Now, I’ve read your explanation of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy and I understand how it works and why it totally applies to feminism. But it leads me to wonder, is there ever a time when NTS is actually applicable and not a fallacy? I mean like just feel that there are certain tenets of a group or movement (if it is a legit movement ie. adhering to their set out policies) that really can’t be broken and you really do have to say “No *insert group member here* does that”
Is NTS ever a legitimate point?
I’d say this question is somewhat flawed. The short answer is “no”. NTS is never a legitimate point because one of the defining characteristics of NTS is its fallaciousness. Conveniently, this provides for us a key example of a case where something could look like an NTS fallacy without actually being one: it may seem lik a retroactive redefinition, but it’s always been a core element of what defines the fallacy.
Basically, what makes an NTS fallacy what it is is that it retroactively redefines the premise (definition) to include the conclusion. Someone says “all X are Y,” is presented with an example of X that is not Y, then says “because it isn’t Y, it’s not really X” even though the original definition of X didn’t include Y as an element. This causes the argument to become circular, and they basically just hope nobody notices it.
More formally, it’s an ex post facto example of begging the question.
The whole thing becomes really easy to demonstrate when we replace the symbol with the substance. (See also this.) The classic argument becomes thus (substituting the definition in for “Scotsman”):
1. All [people from Scotland] do not sugar porridge.
2. Person X is a [person from Scotland] and does put sugar on porridge.
3. Well, then, person X is not really a [person from Scotland].
This makes it pretty easy to see the problem. What they’ve done is created a new label of “true” Scotsman, with [does not sugar porridge] as part of its definition. The argument now goes something like this:
1. [people from Scotland who do not put sugar on porridge] do not put sugar on porridge.
Silly, right? The original argument was intended to imply that you can infer from one characteristic [person is from Scotland] another characteristic [person does not sugar porridge], but in the modification we’ve ended up with a clearly obvious tautology.
The reason I’ve done all this explaining is partly as a review for people not familiar with all this, but also because this shows the direct definition for NTS. This makes it easy to talk about what you’re thinking of, specifically as it applies to feminism.
The case with feminism involves some implied portions. (That is, things that are presumed but not stated outright.) They’ve been marked in italics.
1. (Definition) All [_______] are [feminists].
2. All [feminists] are [supporters of equality].
3. Therefore [person X] who is [feminist] is [supporter of equality].
4. (Counterexample) [person X] who is [feminist] is [rampaging bigot].
5. (Rebuttal) therefore, [person X] is not in fact [feminist].
Whether or not this is valid reasoning all depends on the contents of the [______] block up in (1). [______] is basically our definition of what constitutes a feminist, as it then transitions to the label [feminists].
If our definition is something like [people who call themselves “feminists”], this is NTS because that definition says nothing about their beliefs on bigotry or even sexism. The worst misogynist in the world could call themselves a “feminist” and by definition be one, meaning that (5) is actually a redefinition of [______] to include the element [supporter of equality]. On the other hand, if the original definition was [people who call themselves feminists and support equality] this is a classic logical membership test. We ditch (2) and (3) entirely because this information is not being inferred from [feminists], and it looks like this:
1. All [people who call themselves feminists and support equality] are [feminists].
2. Is [person X] who is [calls self feminist] but also [rampaging bigot] a feminist?
3. No, because the characteristics of [person X] do not match the definition of [feminist].
This then becomes something completely separate from a logic problem, because it raises the question of how much of the “feminist” movement are not defined as “feminists” in the eyes of the speaker, and why (if this is the case) they aren’t doing anything about it. The definition of “feminist” that goes “calls themself a feminist and supports equality” excludes huge portions of the feminist movement today, so by all rights we’d expect anyone who subscribes to it to be on a righteous crusade of movement-purging. Instead, it only seems to come up when they want to avoid the backlash from the actions of a given person or group calling themselves “feminists”.
The long answer, thus, is “sort of.” There are indeed circumstances under which you can say “no [group member]” does this, in cases where the definition of [group member] is clear and includes the elements in question. However, this leaves one vulnerable to hypocrisy if it’s later found that people who did not fit the presented definition of [group member] were allowed to be involved with the group and treated as members.
The No True Scotsman tag is a wonderful thing.