Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

SM: Is the slippery slope argument ALWAYS fallacious?

arroba Email

In the fallacy thread, Scuzzaman has raised the issue of the slippery slope argument, which he argues is not necessarily fallacious. Let’s pause for a vid (without necessarily endorsing all that is said, this is food for thought):

Benjamin McLean here connects the issue to the principle of induction and so also to the post-Hume challenge to inductive reasoning. In short, a slippery slope argument is an inductive causal inference from present and past experiences, trends and dynamics to a possible future, inviting us to turn away before it is too late. As in:

When we cast the argument in this form, we can then see some of the force in SM’s point:

[SM, 77:] The OP [on fallacies] is deficient in reference to the Slippery Slope argument.
Not even the people making the argument 50 years ago would have given credence to legislatures forcing schools to let boys dress as girls and therefore – due to their stated opinion in opposition to their plain biology – be allowed entry to the girls bathroom, i.e. they had no possible clue as to the probabilities involved and nor in principle could they have.
Here in Germany several years ago the State decided that Germany should join the rest of the EU in explicitly banning sex with animals (although one should note, not as inherently deranged behaviour but as an affront to the rights of the animal). Announcement of this intention was followed by a public protest by over 200 literal “animal lovers” and their animals, claiming the contrary right to their previously legal practice.
Nobody ever made the argument based on the probability of Step 10 occurring in the context of the culture and mores at the time of Step 1. But the Overton Window is merely another description of the Slippery Slope: it describes not only the fact that certain subjects, facts, and opinions are officially forbidden or mandatory, but also that these categories are not only malleable but are actively manipulated over time in order to degrade public opposition to the managerial classes’ excesses.
We have overwhelming warrant from history to presume, a priori of any particular current demonstration, that no political action is ever solely what it appears and that long-term agendas inimical to our collective and several interests are perpetually being advanced. The “Boiling the Frog” illustration is also merely another version of the Slippery Slope argument. They all three (Slippery, Overton, and Frog) exist as common wisdom because the phenomenon they describe IS so common as to be inescapable.
Are misapplications of the argument possible?
Well, duh.
That doesn’t make the argument a fallacy, or else all forms of argument are fallacious.

The obvious issue here is, is there a ratchet effect that tends to strengthen and accelerate a damaging trend? If that obtains, it can be harder and harder to stop a slide down the slope, even if signs of a ruinous result are increasingly evident.

That is, the cogency of a slippery slope argument depends on the strength of its ratcheting mechanism. If one is present and is arguably strong, “a stitch in time saves nine.” However, as the change challenge diagram illustrates, it is often very hard to build a critical mass of support to act in good time, and as Machiavelli long since observed, by the time the course of a destructive policy disorder is manifest to all, it is too late to cure.

(And yes, that is a key part of why democratic forms of government are inherently unstable and must be stabilised through cultural forces that build a critical mass of support for prudence. Where, also, business as usual is so precisely because it is what those who hold the balance of power want or will tolerate.)

This brings up the Overton Window issue:

Here, we see an illustration of how power balances and support for policy can move across time. Where, proverbially, elections are won in the middle, through the swinging vote (and sometimes through disaffection of supporters who do not support one who would naturally be their candidate save for some issue or scandal X). In that context there are two BATNA points, where a critical mass will reject a proposal beyond that threshold, swinging the balance of voters or policy makers decisively against the relevant perceived radical faction.

So, the issue is, is there a ratchet on the BATNA, pushing it to one side or the other? If so, how strong is it and where will it lead? Can it be broken, swinging the trend the other way?

These may be quite difficult questions to answer, but they clearly show that the real fallacy is the trend to use “slippery slope” as a thought-stopping, dismissive talking point.

