democracy / war assertion, but offering a distinction between mature and emerging democracies is hardly prime facie derisible. You could go on to define maturity in terms of years of endurance or numbers of peaceful changes of power or whatever and then see if that pans out statistically.

Nor is even the literal No True Scotsman argument itself automatically foolhardy:

Angus: No Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf! It's American degeneracy.

Jock: Well, actually, a survey shows that about 3% of Scotsmen ride while playing.

Angus: No True Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf! 

Jock: I lost my left leg serving in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in Yemen in 1967, so I can't walk 18 holes anymore. The Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers unanimously voted to allow me to play Muirfield with an electric buggy annually on Bonnie Prince Charlie's coronation day in a two-ball foursome in which I partner with my boyhood friend from the streets of Edinburgh, Sean Connery (who, of course, walks).

Angus: Okay, No Two-Legged True Scotsman rides in an electric buggy while playing golf!

In general, we're seeing an ongoing convergence between the bad intellectual habits of two groups that are powerfully represented in Internet discussions: the politically correct and the Aspergery. The former dislike pattern recognition and the latter love mechanistic computer-programming style reasoning. And they increasingly come together to try to shut down probabilistic thinking about human behavior.

91 comments:

Anonymous said...

There appears to be an obvious but crucial distinction youre not emphasizing strongly enough.


"No Scotsman would [molest kittens]!" is a claim refuted by the evidence if it turns out a Scotsman was molesting googles of kittens. The fallacy of reframing that as "no TRUE Scotsman would do that!" is that you're trying to justify the previous claim with a post-hoc shift in meaning. A legitimate assertion or definition cannot depend on a posteriori evidence. ie, "true scotsman" must have a static, logical definition that moves in just one direction--outwards so that it *predicts*. A claim that works backwards, with its meaning mutating in response to evidence, is just meaningless. This kind of subtle semantic tapdancing can be extremely pernicious.


On the other hand if you say that "no true Scotsman would ride a golf cart!" and the Scotsman points out that he must ride a golf cart due to injuries sustained while exhibiting valor in combat, it *is* legitimate to say that you meant "no Scotsman with working legs" because that actually is what you meant *at the time.* That is the important difference in your examples. One is a clarification of meaning and the other is a shift in meaning. It's perfectly alright to say something without spelling out every feature implicit in your meaning but you should strive to say things clearly enough that later explications of implicit features are not surprising.


I guess what I'm saying is that intension matters. And that I also understand that non-philosophers tend to sigh when having to think about things like "intension" and how it's different from "intention" and why anybody cares. Nonetheless...

Anonymous said...

The no democracies going to war is a neocon talking point and was used to advance our crusade in the mideast. Another similar one is used to support free trade. Free traders will say no two nations engaged in free trade have ever started a war. When challenged they might modify this to saying no two nations with a McDonald's have gone to war.

TGGP said...

There does seem to be a difference between mature or emerging democracies (or maybe countries that are screwed up are less likely to have matured into a stable political system?), but the U.S is rather mature and still starts a lot of wars.

Anonymous said...

part 2


"How is our understanding of the human world improved by snickering about "No True Scotsman" fallacies when somebody offers to refine their initial assertion to make it more accurate? Obviously, Flew's example is intended to be comical. In contrast, Wikipedia's example about democracies and war is not inherently implausible, but the Wikipedians don't seem to notice. They're both examples of the No True Scotsman fallacy."


Here's the payoff of my previous comment:


The problem is that by saying no democracies go to war you are making a prediction that no democracies will go to war. Furthermore you are implying (or outright stating) that you've identified the key *causal* mechanism of war prevention.

If a war breaks out between democracies you've thrown away both your factual assertion and your testable hypothesis if you try to shift the meaning of your original statement to say that "no TRUE democracy would..."

that shift is not a "clarification" as the golf cart one is. it's a slimy deflection of a speaker putting teflon coating on the box that protects the emptiness of his theory.


There is no "clarification" available in this case. What one must do is retract his previous claim as falsified and then propose some other hypothesis "Democracies with high gdps and strong ties to nato dont engage in wars." But thats a change, not a clarification or explication or extension.

David said...

Yes, it is a fallacy, in the classic understanding of this fallacy anyway. Consider a standard example:

Mr. A: "All Scotsmen wear kilts."

Mr. B: "But Angus doesn't wear one."

Mr. A: "Then Angus isn't a Scotsman."

The fallacy is committed not by Mr. B., who is offering an empirical refinement or augmentation of knowledge, but by Mr. A, who is denying it. The sneer "no true Scotsman" is directed at the stubborn rationalism of Mr. A, and not at the helpful perceptiveness of Mr. B.

I never heard (maybe I'm out of touch) of the following kind of example.

Mr. A: "Yes, Mr. B, I accept that Angus wears a kilt, so I will now explain my definition of a Scotsman and show you that it's a novel definition and also why it should replace the heretofore accepted definition."

Mr. B: "Nyah, nyah - no true Scotsman!"

I suppose the unreflective lumpen are doing this, these days - after all, what element of logic don't they eventually botch? - but again this perversion is new to me. But it is a perversion, a misuse of "no true Scotsman," which is a fine fallacy.

Luke Lea said...

I think the usual claim is that democracies do not go to war with each other. Azar Gat discusses this claim in his book War in Human Civilization and makes the distinction between mature and not-so-mature democracies. It's a good book, well worth reading, though I think the strongest parts deal with pre-modern times.

Anonymous said...

as a silly OT side note, lowlanders NEVER wore the kilt or spoke gaelic, they were a different ethhnic group - and coincidentally, far more economically and intellectually successful - and they were damn good fighters too - as good if not better than the highlanders, but they didn't have 'distinguishing' uniforms, so they are not set apart from other british regiments...

The whole kilt wearing thing come from the early 19th century romanticization of highlanders.. it would be like america's national character defined by cowboy hats and boots..

Foreign expert said...

