No True Scotsman: The logical fallacy behind ethnic and religious nationalism

‘No true Tibetan would ever think or do such a thing!’ Sound familiar? Well, every time you say ‘no true…… (nationality/religion) would…. (action/quality)’ it’s a logical fallacy. One of the worst examples of this fallacy being ‘no true woman’ would ever……..!

”No True Scotsman is a logical fallacy by which an individual attempts to avoid being associated with an unpleasant act by asserting that no true member of the group they belong to would do such a thing; this fallacy also applies to defining a term or criteria biasedly as to defend it from counterargument which can be identified as a biased, persuasive, or rhetorical definition. Instead of acknowledging that some members of a group have undesirable characteristics, the fallacy tries to redefine the group to exclude them. Sentences such as “all members of X have desirable trait Y” then become tautologies, because Y becomes a requirement of membership in X.

The fallacy does not occur in defining a group or label narrowly to begin with, but in narrowing it by excluding evidence that contradicts an initially broad definition.”

”Phrases such as “un-American,” “un-Christian” or “inhuman” are widely used in politics and media to distance oneself from a subject, defining them as outside the bounds of what the speaker considers to be truly ‘American,’ ‘Christian’ or ‘human’ behaviour. These phrases strongly suggest the No True Scotsman fallacy, since the use, for example of “un-American” to describe specific political activities by some American citizens implies some special definition of “American” beyond mere nationality. (It is not a fallacy if such a special definition is consistently applied, though that doesn’t make it a sensible definition.)”

So before you open your mouth to utter the words ‘no true…….. would…..’ think again unless you want to appear like an illogical twit! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “No True Scotsman: The logical fallacy behind ethnic and religious nationalism

  1. Jonathan Ferguson

    Do you feel that people in the UK or USA (for example) who discuss Tibet often do this?
    I remember reading a book published in the 1990s, where the scholar talked about “how Tibetans feel” or “what Tibetans want” (etc.) with regards to the question of political and territorial sovereignty.

    This makes me wonder what place there can be for the Tibetans who are not openly critical of the CCP, or who are even in favour of the CCP. It seems ironic that Tibetans who do not hold a view “acceptable” to some Westerners are seen as fake.

    I often feel like for some Westerners, including scholars (by no means all), there is a default assumption that an “authentic Tibetan” exists, who is more likely to hold stance x rather than stance y…


    1. Interesting question. Yes, I think many Tibetans in exile and their western supporters are ‘guilty’ of making gross generalisations about Tibetans and if anyone disagrees, they are either a white imperialist or not a ‘real’ Tibetan (hence the post here re the fallacy they’re making). It’s a dangerous position to take because it means that diverse and relevant opinions are easily quashed and silenced without proper reflection or analysis. One Tibetan feminist I know, Kunsang Dolma, was ostracised and humiliated by some exile Tibetans in Dharamsala, India for criticising attitudes towards women in Tibetan society. She was also accused of not being a ‘real’ Tibetan because she had married an American man and was too westernised. Some even went as far as to accuse her husband of having written her book and articles for her. However, this is a wider issue that goes beyond that of Tibetan society and can be traced back to an identity politics way of thinking on the Left which although stems from a desire to recognise difference and intersectionality, ironically ends up strengthening and re-affirming secondary differences. To the extent that a woman of colour will quite happily write an article that claims to speak on behalf of all women of colour, and yet unhesitatingly slam any white woman who speaks about women’s issue purely on the basis of her skin colour. I have read many articles by American women of colour that perpetuate some of the most racist, Orientalist stereotypes out there, but they get away with it in their narrow circles because they are a woman of colour. So yes, the idea that there is an ‘authentic’ Tibetan, English, Scottish, American person etc. is highly problematic and the aim of this post was to bring that point out.


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