Especially, when the lessons of sound history (not victory propaganda) were bought with blood and tears; so those who neglect, reject or dismiss them doom themselves to pay the same coin over and over and over again. END

PS: It is worth a pause to again draw attention to the reason why constitutional democratic government is inherently unstable and must be stabilised by the consistent action of a prudent, well informed, vigilant public:

U/d b for clarity, nb Nil
We're back up . . . kairosfocus
SM, let us not go down in the sewer. KF kairosfocus
SM, the point is, why is the BATNA where it is. Once the reason is prudent or sound [a hill to stand and if needs be die on], games to pull the Overton Window where it ought not to go should be instantly greeted with a clear walk-away warning. Any attempt to continue should lead to a decisive walkaway backed up by a clear public explanation, one that minces no words in correcting the policy blunders being pushed. And it should rip apart the "I am offended, you must shut up" fallacy.. Then, any attempts to pick a media fight or play slander games etc (following Alinsky's devillish tactics) should be met with full vigour and utterly unyielding resolve. For, those who seek to wreck our civilisation will only yield to being utterly, repeatedly exposed and permanently broken. Then, the ground that has been so dearly held will have to be garrisoned and it becomes time to go on the cultural offensive, to utterly break the back of the forces of reprobation and ruin that launched a culture war to wreck our civilisation. For, one lesson is that they view being checked as only a pause in their relentless agenda of ruin. Where, with family, marriage, identity, sexuality, right to innocent life and freedom of conscience -- foundations of sound civilisation -- having clearly already become targets, the Rubicon has been crossed; they started the fight, we must finish it, utterly decisively. Only a fool would greet such a new Caesar as a political messiah. The alternative is a ruined civilisation. So, a Churchillian stance is called for. KF kairosfocus
KF To be fair to Ed I feel compelled to draw attention to the fact that I introduced interspecies perversion into this discussion. mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa ScuzzaMan
EG, if you cannot discuss issues at the level SM has posed them, then the case is over. Argument by dragging down in the sewer is patently self-refuting. And SM is correct, escalation of the ratchet is a big part of the argument. And indeed that is exactly what the debates over anthropogenic climate change and the precautionary principle are about. Where, FYI, I am a veteran of a centre for environment and development, KF PS: The precautionary principle is so utterly revealing. Here, Wikipedia inadvertently testifying tellingly against known interest:
The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) generally defines actions on issues considered to be uncertain, for instance applied in assessing risk management.[1] The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g. taking a particular course of action) when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result. In some legal systems, as in law of the European Union, the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement in some areas of law.[2] Regarding international conduct, the first endorsement of the principle was in 1982 when the World Charter for Nature was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, while its first international implementation was in 1987 through the Montreal Protocol. Soon after, the principle integrated with many other legally binding international treaties such as the Rio Declaration and Kyoto Protocol.
If that is not a slippery slope argument used in policy and legal contexts on grounds of fairly weak but plausible inductive support, nothing is. And indeed, this principle should be immediately evident as the context of my modification of a Bariloche foundation diagram, to illustrate windows of opportunity for change and the compounding issue of how hard it is to get critical mass. In that context, particularly note Machiavelli on political disorders. kairosfocus
SM, Gal 3:1 "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? . . . " KF kairosfocus
Another version of the Slippery Slope argument could be described by a dictum taught to me by my father, that went like this: "He who chooses the road, chooses where it leads." Which puts me in mind of Bilbo Baggins, that most famousest philosopher-hobbit, who said that It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to. And brings me back to mutually contradictory principles and positions, and how the left has in recent years championed the alleged Precautionary Principle, an inherently and virulently conservative principle if ever there was one, with regard to CO2, Oil, GMOs, and many other causes du jour, yet refuses to countenance any hint of it when it comes to re-engineering the entire moral/philosophical basis of our civilisation. ScuzzaMan
SM@13, I would respond to your points but I have been instructed by KF that:
EG, I repeat, this is not an X-rated blog down in the sewer.
Which is a pity, because I think discussing when valid slippery slope arguments became fallacious would be interesting. Ed George