University Marxists play this game with "That's not the kind of diversity I w as talking about."

Anonymous said...

Truth, Dominance, and Sycophance. We've got a threeway! Who will prevail?

Neil Templeton

candid_observer said...

Um, so what are some examples of people declaring the use of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy when it comes recognizing patterns?

Auntie Analogue said...


The "No True Scotsman" fallacy's partner in crime is the tu quoque - the "you too" - riposte.

For example, I've an e-correspondent to whom I send sheaves of evidence of the higher rates and absolute numbers of Negro crime, and he sends back to me a news item of a White having committed a crime which Negroes commit proportionally and in absolute numbers far more than Whites commit it - "See," he says, "Whites commit this crime too!" He is simply determined not to believe or to credit the statistical disparities between Negro and White crime, so he likes to believe that his tu quoque jabs erase or refute the fact of higher Negro crime rates and numbers - and he likes to believe that his tu quoque jabs somehow prove me to be "racist."

Those who deploy the "No True Scotsman" and the tu quoque gambits exemplify the truth in Nietzsche's "We would rather believe than know."

Auntie Analogue said...


candid_observer:

You want examples of the "No True Scotsman' fallacy? Are you kidding?

Look, every time a Moslem wages his one-man jihad, our Dear Rulers deploy the "Not a true Moslem - he hijacked the Religion of Peace" version of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. David Cameron just pulled that one in his inane comments on the Nairobi mall jihadis: "[N]othing to do with Islam." Obama pulled it with his no-true-jihadi nonsense by calling Nidal Hasan's mass-murder at Fort Hood "workplace violence." The variations in exact words are endless, but they are all versions of "No True Scotsman."

Ichabod Crane said...

I have a mind to look up and quote evaluations of No True Scotsman (or related fallacies) in David Hackett Fischer's amazing book, and then add a smart observation of my own.

I might bother to do this if your website had a rating system to give internet points to good comments,

kh123 said...

Ahh, Wikipodium, where most of the contributors have no true companionship.

Power Child said...

For me, the most interesting part of this post is the last paragraph. I've been looking for a way to describe this for a while but without luck. Steve, I think you nailed it with the "convergence between the bad intellectual habits of...the politically correct and the Aspergery."

In many instances, no convergence was necessary--they were already one in the same.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

Neal Stephenson once wrote that the definition of intelligence is the ability to understand subtlety. Just so. This is something that both the politically correct and the Aspergery don't understand because they tend to deal in absolutes. The Aspergery are subject to computer-thinking; in the digital world, everything is a 1 or a 0, it is on or it is off. As for the politically correct, John Derbyshire got it right when he called them "Totalists". There is no room, for example, to not like homosexuals (or blacks, or immigrants) very much, but to neither wish them any harm - one must either gush endlessly about them, or one clearly wishes to destroy them. No room for subtlety in either worldview.

This brings us to subtlety, and fallacies. The thing is, just about everything that is generally a fallacy has some circumstances in which it isn't. For example, some things really are slippery slopes that lead to bigger consequences - witness the tremendous de-Christianization of our society that began small, with the end of prayer in schools 50 years ago. Also, sometimes ad hominem is entirely justified - bringing up that a Congressman who argues against bank regulations has worked for banks all his life and is married to a bank Vice-President, for example, is a perfectly valid way to point out conflicts of interest that may be involved.

Same with "No True Scotsman". Saying "No True Scotsman fights with Edward Longshanks against William Wallace and Robert the Bruce" is indeed an invocation of NTS - but it is also true, and in no way a fallacy.

Understanding this point - that something that is generally true has some circumstances in which it is not - is something that PCs and Aspys have trouble with for three reasons. First, it is not Totalist. Second, it is not binary. Third, it takes genuine intelligence to understand, and PCs and Aspys tend to substitute snark and smarm for genuine intelligence, in their own version of "fake it till you make it".

candid_observer said...

Auntie,

I had thought that the point was that it was the cool kids who were pronouncing all sorts of things instances of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

A further note on Aspys -

We live in an age in which the darling of the world economy is the tech business. This is a business in which success comes from having a certain kind of smartness that is different from intelligence in general - that borderline autistic, unsubtle, binary-oriented, goal-obsessive, kind of smart that's most often seen in high-performance geeks. This seems to go hand-in-hand not only with bad social skills, but with some mild level of genuine sociopathy - ask anyone who ever knew Steve Jobs personally about how he treated people close to him for an example of that.

In truth, Jobs, and Zuckerberg, and a lot of other tech-industry titans, are almost certainly high-functioning autistics who are too successful for anyone to dare call them dysfunctional.

And -this is key - because the tech sector is so important, these people are the ones who have become heroes and role models, with people brought up to believe that their kind of smart was the best - maybe the only genuine - kind of smart. People love to copy a winner, and when a certain skill set or kind of smartness of way of thinking seems to be successful, people aspire to it and try to emulate it (or at least put on an affectation of it).

This is one major reason why the internet - and life - is infested with tinhorn Aspys and dime-store Dawkinses.

hardly said...

this is silly. aspergery thinking is very oriented towards pattern recognition. read your simon baron cohen. i dont expect this sort of intellectual sloppiness from someone of your calibre.
Half the commenters here are probably aspergery, I am more than certain most of the "Dark Englightenment" is a product of Aspergery thinking.
PC and Asperger's are poles apart on any spectrum of intellectual functioning. One refuses to see patterns, one sees patterns all the time. One is feminine thinking to the extreme, one is masculine thinking to the extreme.

Anonymous said...

In addition to not being solid on probabilistic reasoning, software types are not trained to reason about causation.

Power Child said...

Jeff Albertson, A.K.A. "Comic book guy" from the Simpsons, embodies this internet snark pretty well. He's got the arrogant sarcasm plus the Aspergeriness. (Not sure about the political correctness.) In fact I think I remember reading somewhere that David Cohen based the character on people in an online Simspons chatroom.

