Anyway, I recently ran in to an interesting logical issue that I've been mulling over.
I've done a few posts lately on benevolent sexism and some of the annoying research that tries to assess it lately, but I'd like to make it clear that I am actually a feminist. While I find some attempts at measuring sexism a little less than intellectually rigorous, I also can't ignore that much of my educated/working mom/non last name changing life is due to those strong women who came before me.
So it was with interest that I read this Quora interview with Gayle McDowell (republished on Slate) on "Why Do Some Women Hate Feminism?".
In this piece, she talked about her view of feminism and why it inspired hatred from many people.
Now the piece itself was good, but not groundbreaking. What interested me was one of the comments, where someone accused her of engaging in the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. You can read more about it at the link, but here's the original story that coined the phrase:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton 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 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".I thought this was an interesting accusation. If taken seriously though, I wondered how this allows anybody to protest any characterization of any group they happen to belong to? I mean for the moment we're talking about feminists, but nearly every religious/ethnic/cultural group has to defend themselves from people who claim that their group is inherently violent/bigoted/crazy.
What always gets me in these claims is that people want to keep with sweeping generalities rather than even admit the data they'd need to ever make that particular claim provable. Are feminists out to destroy men? Well, in order to ever assess that, you'd need to figure out approximately how many women define themselves as feminists (using a population representative sample of course) and then figure out how to assess whether or not they wanted to destroy men. This would get you in to assessing "hidden" agendas as well, as many would likely not admit it, meaning you'd have to ask tricky questions to sort through it, and likely get some false positives. That's a lot of work.
Anyway, I'm not a philosopher, but I'd guess the "no true Scotsman" fallacy is one that should be hurled with care. Group identity is any area where we will almost never have data to back up our feelings, and that needs to be kept in mind.