No true Scotsman
No true Scotsman is an informal logical fallacy, an ad hoc
Ad hoc
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this". It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes. Compare A priori....

attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion. When faced with a counterexample
In logic, and especially in its applications to mathematics and philosophy, a counterexample is an exception to a proposed general rule. For example, consider the proposition "all students are lazy"....

 to a universal
Universal (metaphysics)
In metaphysics, a universal is what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities. In other words, universals are repeatable or recurrent entities that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things. For example, suppose there are two chairs in a room, each of...

 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 term was advanced by philosopher Antony Flew
Antony Flew
Antony Garrard Newton Flew was a British philosopher. Belonging to the analytic and evidentialist schools of thought, he was notable for his works on the philosophy of religion....

 in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking: Do I sincerely want to be right?.
A simpler rendition would be:
Alice: All Scotsmen enjoy haggis
Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' , minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.Haggis is a kind...

Bob: My uncle is a Scotsman, and he doesn't like haggis!
Alice: Well, all true Scotsmen like haggis.

When the statement "all A are B" is qualified like this to exclude those A which are not B, this is a form of begging the question
Begging the question
Begging the question is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise....

; the conclusion is assumed by the definition of "true A".


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. At issue is whether or not something labeled as an "emerging democracy" is actually a democracy or something in a different conceptual category.

See also

  • Cognitive dissonance
    Cognitive dissonance
    Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

  • Equivocation
    Equivocation is classified as both a formal and informal logical fallacy. It is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense...

  • Euphemism
    A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase for another more frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience...

  • Loaded language
    Loaded language
    In rhetoric, loaded language is wording that attempts to influence the certain audience by using to emotion....

  • Moving the goalposts
  • Persuasive definition
    Persuasive definition
    A persuasive definition is a form of definition which purports to describe the 'true' or 'commonly accepted' meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating an uncommon or altered use, usually to support an argument for some view, or to create or alter rights, duties or crimes.The terms thus...

  • Reification (fallacy)
    Reification (fallacy)
    Reification is a fallacy of ambiguity, when an abstraction is treated as if it were a concrete, real event, or physical entity. In other words, it is the error of treating as a "real thing" something which is not a real thing, but merely an idea...

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