Anonymous said...

http://www.france24.com/en/20131004-warhol-paintings-sale-new-york-could-fetch-120-mn

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit amazed that Steve doesn't know the difference between a fallacy and the casuistic jailhouse-lawyering tactic of waving off damaging counterexamples to merely call them fallacious, AKA goalpost-moving. It is possible for the NTS format of an argument to exist as an instructive concept even if simpletons and bull artists mangle/misappropriate it.

Anonymous said...

People love to copy a winner, and when a certain skill set or kind of smartness of way of thinking seems to be successful, people aspire to it and try to emulate it (or at least put on an affectation of it).

On the individual level, I don't think anyone wants to emulate Aspies. People aspire to be(or look) intelligent, but no one wants to be the absent minded professor who can't make eye contact or hold a conversation.

Half of the treatment for Aspies is teaching them how to emulate NTs.

On the societal level, there is definitely a cargo cult mentality w.r.t. successful techies. Bill Gates made billions, so he must be able to solve the Education Gap and eradicate malaria.

-OSS

Anonymous said...

Like a lot of fallacies this one is much weaker than people who read lists of fallacies and then parrot them endlessly on the internet would prefer.

The Scotsman example works because who is a Scotsman has a clear definition. The fallacy is in trying to change the definition. You could explicitly define some group, "People who live in Scotland and have not committed crimes" as 'True Scotsmen' and then it's not fallacious, just tendentious.

Mostly accusations of this fallacy are deployed against [possibly] tendentious definitional changes not strictly fallacious definitional contradictions.

panjoomby said...

no true mature McDonalds would go to war.

Art Deco said...

There are actually very few examples of war between constitutional states since the end of the 1st World War. I think both participants in the Chaco War had electoral institutions at the time (fragile novelties in Paraguay). The first Arab-Israel War took place among parliamentary states. There has also been the multi-episode Punch and Judy show between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, though electoral institutions were so corrupted in Pakistan prior to 1971 that you could argue it is not a counter-example. I think both Armenia and Azerbaijan had electoral institutions for a brief period (1992-93) during their war or Karabakh and the Trans-dniester skirmishes have occurred between to nascent constitutional states (Moldova, Ukraine).

Anonymous said...

My favorite philosopher Ruth Millikan distinguishes between nominal kinds and historical kinds. So "Scotsman" or "German" or "Russian" etc. is ambiguous between the nominal Scotsman as someone who lives within the borders of Scotland, and Scotsman as the historical kind which in part means you inherited the values of the Scots. So if be true Scotsman you mean the historical kind Scotsman the argument is saying that his individual has not inherited the values of the Scots, and is valid.

dearieme said...

You can argue that in every war that America was involved in before 1941 she was the aggressor. How old does a democracy have to be to become "mature"?

Anonymous said...

Swiss to vote on giving everyone a 2,500 Franc monthly income

They better make sure that they stop the flood of immigrants.

Chubby Ape said...

hardly said...

this is silly. aspergery thinking is very oriented towards pattern recognition. read your simon baron cohen. i dont expect this sort of intellectual sloppiness from someone of your calibre.
Half the commenters here are probably aspergery, I am more than certain most of the "Dark Englightenment" is a product of Aspergery thinking.
PC and Asperger's are poles apart on any spectrum of intellectual functioning. One refuses to see patterns, one sees patterns all the time. One is feminine thinking to the extreme, one is masculine thinking to the extreme.


... and yet we can't seem to turn around now days without bumping into a politically correct binary thinker. Perhaps your categories aren't valid? There must be millions of white North American men who manage to accept that they must rope off vast areas of thought from themselves while engaging in Asperger's syndrome-like thinking in their small area of interest. They've entirely accepted that straying off the approved paths of thought will lead to a new Dark Ages of the KKK, Hitler, flat-earthism and/or patriarchal witch-burnings. Feminine teaching and socialization does do the work of roping off areas of thought and speculation to these guys but it's their choice to waste their time engaging in pattern recognition staring at the carpet in the one room allowed to them. They're really proud that they don't discriminate (ie. tell one sort of thing from another) when the discussion strays into unsafe areas but can tell you the 14 different costumes worn by Han Solo action figures. These are the people who memorize dialogue in sci-fi films but think Greek myths or the Bible are a collection of lies told to fool stupid people in the past. It's a modern variation on the type who knows "the price of everything and the value of nothing".

There are millions of these types around now. I think it's because our culture and education systems favours binary thinking. Low-level worker drones only need to think in term of on/off or who/whom. Navigating through life using this binary method ends up with herky-jerky bouncing from one position to another while analogue thinking is about trying to smoothly navigate along the Golden Mean. Here endeth the lesson.

d..... said...

"You can argue that in every war that America was involved in before 1941 she was the aggressor."

Does that include WWI?

Truth's Handler said...

I think you're missing the point, Steve. Basically the problem with the 'No true Scotsman' line is that instead of admitting that the initial proposition was wrong, the speaker just conveniently keeps trying to shift the goal posts to keep face. Also, all of their positions are opinions.

Its like this hypothetical exchange:

Hillary: What does it matter at this point?

Questioner: Well, it matters to the Americans who are overseas in foreign countries who worry that the US might not protect them when the chips are down.

Hillary: What does it matter to Americans who are not overseas at this point?

Questioner: What about the families of the dead?

Hillary: What does it matter to the rest of American families who are not overseas at this point?

NOTA said...

The step that's missing in your examples of refining your categories is that then, you have to go back and use the refined categories in whatever bigger point you were making.

Suppose you start out saying "democracies never make war on each other," and then someone offers you an example of two democracies going to war and you refine your statement to "mature democracies never make war on each other." Then, whatever larger argument you were making (if China democratizes, we'll never have a war with them, say) has to be revised to say that if China becomes a *mature democracy*, we'll never have a war with them.

