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"Is the Slippery Slope argument a fallacy?"

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posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 12:10 AM
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"Is the Slippery Slope argument a fallacy?"

In his 1922 work, Eugenics and Other Evils, G K Chesterton gave his argument against eugenics, and the scientifically organized state. In his second chapter, before beginning his argument, he points out the existence of "a cloud of skirmishers, of harmless and confused modern skeptics, who ought to be cleared off or calmed down before we come to debate with the real doctors of the heresy." 1

His list is a fascinating read, but here in particular I am concerned with the third group of "skirmishers" that Chesterton identifies, and whom he labels the "Autocrats":

I had thought of calling the next sort of superficial people the Idealists; but I think this implies a humility towards impersonal good they hardly show; so I call them the Autocrats. They are those who give us generally to understand that every modern [16]reform will "work" all right, because they will be there to see. Where they will be, and for how long, they do not explain very clearly... But even a theosophist does not expect to be a vast number of people at once. And these people most certainly propose to be responsible for a whole movement after it has left their hands. Each man promises to be about a thousand policemen. If you ask them how this or that will work, they will answer, "Oh, I would certainly insist on this"; or "I would never go so far as that"; as if they could return to this earth and do what no ghost has ever done quite successfully—force men to forsake their sins. Of these it is enough to say that they do not understand the nature of a law any more than the nature of a dog. If you let loose a law, it will do as a dog does. It will obey its own nature, not yours. Such sense as you have put into the law (or the dog) will be fulfilled. But you will not be able to fulfill a fragment of anything you have forgotten to put into it.

What startles me about this passage is that Chesterton is describing the opposite of a "Slippery Slope" argument, and identifying its primary failing: That it makes too many assumptions about the future. Which is the same failing inherent in the 'Slippery Slope'.

Now, it is my contention that we dismiss far too many types of arguments in our discourses. Logical and rhetorical fallacies seem to multiply as our civilization progresses, while few new vistas have been opened for argument. Now, it should be apparent to anyone that the narrowing and restriction of types of argument makes argument more streamlined and efficient, but it also makes it less thoughtful. It is hard to disprove a fallacious argument, it is comparatively easy to label it fallacious and immediately ask for another. The first may not be efficient, but it is certainly better mental exercise than the second.

On the internet I have found lists upon lists of logical fallacies, and it is no exaggeration so say that cheap and careless accusations of fallacy are a trademark of amateur discourse in our age. Fallacies are the new fad, and as they grow more popular and more frequently spotted, so they begin to multiply. When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. When your chief argumentative strategy is to identify fallacies in the opponent's argument, you tend to see them everywhere.

I take the case of the 'Slippery Slope' because it is a chief example of a non-fallacy which has become a fallacy based on nothing more than easy identification and dismissal. The Slippery Slope argument asserts that a certain provision or allowance should not be granted on the basis that it may be used as precedent for other provisions or allowances of a similar but less edifying kind. Slippery Slope arguments tend to be 'weak' arguments, and they are very easy to spot, so it is a simple thing to reject all of them. But not all Slippery Slope arguments are weak, some of them are especially strong if there exist a large enough sample of true analogies which support the charge.

What I find particularly disturbing about the current trend of wholesale rejection of slippery slope arguments, is that we do not also indict the opposite argument (i.e. the 'Autocrat' argument) on the same grounds. If we were to do so, and be conscious of it, then we would realize that these two arguments lie on a continuum, and that it is only the extreme ends of this continuum that are fallacious. To say that legalizing gay marriage will necessarily lead to the legalization of polygamy is fallacious, just as it is fallacious to say that a warrantless wiretapping law necessarily will not lead to the abuses of fascist states.

Between these two fallacies lies a continuum of possibility wherein any number of weak or strong arguments may be found, and it is our responsibility as thinkers to judge them fairly on the basis of their supporting evidence and analogy.