Ed, If three successfully interbreeding populations of finches on a single island are separate species then whenever a Japanese person marries a Sicilian we already have inter-species marriage. This gerrymandering of definitions for partisan political advantage is a classic case of the Slippery Slope: we let people adjust a definition to their own advantage once, even in a small way, and it isn't long before you cannot even discuss the subject because there are too many definitions and none are sufficiently accepted or overlapping for discussion to be meaningful. And here too we see that not only have we established a pernicious precedent with regard to altering - and thus multiplying - definitions, but we've done the same with regard to permitting contradictory definitions to be used wherever opportunistically convenient. As others have noted, the wizards* who use these rhetorical tricks are not trying to clarify our thinking or advance the discovery of essential truths (let alone Truth), but are merely intent on closing down debate so as to maintain an unchallenged political narrative. *Because they use words as incantations, claiming that reality is constructed "on the fly" as it were by human consciousness**, they think that changing the words used to describe reality changes reality itself. ** Even as they simultaneously claim that consciousness is an illusion. See my point above about contradictory definitions. Slippery Slope? This is a mad hatter's rabbit hole, a one-way acid trip to civilisational self-lobotomy. Another error in the original formulation was that the Slippery Slope is defined thus: "Step 1 often leads to step 2. Step 2 often leads to step 3. Step 3 often leads to … until we reach an obviously unacceptable step, so step 1 is not acceptable." The actual argument is that Step 1 often leads to Step 2. Step 2 leads more often to Step 3. Step 3 leads even more often to ... until inevitable unacceptable end. The Slippery Slope is not linear but exponential. IF (and yes, it's a big if, and not always valid) this argument is correct then Step 1 is obviously unwise and Step 2 even moreso. Since most western democracies have already been broken to the point where we are governed by systems wherein legality determines the most widely accepted moral centre, and since those same legal systems operate on the principle of precedent, THEN for those of us who live in them Step 1 becomes moronically suicidal. That is what KF speaks of when he references the escalating nature of addictive evils. And the lesson that the ceaseless ratchet of self-styled "progressive" Left politics is teaching the right is to never ever give a single fraction of a millimetre. In time, this too will be seen to have been suicidally unwise. ScuzzaMan
EG, I repeat, this is not an X-rated blog down in the sewer. KF kairosfocus
LoL!@ Ed- I read it. All you did was spew a bald assertion. You clearly don't understand what it means to make your case. ET
Where did you do this? In comment 2 you just spewed a bald assertion. That didn’t help you at all.
It is right there in the comment if you bother to read it. But KF doesn’t want to talk about how slippery slope arguments can be valid in some respects but fallacious if extended to examples that go beyond common premises. This is his thread so I will respect his restrictions. Ed George
Ed George:
I was not expressing my opinion on same sex marriage, I was just providing two examples of slippery slope arguments, one that is valid and one that is fallacious.
Where did you do this? In comment 2 you just spewed a bald assertion. That didn't help you at all ET
KF, if you are not interested in discussing my claim that a valid slippery slope argument can become a fallacious one if extended to the absurd, that is your choice. Have a nice day. Ed George
Ed George:
But using the slippery slope argument that SSM could lead to inter species marriage is fallacious as it does not involve informed consensual decisions by both parties..
That is your opinion. Allowing same sex marriage opens the door to all sorts of perversions. Allowing people to choose their own pronouns opens the door for mass confusion and an inability to properly communicate. ET
PS: FYI, the arguments that anthropogenic climate changeis a reality and poses a grave threat is a slippery slope argument. kairosfocus
EG, I repeat, this is not an x-rated blog. KF kairosfocus
EG, this is not an x-rated blog. You also fail to understand the endlessly escalating nature of addictive evils, especially when the principle of moral truth is dismissed.
What does this have to do with slippery slope arguments. My example was a very real one. I was not expressing my opinion on same sex marriage, I was just providing two examples of slippery slope arguments, one that is valid and one that is fallacious. If you would like to address my comment with respect to slippery slope arguments, that is fine. But I have no desire to discuss the morality of same sex marriage. Ed George
EG, this is not an x-rated blog. You also fail to understand the endlessly escalating nature of addictive evils, especially when the principle of moral truth is dismissed. KF kairosfocus
Is The Slippery Slope Argument ALWAYS Fallacious?
No. But it depends on how far it is extended. For example, using the slippery-slope argument to argue that same sex marriage could lead to polygamy is a valid argument. All parties involved are making informed consensual decisions. But using the slippery slope argument that SSM could lead to inter species marriage is fallacious as it does not involve informed consensual decisions by both parties. Ed George
SM: Is the slippery slope argument ALWAYS fallacious? kairosfocus

Leave a Reply