I think it's often interesting to look at what happens when you move from logical to probabilistic reasoning. It seems like the approximate equivalent of "no true Scotsman" in probabilistic reasoning is to declare some datapoint an outlier. (That is, this particular instance isn't really representative of the whole set for some reason.) On the other hand, cherry-picked counterexamples don't provide much evidence against a probabilistic claim like this (to evaluate that, I have to know how many choices of counterexamples you had to choose from).

astorian said...

In my experience, "No True Scotsman " is not so much a fallacy as a ploy to disassociate ourselves from distasteful people who are part of (or perceived as part of) our circles.We Catholics don't want to be associated with Torquemada, so we may try to claim he wasn't a TRUE Christian. Communists don't want to be associated with the Cultural Revolution or the Purges, so they'll argue that Mao and Stalin weren't TRUE Marxists. Embarrassed secularized Arab-Americans will say that Osama bin Laden wasn't a TRUE Muslim.

Chubby Ape said...

LOL, I just noticed I spelt "analog" as "analogue". I guess I really am too literary-minded. Good thing I'm learning to program in Ruby rather than Java I guess. Ruby is supposedly good for artsy types like me with our loosey-goosey thinking while Java is becoming the language used by binary beasts of burden or the long suffering code coolies of China and India.

astorian said...

And ...I'll risk being seen as Aspergery here. SOMETIMES "No True Scotsman" is a reasonable leobje goon. Example: some surveys show that a large number of self-professed atheists believe in some kind of God. I Richard Dawkins sneered that no TRU atheist could possibly believe in God, he'd be right.

NOTA said...

The most common use of No True Scotsman is to try to ignore contradictory data that interferes with some simple and pleasing description of the world. In that kind of discussion, reasoning is a side-effect of the real intention of the words used, which is to make people on your team feel good or make people on the other team feel bad.

Republicans are anti-science.

Liberals are anti-religion.

Terrorists are always Muslim.

America is on the side of democracy and freedom in the world.

These are the kind of comments you will see in political discussions pretty regularly. When you point out obvious (not hard to find) contradictions, you inevitably get no-true-Scotsmanned.

Anonymous said...

"In addition to not being solid on probabilistic reasoning, software types are not trained to reason about causation."

Not so, just the opposite. Software types live in a world where one debugs complex systems by probabilistic reasoning. Debugging programming logic, in programs of any size, is all about reasoning about causation.

Though some variation of what you say might be true if you modify it to be probabilistic reasoning or causation about human "systems" (society), in particular if the reasoning needs to take into account current, historical, and political social conditions at all scales. Many programming types, particularly those locked in "deathmarch" race-to-deadlines, simply don't have time to keep up with these things. Something has to give, the task becomes all-consuming, stress and pressure wonderfully concentrates the mind. A hard problem that takes months to solve does warp the human personality trying to solve it. Don't overlook the simple lack of time in producing aspy-type behavior.

Anonymous said...

No True Scotsman would still be talking, there's a time for parley and a time for Claymores.

Eric Rasmusen said...

Great post! I was just making a point like that at a law-and-econ conference this past weekend. The method of economics, like that of mathematics and science, is not really to state a hypothesis or theorem and then to test or prove it. Rather, you state something, and then try to prove it, and you find it's a little wrong, and so you restate it, and it's still wrong, and you restate it again, and finally it's true. Then you look at it, and if it's too contrived, you throw it in the trashcan. If it isn't, you publish it, and it looks as if you'd guessed the right proposition first time and then proved it without having to do any erasing or false-passages on the way.
This is the idea in the classic philosophy of science book by Imre Lakatos, Proofs and Refutations, written as a platonic dialog with lots of explanatory footnotes.

Art Deco said...

but the U.S is rather mature and still starts a lot of wars.

Where? The Revolutionary War and the Civil War were intramural conflicts, World War I and World War II were ongoing conflicts the United States joined (after acts of belligerency by others), the Korean War was initiated by North Korea, the VietNam war was an ongoing multi-stage conflict the United States joined, Afghanistan was joined at the hip with an international criminal combine that committed an act of belligerency with scant precedent, and Iraq conquered Kuwait in 1990. You are left with filing briefs for Santa Anna and Saddam Hussein's oil for palaces program. Choice company you keep. (Oh, there is that Hapsburg on the throne of Spain in 1898).

Anonymous said...

The trouble with "no true Scotsman" is that the "true" part is arbitrarily and capricious. People who very clearly are "true Scotsmen" by any sane definition are taken out of that category with the wave of a hand. "I define these Scotsmen as not true Scotsmen, at least for the purposes of the current argument, though I reserve the right to make them Scotsmen again if I find it expedient in the future".

On the other hand, people who claim "You're making a "no true Scotsman fallacy" are often wrong as well. I often point out that a certain person may be a Republican but he's not a conservative, only to hear the "no true Scotsman" taunt from people who clearly don't even understand their own argument.

Svigor said...

Um, so what are some examples of people declaring the use of the "No True Scotsman" fallacy when it comes recognizing patterns?

(It just so happens) Bad Jews aren't really Jews. E.g., all the Jews in the upper echelons of the Red Terror. They weren't practicing Jews, so they don't count. You can set your watch by this one. But Einstein the agnostic/non-observant Jew does count, of course. And all the bad stuff Christians have done over the years definitely goes into the "Christian" column.

Also, sometimes ad hominem is entirely justified - bringing up that a Congressman who argues against bank regulations has worked for banks all his life and is married to a bank Vice-President, for example, is a perfectly valid way to point out conflicts of interest that may be involved.

In that case, I don't think they qualify as ad hominem attacks. On the other hand, in the example you mention, the target of the personal attacks could legitimately ask his attackers to deal with his ideas on their merits; to show how they're bad, independent of the messenger. Personally, I think ad homs fall into a grey area. Maybe a good compromise is to tolerate the introduction of an ad hom, for the target to acknowledge the ones based in fact, and to ask the gallery to consider both sides. Meaning, a gallery educated about the limited usefulness of personal attacks is best. In my experience, that's the problem with personal attacks; a gallery that thinks they're decisive.