-RedBird
edit on 4-9-2012 by RedBird because: (no reason given)




posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 01:12 AM
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reply to post by RedBird
 


Very good right up sir.

I think the slippery slope argument may actually prove to be useful as a method of establishing the extremes or polarities of possibilities. It has a knack of leading to implications, which is a good thing when speculating, but it probably still doesn't belong in formal logic. Maybe it is unnecessary to point out it is a fallacy, as I think that it is well known that any slippery slope argument is mere speculation.



edit on 4-9-2012 by LesMisanthrope because: spelling



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 01:28 AM
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Interesting post.

I find the term "stepping stone argument" more useful when comparing possible consequences that are of equal value.
That's just my distinction however, and some might use the terms interchangeably.

At least for myself neither gay marriage nor polygamy between consenting adults is bad.
In South Africa we've had gay marriage since 2006 and polygamy was legal under the customary marriages law.
In fact, our President Jacob Zuma is a polygamist.
So if gay marriage is a stepping stone to polygamy it wouldn't seem wrong or unusual from my perspective.

"Slippery slope" implies a descent into badness, or at least a movement to something far worse than the present.
So a far more alarmist (and thankfully unrealistic) argument against gay marriage I find is that it will lead to pedophilia and child-brides.

"Slippery slopes" are often based on hyperbole, lack of evidence and sensationalism.
Nevertheless, in some cases enough evidence may exist to support such arguments. For example tonight I argued on another thread that giving the SA police powers to charge people for crimes committed by the police in the Marikana mine shooting is a "slippery slope" to citizens being innocently charged for murder for simply being in a crowd. I think I have enough evidence of past and present state behavior to say they will abuse such laws.

Of course nothing rebuts a slippery slope like another slippery slope, for example, if we don't allow gay marriage on religious grounds, then what will religious groups demand next? Banning divorce, banning mixed-race marriages, criminalizing adultery or going back to medieval laws that told couples on what days they could have sex?

I'm still trying to figure out if the Domino Theory on communism was a stepping stone or slippery slope argument in hindsight, and whether it was true.
edit on 4-9-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 01:39 AM
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Originally posted by LesMisanthrope
reply to post by RedBird
 


Very good right up sir.

I think the slippery slope argument may actually prove to be useful as a method of establishing the extremes or polarities of possibilities. It has a knack of leading to implications, which is a good thing when speculating, but it probably still doesn't belong in formal logic. Maybe it is unnecessary to point out it is a fallacy, as I think that it is well known that any slippery slope argument is mere speculation.



edit on 4-9-2012 by LesMisanthrope because: spelling


I agree that it has no place in formal logic. But how often is it that arguments over complex societal issues can be solved by simple logic? Most arguments are complex. But people have gotten into the very bad habit of dismissing these types of arguments as rhetorical fallacies, not merely logical ones. They are dismissed out of hand, which is inappropriate in most contexts.

My suggestion is that slippery slope (or autocrat) arguments are as strong or weak as the strength of the analogies and examples provided.

For instance, let us say that a government has passed ten laws in the past, each of which demonstrably went on to be used in ways other than originally intended by the writers. Now the government is proposing an eleventh law. The law is mostly harmless, but a few people argue that it should not be passed because it could later be used in an oppressive way other than intended. Or, that it would serve as precedent for another (far more egregious) law in the future.

In this instance, the slippery slope argument is quite strong, because there are many similar examples of such a thing happening. These other examples are analogies to the situation. True analogies, because they are of a very similar kind, in very similar circumstances.

False analogies/examples make slippery slop arguments weak. True analogies/examples make them potentially strong. The absence of any analogy or example makes them fallacious.
edit on 4-9-2012 by RedBird because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 01:43 AM
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reply to post by halfoldman
 


I think you put that very well.

Most slippery slope arguments are steeped in hyperbole and emotional argument -- which is exactly why we have taken to dismissing them out of hand.

Which is unfortunate. Because in a great many instances, enough examples and true analogies exist to make the slippery slope argument strong.



