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No True Scotsman

(also known as: appeal to purity [form of], no true Christian)

Description: When a universal (“all”, “every”, etc.) claim is refuted, rather than conceding the point or meaningfully revising the claim, the claim is altered by going from universal to specific, and failing to give any objective criteria for the specificity.

Logical Form:

All X are Y.

(it is clearly refuted that all X are not Y)

Then all true X are Y.

Example #1: In 2011, Christian broadcaster, Harold Camping, (once again) predicted the end of the world via Jesus, and managed to get many Christians to join his alarmist campaign.  During this time, and especially after the Armageddon date had passed,  many Christian groups publicly declared that Camping is not a “true Christian”.  On a personal note, I think Camping was and is as much of a Christian as any other self-proclaimed Christian and religious/political/ethical beliefs aside, I admire him for having the cojones to make a falsifiable claim about his religious beliefs.

Example #2:

John: Members of the UbaTuba White Men's Club are upstanding citizens of the community.

Marvin: Then why are there so many of these members in jail?

John: They were never true UbaTuba White Men's Club members.

Marvin: What’s a true UbaTuba White Men's Club member?

John: Those who don't go to jail.

Explanation: This is a very common form of this fallacy that has many variations.  Every time one group member denounces another group member for doing or saying something that they don’t approve of, usually by the phrase, “he is not really a true [insert membership here]”, this fallacy is committed.

The universal claim here is that no UbaTuba White Men's Club member will ever (universal) go to jail.  Marvin points out how clearly this is counterfactual as there are many UbaTuba White Men's Club members in jail.  Instead of conceding or meaningfully revising the claim, the implication that no "UbaTuba White Men's Club members" is changed to “no true UbaTuba White Men's Club members”, which is not meaningful because John’s definition of a “true UbaTuba White Men's Club member” apparently can only be demonstrated in the negative if an UbaTuba White Men's Club member goes to jail.  This results in the questionable cause fallacy as it is also an unfalsifiable claim, and of course, it commits the no true Scotsman fallacy.

Exception: A revised claim going from universal to specific that does give an objective standard would not be fallacious.  If this were the case, a false claim would still have been made, but no fallacy would follow.

Variation: The more generic appeal to purity can be seen when the claim is that someone "does not have enough of" something, which is why they are not meeting the condition. For example, "If you have the desire for success, you will succeed!" Billy has the desire but is not succeeding. Therefore, Billy's desire is not strong (or pure) enough. The difference between the appeal to purity and the no true Scotsman is one of degree versus authenticity.


Flew, A. (1984). A Dictionary of Philosophy: Revised Second Edition. Macmillan.

Registered User Comments

Sunday, May 20, 2018 - 11:53:26 AM
Would it be a meaningful revision if John had said: Marvin you're talking about the ones who broke the rules of the club. I only meant the true ones, who strictly follow the rules; those are upstanding citizens of the community.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Sunday, May 20, 2018 - 12:29:37 PM
One could set conditions such as "members who break rules are no longer members." The key to this fallacy is "failing to give any objective criteria for the specificity." In your example, a) it would have to be clear when someone broke the rules that they lost membership and b) there would have to be an unambiguous understanding of what the rules are.

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