Anonymous said...

Fucksake, Steve, now Sean Connery is from Glasgow and that's where informed Scottish discussions take place? No true Scotsman would use Glasgow instead of Edinburgh.

-Angus

Anonymous said...

The claim that hyperbole is fallacy is fallacious.

PC types seem to be into self-fellatio.

Anonymous said...

Asperger types really are mentally trapped.

But many of these guys are just BSing to fool the dummies who always fall for this shit.

Anonymous said...

self-fulfilling profallacy

SFG said...

Excellent point as usual, Steve. However, there is a weakness here, and I think one that can be turned to your advantage.

Aspergery types (I speak as one myself) dig math. Probability is mathematical. So if you turn it into statements like, '10% of whites are criminal and 25% of blacks are criminal', and back it up with statistics from the pre-Obama era when they were available, you can convince the Aspergers (who have problems with non-binary thinking) if not the PC people (who genuinely don't want to see the truth). It basically decomposes population variables into a set of Bernoulli trials.

Let me know what you think!

Anonymous said...

You see this all the time in discussions with Communists, atheists, Darwinists, Randians, Libertarians, Free-traders, immigration fanatics.

They constantly respond to any criticism with that's no Real (true) Marxist, free-trader, atheist, etc. believes XYZ. You'll also see this with minority groups.
People will assert that Trotsky or Yagoda weren't "real Jews" because they weren't observant Jews, later these same people will declare great atheist scientist X was a great Jew because his mother was Jewish.

pat said...

All this Asperger blather is just a reification of the everyday observation that some people are better in social situations than are others.

I didn't know Steve Jobs personally but I suspect he was did not have Aspergers. I did know Jeff Raskin - the brains behind Jobs. He wasn't Aspergers oriented either. If Aspergers is a real diagnosis and a real syndrome it must handicap you from mixing in normal society. Jobs met with all sorts of people.

At one company I was with the CTO (Chief Technical Officer) might have been Asperger-like. I never saw him - nor had anyone else. He stayed locked in his office.

The CEO on the other hand, I knew quite well. He was always meeting and greeting. What little I know of Jobs is that he moved freely between the worlds of finance, design and management.

I was an IT manager at one time. I was reasonably competent socially and more importantly I respected the contributions of my technical staff who weren't.

All my programmers were male. Most of the marketing people were female. I remember how one woman in marketing with deep contempt described my programmers as 'nerds'. She then said to my face that I was only a part nerd. The level of her arrogance was breath taking. She was just another empty headed bitch who mistook her fashion sense and facile badinage for real value.

I worked in the same room with my programmers. That room had a closed door and I kept it dead silent. She and the other socially adept marketing types worked in an open area where there was constant chatter and social interaction. They thought the technical people were creepy. This was a company that produced only one thing - software. The marketing people were clearly less intelligent as a group but they would not have accepted that as the important difference. They thought of themselves as normal. All together they couldn't have mustered the brain power necessary to write a single line of code. But rather than take that as a judgment on themselves, they just disparaged the nerds in the back room who were producing the salable value.

There is beauty in a good algorithm. John Sculley wouldn't understand that, but I suspect that Jobs would.

Some will tell you that Aspergers is just a scale point on an autism scale. But Aspergers is really just the least offensive category on an insult scale that includes 'nerd', 'creep' and 'weirdo'.

Good managers figure out how to use the attributes of their staff to create wealth. The empire that is Apple was built on good marketing and great engineering. Jobs was apparently real good at both.

Albertosaurus





Anonymous said...

.the politically correct and the Aspergery."

In many instances, no convergence was necessary--they were already one in the same.
I disagree... the PCs aren't smart enough to be Aspies.

dearieme said...

"Does that include WWI?": yes, you can make that case. The USA had no treaty obligations to France or Belgium, but she did have a President who longed to instruct the world how to comport itself.

"my boyhood friend from the streets of Glasgow, Sean Connery": I thought Connery was from Edinburgh?

Jehu said...

Do Scotsmen actually do X significantly less frequently than the reference population? Is it fair to say they disdain the practice moreso than the average Brit?
If they do, then the 'no true Scotsman' line is pretty legitimate.
If they don't, then it isn't.
Notice how base rates and rates of offense are so off limits in the public discussion. Sure, for instance, CCW very rarely commit crimes. But their rate is much much less than the population base rate. There's evidence that public school employees molest children at a higher rate than Catholic priests also, but we don't hear that discussion because it doesn't advance the favored narratives. You can find a woman in a thousand who is above the male mean in strength...and who will be trumpeted from the rooftops and who will appear with disproportionate frequency in fiction due to mandatory authorial affirmative action. But that's not the reality of the world. The truly odd thing is when a stereotype is NOT more than 90% accurate. About the only stereotypes that fit that description are the stereotypes that play to the desire for the world to be fair---e.g. really hot cheerleaders and star football players are stupid (in fact, they're slightly smarter on average than the mean of the racial group they're drawn from in both cases, per Matthew, to those that have more will be given).

David said...

We should remember that probablistic statements are logically complex. For the fallacy fans to win, they need a universal major premise to stand on. "Blacks commit more x crimes in the US per capita than Japanese in the US do," for example, won't do; the fans can't bin it with one counter-example. To grapple with it, they have would have to think in many chains of syllogisms, and that's no darn fun: it too closely resembles adult thinking.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

Does that include WWI?

Yup. That is, if entering a war that's none of your business, on shaky pretenses, on the side of the bad guys, counts.

"There are actually very few examples of war between constitutional states since the end of the 1st World War.

Here, definitions are needed. What is a "constitutional state"? As Fred Reed has pointed out, even North Korea has a constitution - a pretty admirable one in fact, that provides for freedom of speech, of religion, and of conscience. It's just that that constitution is completely ignored in practice.