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 02:17 AM
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reply to post by RedBird
 

Well, some are also so often repeated that one has considered them logically perhaps in the past, but it's considered no longer worth the effort.
However, perhaps one should always reconsider them and find new rebuttals.
Many of them have led to lengthy debates, until they become almost like short slogans, or instant rhetorical ammunition.
But I suppose "logic" can be as pluralistic as the elements in society.
What can be a good thing for some, may be a slippery slope to others, and vice-versa.
For example, building a new dam can mean the death of tribal minorities, but it can mean electricity and progress for others.

I find especially the weaker slippery slope arguments have an aura of apocalyptic prediction about them.

It also depends on who makes them, what group or what kind of government?
Are they made in a society that also considers other factors like fairness or humanity as a prerequisite to any outcome?

Perhaps soon we'll have computers that work out logic and predictions on certain formulas.
But I doubt this will ever stem the emotional appeal of such arguments.
edit on 4-9-2012 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 03:01 AM
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reply to post by halfoldman
 


You make a very good point. If a slippery slope argument operates by pointing towards a negative future consequence, that implies a standard of value is being asserted. Both parties have to agree that the 'negative' future possibility is really a bad thing in order for the argument to have any place in the discussion.

Or, to put it another way: If I have no problem with polygamy, you can't persuade me to vote against gay marriage by warning that gay marriage will lead to polygamy. Even if you provide persuasive evidence. Why would I care?

I hadn't thought of that.

In order for a slippery slope argument to be strong, it has to be supported by True analogies, AND, there needs to be agreement that the potential future consequence is undesirable.



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 03:10 AM
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Slippery slope is not a fallacy when one can also demonstrate a likely process which leads to the bottom of the slope. But otherwise it is a fallacy, IMHO. Or at least a very weak argument.



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 09:35 AM
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Originally posted by RedBird

Originally posted by LesMisanthrope
reply to post by RedBird
 


Very good right up sir.

I think the slippery slope argument may actually prove to be useful as a method of establishing the extremes or polarities of possibilities. It has a knack of leading to implications, which is a good thing when speculating, but it probably still doesn't belong in formal logic. Maybe it is unnecessary to point out it is a fallacy, as I think that it is well known that any slippery slope argument is mere speculation.



edit on 4-9-2012 by LesMisanthrope because: spelling


I agree that it has no place in formal logic. But how often is it that arguments over complex societal issues can be solved by simple logic? Most arguments are complex. But people have gotten into the very bad habit of dismissing these types of arguments as rhetorical fallacies, not merely logical ones. They are dismissed out of hand, which is inappropriate in most contexts.

My suggestion is that slippery slope (or autocrat) arguments are as strong or weak as the strength of the analogies and examples provided.

For instance, let us say that a government has passed ten laws in the past, each of which demonstrably went on to be used in ways other than originally intended by the writers. Now the government is proposing an eleventh law. The law is mostly harmless, but a few people argue that it should not be passed because it could later be used in an oppressive way other than intended. Or, that it would serve as precedent for another (far more egregious) law in the future.

In this instance, the slippery slope argument is quite strong, because there are many similar examples of such a thing happening. These other examples are analogies to the situation. True analogies, because they are of a very similar kind, in very similar circumstances.

False analogies/examples make slippery slop arguments weak. True analogies/examples make them potentially strong. The absence of any analogy or example makes them fallacious.
edit on 4-9-2012 by RedBird because: (no reason given)


I agree with what you say, but I'm not sure that your example is a slippery slope argument. If it's based on demonstrable fact, it still remains valid, and not "slippery slope." If it's not based on demonstrable fact, but opinion, it will be fallacious and thus a slippery slope argument.



posted on Sep, 4 2012 @ 10:17 AM
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reply to post by LesMisanthrope
 


Interesting perspective. I'll have to think about that.

Also, I love your signature. G K Chesterton is far and away my favorite writer.

Cheers.

-R




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