Slippery Slope Fallacy | Definition & Examples
The slippery slope fallacy is an argument that claims an initial event or action will trigger a series of other events and lead to an extreme or undesirable outcome. The slippery slope fallacy anticipates this chain of events without offering any evidence to substantiate the claim.
As a result, the slippery slope fallacy can be misleading both in our own internal reasoning process and in public debates.
What is the slippery slope fallacy?
Slippery slope fallacy occurs when a person asserts that a relatively small step will lead to a chain of events that result in a drastic change or a negative outcome. This assertion is called a slippery slope argument.
This is problematic as the person assumes a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more events or outcomes without knowing for sure how things will pan out. This progression of actions or events is presented as inevitable and impossible to stop (much like the way one step on a slippery incline will cause a person to fall and slide all the way to the bottom). However, little or no evidence is presented to back up the claim.
The slippery slope fallacy is a logical fallacy or reasoning error. More specifically, it is an informal fallacy where the error lies in the content of the argument rather than its format (formal fallacy). Therefore, not every slippery slope argument is flawed. When there is evidence that the consequences of the initial action are highly likely to occur, then the slippery slope argument is not fallacious.
Why is the slippery slope fallacy used?
People use the slippery slope fallacy as a rhetorical device to instill fear or other negative emotions in their audience. It is often used to argue against a specific decision by adopting its (hypothetical) extreme consequences as if they were a certainty. This is a form of fearmongering (or appeal to emotion) that can be misleading because there is no proof that these extreme consequences will in fact materialize.
However, slippery slope arguments are not always negative or oppositional. It is possible to use a slippery slope argument to argue in favor of a proposition. In this case, they appeal to positive emotions like optimism. For example, “If we give everyone universal basic income, people will take the risk to set up their own businesses and ultimately turn into successful entrepreneurs.”
What are different types of slippery slope fallacy?
Different philosophers have classified slippery slope arguments in different ways. In general, there are three main types of slippery slope fallacies, depending on the type of erroneous argument at their core.
Causal slippery slope arguments
Causal slippery slope arguments suggest that a minor initial action or event will inevitably lead to a series of others, with each event or action being the cause of the next in the sequence.
Precedential slippery slope arguments
Precedential slippery slope arguments claim that if we treat a minor case or issue in a specific way today, we will have to treat any major case or issue that may arise in the future the same way.
Conceptual slippery slope arguments
Conceptual slippery slope arguments assume that because we cannot draw a distinction between adjacent stages, we cannot draw a distinction between any stages at all.
Regardless of their form, slippery slope arguments are presented as a series of conditional propositions, such as “if A, then B” and “if C, then D,” the idea being that through a series of intermediate steps A implies D. Usually they start with a moderate claim and gradually escalate to an extreme end point with no possibility to stop in between.
Slippery slope fallacy examples
Advertisers resort to slippery slope fallacies when trying to sell us a number of everyday products.
Slippery slope fallacy examples in advertising
Slippery slope fallacy examples in media
Interviews and debates on controversial topics are rife with slippery slope fallacies.
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Frequently asked questions about the slippery slope fallacy
- Is a slippery slope argument always a fallacy?
A slippery slope argument is not always a fallacy.
- When someone claims adopting a certain policy or taking a certain action will automatically lead to a series of other policies or actions also being taken, this is a slippery slope argument.
- If they don’t show a causal connection between the advocated policy and the consequent policies, then they commit a slippery slope fallacy.
- How do you respond to a slippery slope fallacy?
There are a number of ways you can deal with slippery slope arguments especially when you suspect these are fallacious:
- Slippery slope arguments take advantage of the gray area between an initial action or decision and the possible next steps that might lead to the undesirable outcome. You can point out these missing steps and ask your partner to indicate what evidence exists to support the claimed relationship between two or more events.
- Ask yourself if each link in the chain of events or action is valid. Every proposition has to be true for the overall argument to work, so even if one link is irrational or not supported by evidence, then the argument collapses.
- Sometimes people commit a slippery slope fallacy unintentionally. In these instances, use an example that demonstrates the problem with slippery slope arguments in general (e.g., by using statements to reach a conclusion that is not necessarily relevant to the initial statement). By attacking the concept of slippery slope arguments you can show that they are often fallacious.
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