So do we now need to define a "constitutional state" as one that both has a constitution that is acceptable (To who? By what standard?) and is strongly adhered to? The first opens the door wide to NTS. The second gets increasingly problematical as Americans seem to be in less and less of a position to lecture anyone else about it. Anybody seen the Fourth Amendment lately?

Finally, one wonders how much these vaunted peace-bringing powers of democracy (or "mature democracy") are actually due to democracy, or how much they stem from the fact that big rich First-World powers (which, in our day and age, tend to be democracies, or at least good at pretending to be them) tend towards smacking down small poor Third-World countries (which tend to not be sophisticated enough to be good at pretending to be democracies) whenever they want to get their war on. This is especially true if the Third-World country in question is both militarily weak and full of valuable resources.

This is not exactly an innovation. The playbook since Roman times has been to do that while loudly proclaiming that you were really doing it not for selfish reasons, but to bring X to the poor benighted heathens. The only difference is that in 100BC, X = civilization, in 1000AD X = Jesus, and in 2013AD X = democracy.

Lugash said...

@Chubby Ape

I think you're conflating nerd/geek culture with Aspergers. True 'Spergs(ha) have a bitch of a time understanding society's unwritten rules. Most of them are eventually clubbed into silence by society, but they don't internalize the lesson. I know I didn't.

Melendwyr said...

Applying binary thinking to non-binary situations is wrong... as is applying non-binary thinking to binary situations.

Trying to present either approach as the universal One True Way is... pointless.

Anonymous said...

http://www.runnersworld.com/general-interest/black-men-less-likely-to-run-in-white-neighborhoods

Rotfl

Anonymous said...

"Aspergery types (I speak as one myself) dig math."

They also become obsessed with a pattern and formula. They use math not freely but to squeeze everything into the formula.
A Ptolemaic aspergery will use all the math in the world to support the view that sun revolves around the earth. He can't step back and see the big picture.

It's like the rain man guy tried to make 'mathematical' sense of "who's on first" when it's just a joke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_gSWTQKE-0

Anonymous said...

Some people with Aspergers are aware that neurotypicals exist and that they think is some really weird ways.

Those people mind come around to the Dark Enlightenment once they become sufficiently disillusioned.

Other people with Aspergers seem to be unable to grasp the simple fact that neurotypicals exist, even when it is explained to them over and over.

When those people become economists, watch out.

Anti-Democracy Activist said...

"If Aspergers is a real diagnosis and a real syndrome it must handicap you from mixing in normal society. Jobs met with all sorts of people."

Yes and no. Wealth, power, and success translate into getting a lot of passes on otherwise-unacceptable behavior. If you're good enough at something that society values, most people will look the other way.

Also, broken does not necessarily mean completely non-functional. The fact that Jobs could be dealt with - with extreme difficulty, by people willing to put up with a lot of abuse - doesn't mean that he didn't have serious, quantifiable issues.

"In that case, I don't think they qualify as ad hominem attacks. On the other hand, in the example you mention, the target of the personal attacks could legitimately ask his attackers to deal with his ideas on their merits; to show how they're bad, independent of the messenger."

The point was that it isn't wrong to use ad homenem when the point is to illustrate that the person you're talking about may actually honestly have some sort of personal ulterior motive or conflict of interest going on. If a known pedophile is campaigning for lowering the age of consent, for example, bringing up his personal history is not unfair. Same too when it comes to someone campaigning for looser banking regulations who is very likely to benefit from them personally.

Anonymous said...

Somebody mentioned having McDonalds and not going to war, even this is false as Russia and Georgia both have it and they went to war not that long ago.

Anonymous said...

Somebody mentioned having McDonalds and not going to war, even this is false as Russia and Georgia both have it and they went to war not that long ago.

That would be our good friend Thomas, the world is flat, Friedman.

Chubby Ape said...

Lugash said...
@Chubby Ape
I think you're conflating nerd/geek culture with Aspergers. True 'Spergs(ha) have a bitch of a time understanding society's unwritten rules. Most of them are eventually clubbed into silence by society, but they don't internalize the lesson. I know I didn't.


I wasn't making any claims about people actually diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. I and almost everyone else have been discussing the dramatic rise in the number of people who seem to have similar character traits, developed by nurture rather than nature. I think it's an epidemic of arrested development caused by a lack of father figures and male teachers in schools and universities. We have created legions of Asperger types who've not been taught to enjoy paradoxes, metaphors, myths and the multiple meanings of cultural symbols. Female teachers and the girls in the class get to talk about how literature makes them feel while boys are kept stuck at that stage where they memorize sports stats or technical details about something or other. The fact that most literature was written by men thinking about the task of navigating through social, political and ethical problems gets lost in such an education system; resulting in vast armies of socially and intellectually stunted nerds.

Anonymous said...

I didn't see an explanation that got it entirely right, so here's mine:

No True Scotsman is not a formal fallacy, but merely an instance of sloppy/dishonest argumentation. There's nothing wrong with clarifying or refining a previous claim in the face of exceptional evidence. But the new claim must be meaningful and falsifiable. In the case of NTS, it is not, hence the fallacy.

Specifically, one makes a categorical claim, an exception is pointed out, and then the claim is modified such that it appears to mean essentially the same thing (i.e. the essence of the claim is preserved) while having been rendered sufficiently nebulous (and thus meaningless) as to permit the dismissal of all exceptions.

There is no generally agreed upon definition of "true Scotsmen", so claims about them are totally unfalsifiable and meaningless. If a reasonably precise definition is supplied, then the discussion can proceed, with the understanding that the subject is no longer all Scotsmen, but rather some specific subset of Scotsmen.

Glaivester said...

People need to know when fallacies are fallacies and when they are not.

"No true Scotsman" only applies when there is a situation where someone states that A implies not B, and B is not part of the definition of A. If B is part of the definition of A, then there is no fallacy.

E.g. "no true Christian is an Arian (i.e. believes that Christ is a created being)" is a definitional statement, and so "no true Scotsman cannot apply, because not being an Arian is not a result or a consequence of Christianity, but is part of the definition. You may disagree with the definition, but someone claiming this is simply setting up the boundaries of Christianity, not making a predictive statement.

