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. 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". ...
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.
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:
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!