Wednesday, November 18, 2015

No True Scotsman

Anthony Flew

I love logical fallacies. Stop snickering. It's not because I like to use them. Rather, I believe that categorizing all the ways that our thinking can go wrong and then attaching silly or Latin names to them, along with evocative examples is itself, well, entertaining and funny.

Over at What's Up With Francis-Church, Catholic journalist Hilary White wrote an apropos and humorous post about the phenomenon of taking the latest Muslim atrocity and saying, "that has nothing to do with Islam" or "no true Muslim would do that" or some such. It's so pervasive in our culture right now that most of the time you don't even notice it, like bad air in Beijing or whatever.

Hilary White even references a video where various people claim that the fact that the Paris attacks were terrorist attacks proves that no true Muslim could have been responsible for them.

She then reminds us of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

As fallacies go it's fairly recent, or at least its explicit identification is. It was coined in 1975 by Anthony Flew, who everybody hates because he was a flaming right-wing atheist. That he became a sort of deist in his final book appeased few.

From his Thinking about Thinking:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton (England) 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 (Scotland) 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".
The compilers at Wikipedia put it thus:
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 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"). 
Philosophy professor Bradley Dowden explains the fallacy as an “ad hoc rescue” of a refuted generalization attempt. The following is an example of the fallacy: 
Person A: "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge." 
Person B: "But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge." 
Person A: "Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge."
In her piece, Hilary White substitutes "Muslim" for "Scotsman". Apologies, Muslims.

I should say, though, that as funny and appropriate as the point is, its not even strong enough. It's not that Muslims are just like everyone else, occasionally committing terrorist acts, etc. It's that this (committing terrorist acts) is one of the essential points of Islam. Muhammad was, among other things, a terroristwho massacred Christians and Jews (and then raped their wives), ordered the assassination of opponents (including female poets), and all the rest. Or at least he was, according to the Koran and the Hadith (the "official" sayings and deeds of Muhammad).

So I suppose we could coin a new fallacy:

Islamilliteracy: Pontificating about Islam—including making definitive claims about what Islam really means and Muslims really are—without having actually read the Koran or having familiarity with the most well-known and well-taught or cited Hadith.
We could add, "or without knowing anything about Islamic history beyond skimming Karen Armstrong, John Esposito or the most recent offering from the Paulist Press," but that would be piling on.

Fallacies are funny. They can also get you killed. Or rather, they can get other people killed.

Everyone is prone to the occasional fallacy, I suppose. What bothers me is when they smirk while doing so.

Especially when they smirk against the background of some twenty-something rock-and-roll fan, begging for the life of his girlfriend before seeing her throat slit. And then getting an answering spray of bullets in the chest.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant. Still praying Europe wakes up and sloughs off these unassimilable people like a bad case of fleas. Cheered by the recent successes of the National Front. GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO! +