The slippery slope argument is frequently used in a variety of contexts from our own internal reasoning to political propaganda. It takes the view that a certain action will lead to a specific chain of events, usually resulting in a negative outcome. But how helpful is this argument and why has it been termed the ‘slippery slope fallacy’?
In this post, we explore the fallacy of the slippery slope argument and look at how to handle this viewpoint when faced with it in an argument.
What Are the Different Types of Slippery Slope Arguments?
Slippery slope arguments come under many guises and philosophers have distinguished them under the following three categories:
1. Causal Slippery Slopes
A causal slippery slope relates to arguments that suggest a minor action will lead to a major (and potentially catastrophic) event. The causal nature of this argument is that the minor event leads to further events that gradually escalate until the ultimate tragic ending.
An extreme example of a causal slippery slope is someone suggesting that legalizing prostitution would cause lead to an increase in marital breakdown. This then escalates into the destruction of the constitution of the family and results in the very destruction of civilization itself.
2. Precedential Slippery Slopes
These suggest that in treating a minor issue a certain way, we will be obliged to treat a related issue that is more major in the same way in the future.
A common example of this type of slippery slope is the argument against the legalization of cannabis. Those that oppose this use the slippery slope to suggest it will lead to more positive attitudes towards harder drugs and the subsequent legalization of drugs like heroin.
3. Conceptual Slippery Slopes
This form of slippery slope argument is linked to the concept of vagueness and draws no distinction between the possibility of getting from one thing to the next and removes all decision-making processes from this. From this perspective, if you decide to do one thing, then you will inevitably decide to do every next step that occurs. Eventually, this will lead you to the ultimate negative result.
What Is the Slippery Slope Fallacy?
The slippery slope fallacy disputes arguments that predict such an escalation of events. In philosophy, certain discussions on logic and critical thinking have deemed the slippery slope argument a fallacy. It is deemed one of the logical fallacies because there is only a small possibility that one event will actually lead to the predicted (often negative) outcome.
The probability of such a cumulative effect of disastrous events occurring is actually quite slim. The argument also ignores the human ability to learn from experiences and take a different track when a decision may not have been the right one. Slippery slope arguments are also criticized for leveraging fear in jumping to extreme hypothetical consequences which are based on very little evidence.
How to Handle This Type of Fallacy in an Argument
You may be new to the world of slippery slopes or have found this article because you’re frustrated with your acquaintances using this logic. Here we highlight how you can tackle the slippery slope fallacy head-on.
1. Ask for justification
A good place to start when faced with the slippery slope fallacy is to ask your opponent to provide evidence behind their cause. In asking them to justify the reasons behind their belief that one event will inevitably go down the slippery slope to another, you will likely make them think again about their reasoning.
2. Highlight the missing pieces
Another way to tackle the slippery slope argument is to highlight the events that are missing from the slope. In emphasizing the key events that will occur between the start of the slope and the end, you can show your opponent that their argument rests on very tentative foundations.
3. Use an example
When it comes to winning an argument, it is always helpful to have an example up your sleeve.
The slippery slope argument that has gained significant attention is relating to the right to die movement. The use of the slippery slope argument in this context suggests that if the right to die was legalized, then this right would be abused. It implies that no matter what safeguards are put in place, the doctor now has the ‘power to kill as well as cure.’
Benatar (2011) helpfully picks apart this argument in applying this same logic to driving. People drive dangerously, under the influence, and drive cars that are not roadworthy. All of these actions lead to accidents and death. However, the idea that driving should be banned is absurd.
In other words, the slippery slope argument does not create a justification to withhold a legal right from someone just because some people have abused this right (i.e. not everyone can be tarnished with the same brush).
The slippery slope argument can be an influential tactic. However, when you stop to think about it, it becomes clear that these arguments are often based on very tentative foundations.
When you tune into this idea, you will no doubt spot the slippery slope fallacy in many outlets including the media, politics, and discussions with your peers. To counter these arguments, try out the steps above and you’re sure to get one step closer to revealing the fallacy.
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