"Tu quoque" is only a fallacy when dealing in absolutes. When dealing with comparatives, it is fair game. E.g., if someone says that they cannot possibly be a Republican because the GOP is crazy, responding that the Democrats are crazier is not an argument. But if they say they prefer the Democrats because the GOP is crazy, it is an argument, because you are pointing out their criteria are not applied logically.

Finally, ad hominem attacks are only fallacious to the extent that you have an ability to determine something through pure reason based on known facts. If any part of the argument relies on trusting a claim that may be somehow in doubt (either it might be false or might be missing some context), pointing out problems with the person making the argument is perfectly legitimate.

NOTA said...

Reasoning about probabilities and statistics is really unnatural and hard for most people to do. Reasoning toward an unwanted conclusion is also unnatural and hard for people to do well. The combination is presumably still harder, and I suspect this is one reason why statistical reasoning dealing with some unwanted conclusion is super hard for even most smart people to think through.

David said...

>the understanding that the subject is no longer all Scotsmen, but rather some specific subset of Scotsmen<

That's just what the people committing the fallacy don't stipulate. They say in effect ALL Scotsmen. When they are corrected (with empirical evidence), they don't offer a new term or concept. They DON'T say they are using a specific subset, for example. They assert that the person offering the correction is mistaken about the definition. What the corrector thinks Scotsmen are never was accurate, say the fallacious; everyone except the corrector is and always was in possession of the accurate understanding of Scotsman, and the corrector is merely ignorant. In committing the fallacy (i.e., in saying "Well, obviously no TRUE x has feature y") is an implication of the blithering idiocy of the corrector. No respect is paid to the corrector, no concession that a novel or purposely narrowed definition is being used, no explanation of that definition. This negligence is what galls and moves the more empirically minded to roll their eyes and to chuckle, "No 'true' Scotsmen, eh?"

If only people who are using alternative definitions would acknowledge what they're doing (as you suggest), we would be living in a better cyberspace. It would be commonplace to say, "I've got a new understanding of democracy/Scotsmen/whatever" and to explain it, if avoiding talking in circles didn't apparently demand more mental suppleness than many people have.

Shagrat's Friend said...

I could be wrong about this, but I've always been under the impression that this sort of "no true X does Y" assertion was used for a rather different reason. It seems to me that it's usually used not to avoid seeing patterns but rather to exclude exceptions to the pattern (i.e., to uphold patterns).

For instance, if somebody asserts that all Canadians support socialist medicine but the objection is raised that some don't, the claim is then made that all "true Canadians" support it. In effect, the general term "Canadian" is normatively redefined to exclude any exceptions to the rule. Because, of course, there are in fact many Canadians who don't support it, though clearly most do. So the ploy is to pretend that support of the proposition at issue is necessary for someone to qualify as Canadian, thus allowing the speaker to reject any holders of heterodox views as deviant and thereby rendering such views illegitimate.

You can substitute any example you want. No true American fails to support racial equality or abortion rights or a strong military (or whatever view you want to advocate).

Or am I nuts about this?

Idle Spectator said...

"In general, we're seeing an ongoing convergence between the bad intellectual habits of two groups that are powerfully represented in Internet discussions: the politically correct and the Aspergery. The former dislike pattern recognition and the latter love mechanistic computer-programming style reasoning. And they increasingly come together to try to shut down probabilistic thinking about human behavior."**

Ending a post that discusses a fallacy with a statement** rife with fallacies! Steve... thanks for the irony.

Anonymous said...

http://newobserveronline.com/liberals-aghast-as-uss-25-most-dangerous-neighborhoods-all-happen-to-be-black/

Anonymous said...

"No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy."

Steve, an informal fallacy means you have to analyse the content of the argument before you can call it a fallacy. It's like a slippery slope, it can be a logical argument, or it can be a fallacy. It is also an informal fallacy. You have to look at the argument being made first.

Anonymous said...

A million dollar idear.

Molar energy.

A chewing gum with tiny molar panels inside it. As you chew, the molar action fills it with energy, and you can stick the gum-battery into an appliance.

Dr Van Nostrand said...



(It just so happens) Bad Jews aren't really Jews. E.g., all the Jews in the upper echelons of the Red Terror. They weren't practicing Jews, so they don't count. You can set your watch by this one. But Einstein the agnostic/non-observant Jew does count, of course. And all the bad stuff Christians have done over the years definitely goes into the "Christian" column."

As a supporter of them Jooooos, I will admit there is a great deal of this type of hypocrisy from Jews themselves as well as their well wishers.

I would say that Einstein was a Jew because despite his agnostic leanings, he identified himself culturally as a Jew and indeed pondered taking up the presidency of Israel when it was offered to him

The loathsome Freud was also a Jew as he never failed to identify himself as such

Marx was not a Jew despite his rabbi lineage....did you READ his remarks about Jews?

I am not sure of how the perpetrators of the Red Terror saw themselves but if they did indeed indentify as Jewish then this is a black mark on Jewish people and they should be more honest and reflective about it

RonMexico said...

dearieme said...
You can argue that in every war that America was involved in before 1941 she was the aggressor. How old does a democracy have to be to become "mature"?

No true American thinks that.

sabril said...

"No True Scotsman is not a formal fallacy, but merely an instance of sloppy/dishonest argumentation. There's nothing wrong with clarifying or refining a previous claim in the face of exceptional evidence. But the new claim must be meaningful and falsifiable."

I basically agree. Also, the claimant must acknowledge that his position has changed.

If he doesn't, then he is committing something similar to the strawman fallacy. But instead of pretending that his opponent is claiming something different from what the opponent actually claimed, he is pretending that he himself is claiming something different from what he actually claims.

Anonymous said...

http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2013/10/her-feminist-mother.html

Anonymous said...

Felipe

Anonymous said...

