Not all slopes are slippery

In all sorts of debate, the ‘slippery slope’ argument is common. It takes this basic form:

  • My opponent wants to do X.
  • I think that will inevitably lead to Y, which I think is undesirable and probably unpopular.
  • Therefore, we should not do X.

For example, see claims that granting equal rights to consenting same-sex adult couples would mean we need to allow pedophilia.

Not only must the onus be on the person using the argument to explain why the posited progression is inevitable. They must also explain why the ultimate outcome is undesirable. The whole argument type is a bit questionable, really. It saves those opposed to X from having to explain why they oppose X itself. It is easier to oppose free lunches for malnourished orphans because you think it will lead inevitably to godless communism than it is to oppose it on its own merits. It is easier, perhaps, but often not convincing when you think it through.

Slippery slope arguments are often a smokescreen intended to cause confusion. Alternatively, they are a last ditch defense when all better arguments have been convincingly rebutted.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

One thought on “Not all slopes are slippery”

  1. There is another type of slippery slope argument which affects how we live and which we need to be aware of if we’re going to be responsible citizens: it’s the motivation behind the mafia boss’ attack on the shopkeeper who chooses to take a stand against the gang: he doesn’t respond with force in proportion to the breech of the norm; he responds with radical force to make an example of the defiant one, so others will know how defiance will be treated.

    This is highly important in international affairs – countries or actors that step out of line are severely punished, and it’s because strong leaders are worried that examples of successful defiance could lead to the undoing of their order. In fact, they didn’t use to lie about this – US foreign policy was explicitly called “containment”, and the motivation behind Vietnam had a lot to do with the fact that soviet style state-capitalist was demonstrating itself to be a method to industrialize a state in a single generation.

    This also helps explains why the massacre in Gaza was so brutal, and why so many IDF soldiers have said “Israel used insane amounts of firepower”. It also explains why when Ehud Barak gave speeches declaring how Israel was going to pursue an “independent” foreign policy he was humiliated – forced to apologize, and high level military officials barred from entering the United States. Stepping out of line is responded to with disproportional force, whether you’re a lackey or a punching bag.

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