Archive | October, 2013

No True Fallacy

I’ve noticed a tendency for the charge of committing the “No True Scotsman” fallacy to be leveled at anyone who favours more restrictive definitions of something than the person leveling the charge favours. This is a misunderstanding of how the “No True Scotsman” fallacy works. Just saying something of the form “No true Scotsman would do X” is not by itself a commission of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy – though the fallacy does involve making a statement of that form. A fallacy has to be an error in inference from one statement to another; a single statement on its ownsome, involving no inference, can’t be a fallacy.

The “No True Scotsman” fallacy arises when someone uses a restrictive version of a definition in order to rebut a counterexample to a claim that was made using a less restrictive definition. So, for example:

1. SMITH: “Democracies never go to war against other democracies.”

2. JONES: “What about the war between Israel and Lebanon? They were both democracies.”

3. SMITH: “No country that commits that kind of aggression counts as a genuine democracy.”

What makes Smith guilty of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy here is not that she employs an idiosyncratically restrictive definition of “democracy” in (3). Employing an idiosyncratically restrictive definition is not by itself a fallacy, since it’s not by itself an argument. If an argument is offered for the idiosyncratically restrictive definition, that argument may of course be fallacious – or it may not. We can’t know until we look at the argument. (Merely using a term more restrictively than in ordinary usage is no proof that the more restrictive usage is wrong; sometimes ordinary usage by itself contains commitments to a more restrictive usage. For example, I think that’s true of the Socrates-Stoic-Cicero-Augustine-Aquinas-Blackstone-Spooner-Lane-MLK Jr. position that an unjust law is no true law.)

Rather, what convicts Smith of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is the fact that she treats her claim in (3), using “democracy” restrictively, as if it supported her claim in (1), where “democracy” was clearly being used non-restrictively. In other words, the “No True Scotsman” fallacy is an instance of the fallacy of equivocation. (Example of equivocation: “A bank is a safe place to deposit your paycheck; the edge of a river is a bank; therefore the edge of a river is a safe place to deposit your paycheck.” The plausibility of the premises depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” differently; the validity of the inference depends on taking them to be using the term “bank” in the same way.)

If Smith were, clearly and non-obfuscatingly, willing to reject (1) in the non-restrictive sense, and endorse it only in the restrictive sense, then although she might have an implausible definition of “democracy” – and a more vacuous opening claim than initially appeared – she would be innocent of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy.

Float Like a Screwdriver, Crash Like a Helicarrier

A trailer for the upcoming Captain America sequel, which looks pretty good. Boost it to 1080p and fullscreen for maximal enjoyousness:

Also, here’s the latest clip from the even-sooner-upcoming Thor sequel. (I don’t recommend fullscreen for this one; even at 720p the resolution doesn’t look that great.)

And here’s the trailer for the Doctor Who 50th anniversary; 1080p/fullscreen recommended again. All previous Doctors are glimpsable in the trailer, though some are easier to notice than others.

Roderick Does Dallas

I’m back from the Dallas SFL regional meeting in Denton, which was terrific. Great to see old friends, and even greater to hang out with the hoopy froods from the Oklahoma S4SS.

Here’s a video of my talk:

And here’s an interview I did with Justin Oliver of the DFW chapter of ALL:

Boiling the Jaywalkers

So this guy made £35,000 selling forged celebrity autographs, and they caught him. Good. But they’ve also charged him with copyright violations, which is crap; and they’ve decided to lock him in a cage for 21 months, which is absurd. He should be forced to pay back the people he ripped off, to be sure; but he poses no serious danger to anybody. And even if I believed in retributive punishment, which I don’t, how could anyone think nearly two years’ imprisonment was a proportionate response to selling fake autographs?

Of course there is nothing unusual about this case.

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