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What is the Slippery Slope Fallacy?
Before going into the examples, here is a definition of this fallacy.
The Slippery Slope Fallacy is a logical fallacy where an argument is put forth which asserts that:
A small action will trigger a chain of events which will lead to a negative outcome.
The notion behind slippery slope arguments is that – we shouldn’t do something such as A… because A will lead to B, and B will lead to C and so on… until we end up with something bad.
The Logical Structure of this fallacy is as follows:
If A, then B;
if B, then C;
If C, then D.
Here are 3 slippery slope fallacy examples.
Slippery Slope Fallacy Example in Real Life
You take a pack of chewing gum to class. Your friend, James sees this and asks if you could give him a piece, to which you reply:
“I’m sorry James, but I can’t.
If I give you a piece then others will ask and I’ll have to give them one as well.
If that happens then before you know it, I’ll have to give everyone in the class a piece of gum.
Then, there will be none left for me!”
You have just put forth a slippery slope argument in response to James.
The slippery slope in this example is the chain of events that you think will follow if you give your friend James a piece of gum.
A breakdown of the sequence of events:
- If you give James a piece, then everyone else will see [The First Step down the Slippery Slope]
- Then, if everyone else sees, they will also ask for gum. [Down the Slope]
- Then, you’ll end up giving everyone else in class a gum. [Down the Slope]
- Eventually, there will be none left for you. [Negative Outcome @ Bottom of the Slope]
Slippery Slope Fallacy Example in Commercials
“ …Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch… ”
There’s this commercial for a cable company DirecTv which aired a few years ago.
It’s a textbook example of the slippery slope fallacy.
The commercial presents the exaggerated chain of events that are likely to occur because of one small decision. The goal is to persuade its target audience, in this case –to upgrade their cable subscription.
Here is a narration of the brief 30-second ad:
“When your cable company keeps you on hold, you get angry.
When you get angry, you go blow off steam.
When you go blow off steam, accidents happen.
When accidents happen, you get an eye patch.
When you get an eye patch, people think you’re tough.
When people think you’re tough, people want to see how tough.
And when people want to see how tough, you wake up in a roadside ditch.
Don’t wake up in a roadside ditch.
Get rid of cable, and upgrade to directv.”
The Slippery Slope Fallacy in Politics
“If we legalize marijuana, then people will come to believe that it is an acceptable drug. If that happens, then other states will follow and that will lead to legalization of the drug nationwide. In no time, everybody and their grandmother is going to be running around doing pot!”
How to challenge slippery slope arguments.
1.Challenge the objectivity of the chain of events
Observe the events that the argument passes through.
Do the connections have some certainty or are they just assumptions without evidence?
Referring back to the chewing gum example, you could question your assumptions:
How likely is it that if I give out one piece of gum, that others will also ask for one?
2.Question the outcome. Is it that bad?
Again referring back to the chewing gum example:
Would it be so bad If I gave my classmates gum?
It wouldn’t be so bad If I had none left, I’ll just buy another packet later.
Some slopes, however, ARE slippery…
Consider this argument against increasing speed limits:
“If the speed limit is increased from 5o to 60, then it is likely that people will drive faster, and if they drive faster, it will lead to more road accidents. We shouldn’t increase the speed limit.”
This example is not a fallacy. There may be cases where a certain decision will trigger events that in all likelihood result in something bad.
So just because a chain of events precedes an outcome, does not mean that it is fallacious.
That’s the slippery slope fallacy, in a nutshell.