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Slippery Slope Fallacy

The Slippery Slope Fallacy:

Based on the idea that an object placed at the top of a slippery slope will slide all the way to the bottom if given even a small nudge, the Slippery Slope fallacy is arguing that even a small step taken in one direction will lead to some drastic consequence. This argument usually ignores the individual connections between events in favour of simply linking one event inevitably to another. However, this is not fallacious in and of itself... after all, some slopes are that slippery. It does, however, fall on the claimant to justify a logical, probable, and inevitable series of events. Without that, the argument has no meaning.

Note that this can approach a YMMV. A Slippery Slope argument that you agree with will seem more reasonable than one you disagree with.

There is also a "Reverse Slippery Slope Fallacy", namely the argument that since one has taken the first step down the slope without sliding to the bottom, it is clearly safe to take the next step. (Demonstration: smoking one cigarette won't get you hooked, or give you cancer. Nor will smoking a second cigarette. However, keep smoking cigarettes, and bad outcomes become increasingly likely.)

Examples:

  • Dropping the atomic bombs on Japan. Many of the scientists were certain that using it would lead to an arms race and total destruction of civilization. We've done a pretty good job avoiding the second bit, but they got the arms race bit right.
  • Used frequently by politicians. Especially shows up around election time where voting for an opponent will usually be portrayed as resulting in a dystopia of some sort, usually authoritarian in nature.
  • Used quite famously by Glenn Beck, and then parodied by Jon Stewart.
  • Tropers Law is a reaction to a slippery slope argument commonly found on this very wiki. "If we do anything at all in a way similar to the way that Wikipedia does it, we will become as restrictive and bureaucratic as Wikipedia is perceived." Of course, this does not address concerns that the site is becoming more restrictive and bureaucratic, only that it does not inevitably follow that any action in that direction will lead to a worst case scenario.
  • Bill Maher rebutted this type of fallacious reasoning in a routine: "Gay marriage will not lead to dog marriage! When we gave women the vote we did not also have to give it to parakeets. When we freed the slaves we were not obligated to free the gerbils."
    • Except that almost immediately after the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Moral Guardians were not at all surprised at the introduction of a proposal for a bill that had entered Congress, which would allow for bestiality rights among troops. Of course, the bill was introduced by an opponent of gays serving in the military, which suggests trolling.
    • And Maher himself used a similarly fallacious argument during the last scene of Religulous, in his "religion must die for mankind to live" speech.
    • One particular counter-argument that shows the absurdity of the slippery slope is to reverse it: e.g. "If we ban gay marriage, then we'll ban straight marriage as well!", as seen here. Perhaps it might be attractive to those who dislike straight marriage, but c'mon.
  • Sometimes used by pro-choice activists: supposedly, any restrictions on abortion will inevitably result in a theocratic Christian fundamentalist dystopia where women are used as breeding cattle. Just in case anyone thinks this rhetorical technique is used exclusively by right-wing politicians. On the flip side, it's been claimed that the legalization of abortion nescessarily opens the door to eugenics, euthanasia, social darwinism and so forth.
  • Quite frequently Played for Laughs, in which case the logical leaps necessary to get from root cause to end result will be intentionally amplified and exaggerated.
  • Once Anakin Skywalker tried to defy the principles of the Jedi in order to save his wife, he was just a step away from slaughtering children. At least that's how the "Only Sith Deal In Absolutes" Jedi played it.
    • Explained by the fact that the Dark Side is, in official canon, both addictive and actively corrupting. After 25 millenia of seeing Jedi falling to the Dark Side, with only a tiny proportion ever achieving any kind of redemption, it's hardly surprising that the Jedi attitude is Just Say No. Given how much damage fallen Jedi have managed to do throughout galactic history (near-total destruction of the Order multiple times and slaughtering millions), it's just too risky for the Order to teach its students anything else.
  • The musical comedian Rob Paravonian had some fun with this in "Pushing Band Candy," his tale of how he built an empire out of selling candy bars for school band fundraisers. And really, once he went too far pushing the product and got himself expelled, what else could he become but a hardcore drug dealer?
  • Animal House rather awesomely uses this argument in the scene where Otter convinces Dean Warner that it is unethical to target the entire fraternity for the action of "a few sick and twisted individuals". He then claims that if they are going to blame his fraternity, then they should blame the entire fraternity system, and if they are going to blame the entire fraternity system, they should blame the entire American society in general. They then leave the room humming the national anthem.
  • Parents often claim that lying will lead to becoming a criminal.
  • This is generally accepted as one of the three prohibited taboos of academic debate (British Parliamentary Style at least), the others being the related armageddon, and any mention of Hitler or the Nazis.
  • Weird Al Yankovic says that if you download "Don't Download This Song" (which is freely available on the internet) than you will become a hard case, robbing banks and driving over people in your car.
  • Atheism makes you a Straw Nihilist Omnicidal Maniac. This need not always be the case, however.
  • DirectTV has a series of advertisements that show a chain of events beginning with getting Cable instead of DirectTV and ending in something bad happening. While it does show a (somewhat) logical progression from each event to the next, none of the events described are either inevitable nor necessarily relevant to the viewer. (For example, having a bad day because of your cable company could result in the wrong guy getting convicted and coming after you for revenge, but only if you happened to be a defense attorney.) Of course, the fact this fallacy is used is the joke.
  • Cards Against Humanity invokes this with a 2-white-card black card: "_____ is a slippery slope that leads to _____."
  • Used often in the Minimum Wage strikes. Pundits frequently asked if minimum wage was going to be raised by a few dollars now, what was to stop it growing to absurd levels. This led to many parodies on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, especially when one anchor asked by not raise minimum wage to "One-hundred thousand dollars an hour" (Apparently there is no middle ground between less than three-hundred dollars a week and four million).
  • In the "Trans-Fascism" episode of "King of the Hill", Hank had to struggle between what was legal and what was right when he and his pals started running a lunch truck that sold food banned by the city council. He knew that the town was enacting an unfair law that even the guy who had suggested it in the first place now regretted, but knew he could well cause worse problems. In a Dream Sequence during the episode where he was confronted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Tom Landry (who all faced Slippery Slope crises on a much bigger scale) Washington quoted the Trope directly.

Looks like this fallacy but is not:

  • If one does establish the chain of logical implications (or quantify the relevant probabilities).
  • If it establishes that the progression is inevitable.
  • In some cases of legal precedent; Eugene Volokh has written a paper about the slippery slope that analyzes examples where it can be valid.

Problem with pointing out the fallacy

  • Just because sliding down the slope is not inevitable, does not make it impossible. Sliding down the slope may even be likely. A good example of this is the above Star Wars entry.

Slippery SkidSlippery TropesSlippery Soap
Shifting The Burden Of ProofLogical FallaciesReverse Slippery Slope Fallacy
Shifting The Burden Of ProofLogic TropesSpecial Pleading
Slavic MythologyAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainSlowcore
Sins of Our FathersThe Only Righteous Index of FanaticsSlobs Versus Snobs

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