Arguing About Religious Identity and the No True Scotsman Fallacy


Anthony Flew critiqued a particular argumentative manoeuvre he dubbed, ‘The No True Scotsman Move’, where a speaker redefines an original claim by inserting the term 'true'as an attributive adjective thereby restricting the extension of their first assertion. It is often appealed to in religious-apologetic diatribe. One non-academic book on fallacies names it, ‘The No True Christian Fallacy’, suggesting that those who commit this fallacy do so to illicitly defend a particular ideal religious identity. Often the charge of “No True Scotsman fallacy!” is invoked in strong eristic and sectarian contexts. Blamers score points by demonstrating that the opponent who commits this fallacy is evasive, prejudiced, and fails in their epistemic duty – since they refuse to accept falsifying evidence against their beliefs. In this paper I apply a heavy dose of the principle of charity and defend the individual who commits this fallacy and try to show they have something worthwhile to say. I critique the theory of the No True Scotsman Move in debates invoking religious identity. I argue that it is often mistaken to attribute the fallacy to others because of the presumption of a simplistic Aristotelian category theory of class membership. I favor a prototype theory of classification where the alleged committer of the fallacy is thinking about an ideal religious exemplar. If my argument succeeds I have defended this individual by showing that they were only trying to clarify what they originally meant by inserting 'true'.

Author Information
Robert Ian Anderson, University of Notre Dame Australia, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: ECERP2017
Stream: Religion - Linguistics, Language and Religion

This paper is part of the ECERP2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon