Saturday, March 20, 2010

No True Scotsman

Thanks to democommie who pointed out how frequently the pro-gun folks use this argument.

No true Scotsman is a logical fallacy, 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 assertion to tautologically exclude the specific case or others like it.

The term was advanced by philosopher Antony Flew in his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking: Do I Sincerely Want to Be Right?.

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."

Don't you just love that? Please leave a comment.


  1. So what "universal claim" do gun rights advocates supposedly make? Speaking personally (and I try to make a point of speaking only for myself, since I am obviously in no position to speak for any other individual), I tend to avoid sweeping generalizations, since there are almost inevitably exceptions.

  2. I am familiar with "No True Scotsman" and its validity as a logical fallacy, but I am not clear "how frequently the pro-gun folks use this argument."

    What do most or many pro-gun folks say happens never or very rarely, but actually happens often (and just how often)?

  3. In best Rab Nesbit Glaswegian:

    D'ye hae summat agin Scotsmen? Are ye bigoted?

  4. FishyJay, It's the way you pro-gun guys quickly disassociate yourselves from the shooters who up until that incident were one of your group. You say, in effect, well he obviously wasn't a true law-abiding gun owner otherwise he wouldn't have killed all those people.

  5. Mikeb: "You say, in effect, well he obviously wasn't a true law-abiding gun owner otherwise he wouldn't have killed all those people."

    Ahh, now I see -- I did not "get it" because I don't say that at all.

    It is a common comment by anti-gunowner advocates that many who commit gun crimes were "law-abiding" until their crime. I agree that's true -- which is why background checks and licencing & registration will still not affect a significant portion of gun crimes. Anti-gunowner advocates often try to present those measures as "reasonable" and part of that reasonableness is the implication that once in place, law-abiding gun owners will be left alone. Hogwash! Anti-gunowner advocates will not go away and ignore "law-abiding until the crime" shootings. They will move on to the obviuous next step: draconian reductions in gun ownership by the law-abiding (especially when theft and diversions from the legal market continue to supply criminals).

    In Britain, they had just the sort of licencing & registration that anti-gunowner advocates want here, but when high-publicity shooting still occurred, they banned and confiscated all handguns and all pump-action and semiauto hunting rifles and shotguns.

    I you want more background checks or licencing & registration here, stop trying to tell gunowners how "reasonable" that is and instead give us credible reasons why you won't try to follow Britain and pass bans and confiscations when background checks or licencing & registration fail to accomplish what you think they will.

  6. The obvious way to get around this entire "issue" (if we're going to be generous enough to grant it issue status) is to point out that we're responsible for our own actions--and only our own actions. I don't give a damn what "No true Scotsman" will do--all I have to account for is what the one true me does.

    I don't buy that "no man is an island" crap, but even if it's true, I'm sure as hell a peninsula, with my only connection to the mainland being a very narrow, utterly impassable isthmus.

  7. True that there are “former law-abiding gun owners” and the best part about our justice system is they can be punished for their crimes. Just don’t punish those who have done no wrong. The gun control side constantly bringing up this argument can only mean one thing; that they want to go after law abiding gun owners (get to them before they commit their crimes, right?). MikeB, you don’t deny this as you’ve said before that you would like to see the number of guns in circulation cut in half. Obviously you would have to disarm lots of innocent people to achieve that. I can respect you being upfront about this (the Brady’s wouldn’t do that), but it is simply not the way a free society works.