Some will tell you that Aspergers is just a scale point on an autism scale. But Aspergers is really just the least offensive category on an insult scale that includes 'nerd', 'creep' and 'weirdo'.

Don't forget "delinquent", "criminal", "traitor", "witch", "terrorist", "pervert", "faggot", "communist", "fascist", "extremist", "monster", "devil", "fiend", and many others.

Mr. Anon said...

"Anonymous said...

""Somebody mentioned having McDonalds and not going to war, even this is false as Russia and Georgia both have it and they went to war not that long ago.""

That would be our good friend Thomas, the world is flat, Friedman."

That Friedman's claim was wrong is not surprising given that it came from Friedman. Here is an assertion far more likely to be true:

No nation that has a Thomas Friedman will avoid engaging in a needless war.

Anonymous said...

What about phallus-see?

Anonymous said...

http://reason.com/blog/2013/10/04/reading-literature-helps-you-better-unde

Media are really giving this story 'traction'. I wonder why. Is it hype to save the humanities?

For the longest time, the Narrative was 'high culture will not improve the soul or morality'. Especially as the Western elites got blamed for 'racism', 'sexism', 'imperialism', Holocaust, WWI, WWII, slavery, and etc, it's been unfashionable to say 'high culture' could be good for one's soul.
Social critics have reminded us that the Nazis were into Arts and Culture, but they committed all sorts of horrors. And most of the greats of the past were 'dead white males'.

But maybe the pendulum swung too far to the other side, with too much junk being taught in colleges and with too little interest in English majors. So now, we are told that SCIENCE has shown that reading serious literature is now really good for us and MAKES US INTO BETTER PEOPLE.

I guess if science says so, it's not elitism or snobbery or eurocentrism. It's just a fact backed up with data.

Anonymous said...

Molar energy. A chewing gum with tiny molar panels inside it. As you chew, the molar action fills it with energy, and you can stick the gum-battery into an appliance.

You would need a chewing gum with high molar heat capacity.

Anonymous said...

"Not so, just the opposite. Software types live in a world where one debugs complex systems by probabilistic reasoning. Debugging programming logic, in programs of any size, is all about reasoning about causation." - Honestly most coders just move code around to put the memory error in someone else's work.

" Female teachers and the girls in the class get to talk about how literature makes them feel while boys are kept stuck at that stage where they memorize sports stats or technical details about something or other." - Lets be honest, women get a pass in social situations for bullshit that they would otherwise get called on for a very simple reason.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure of how the perpetrators of the Red Terror saw themselves but if they did indeed identify as Jewish then this is a black mark on Jewish people and they should be more honest and reflective about it.

I believe Solzhenitsyn said that in general they disclaimed a Jewish identity but behaved as if they felt one, for example, almost always marrying other Communist, atheistic Jews.

Cennbeorc

Mr. Anon said...

I'm surprised that Whiskey hasn't weighed in here, as he is certainly No True Scotsman.

Bill said...

I have no idea what's empirically true about Wikipedia's democracy / war assertion, but offering a distinction between mature and emerging democracies is hardly prime facie derisible.

Eric Rasmussen beat me to the right answer, so I'll just expand on it. Karl Popper called this "ex post theory-fixing." He did not like it at all. However, as Eric says, it is a pretty good description of how science is actually done.

If you don't tolerate any ex post theory-fixing, then you end up with a pile of refuted theories and "I dunno" as your answer to every question. If you tolerate too much ex post theory fixing, then whatever theory is most satisfying to power gets to be true, and you employ academics constantly to tune it so that it doesn't get too violently falsified. C.f. climate "science."

The question of how much ex post theory fixing you tolerate feels to me very much like the question of whether you are a splitter or a lumper. Both seem like pervasive meta-methodological differences which probably have roots in individual psychology. I don't really know, though.

Also, the answer to whether or not the NTS is a fallacy or not depends on whether you are a prescriptivist or a descriptivist (another commonly unacknowledged meta-methodological difference). In use, the NTS is almost never a fallacy --- that is, when someone cries "NTS!" they are almost always full of it. OTOH, carefully defined, there is such a thing as the NTS fallacy.

Bill said...


Anonymous said...

"In addition to not being solid on probabilistic reasoning, software types are not trained to reason about causation."

Not so, just the opposite. Software types live in a world where one debugs complex systems by probabilistic reasoning. Debugging programming logic, in programs of any size, is all about reasoning about causation.


Yeah. I think a good case could be made that the world's leading expert on causation is Judea Perl, who is a computer scientist.

Anonymous said...

(It just so happens) Bad Jews aren't really Jews. E.g., all the Jews in the upper echelons of the Red Terror. They weren't practicing Jews, so they don't count. You can set your watch by this one. But Einstein the agnostic/non-observant Jew does count, of course. And all the bad stuff Christians have done over the years definitely goes into the "Christian" column.

Well, at least Svigor got through.

Steve, I'm seeing such a huge proportion of my Komments being Kontrolled these days that I'm honestly not getting all that a great of a return on my investment in this website.

Sorry, man, but that's the God's-honest-truth of the matter.

Svigor said...

I am not sure of how the perpetrators of the Red Terror saw themselves but if they did indeed indentify as Jewish then this is a black mark on Jewish people and they should be more honest and reflective about it

So, if you're doing something risky (say, organized crime, overthrowing the Whites, or herding Christians into camps), you should protect the tribe by going covert. And if you're doing something not-so-risky (scientific research), you should protect the tribe by being overt. But most importantly, only your group gets to decide who gets categorized as what. Ethnocentrism uber alles. Gotcha.

(did any of the other groups used as examples in this thread elicit a response?)

did you READ his remarks about Jews

Some of them. I found them more pro-communism than anti-Jewish.

I believe Solzhenitsyn said that in general they disclaimed a Jewish identity but behaved as if they felt one, for example, almost always marrying other Communist, atheistic Jews.

Cennbeorc


Crypto-Judaism.