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Thread: Slippery slope arguments and fallacies

  1. Top | #11
    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Do you think it is ever valid and justified to use a slippery slope objection to someone else's idea? Pick any hypothetical idea you want.

    You would effectively tell someone that "Transitioning from position A to position B is pretty fine by itself, but then you would also be more likely to switch from position B to position C, then position C to position D, etc., etc. all of which are increasingly detrimental, until you got to position Z which is a horrifying outcome. So it is better to not switch from A to B to start with."

  2. Top | #12
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    In the course of 30 years in technology many examples. One has to make a case with supporting logic and reasoning.

    Simply mouthing I object because it is a slippery slope is never an acceptable position without supporting analysis.

    In the case of the NRA and gun control it is purely an emotional argument. To seize guns or severely limit all guns as in Japan would require amending the 2nd Amendment which will never happen.

    As a well known example the invasion of Iraq. In the first gulf war George HW Bush did not invade Iraq and bring down Hussein. It was a slippery slope situation. The results would be unpredictable. Bush wrote about it.

    GWB ignored his father's position and invaded Iraq toppling Hussein. The situation slowly descending into anarchy and civil war between factions, and we are still there.

    Threes like this are a slippery slope for me. I intend to make one or two posts and slowly slip into deeper debate that I ma not really interested in....

    You are trying to lay it out formally in the second paragraph. It is a metaphor not a method of argument. It defines a situation where the actual possibilities are difficy=ult or impossible to logically map in any meaningful way.

    You say a leads to b and b leads to c... And I say one thing leads to another.

  3. Top | #13
    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    It is not a logical proposition,...
    Correct that it is not a proposition, but it is a type of fallacy (at least sometimes).

    https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/...Slippery_Slope
    https://www.thoughtco.com/slippery-s...allacy-1692105

    "In informal logic, slippery slope is a fallacy in which a course of action is objected to on the grounds that once taken it will lead to additional actions until some undesirable consequence results. Also known as the slippery slope argument and the domino fallacy."

    "Logicians call the slippery slope a classic logical fallacy."
    The way I see it it's a fallacy if it's used in a logical argument (in which things must necessarily follow) but not if it isn't used that way.In my experience it is rarely if ever used in that way. In other words, most of the time it's not actually a fallacy. But that said those who use it often seem to informally imply that something will follow (not may follow).

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    But that said those who use it often seem to informally imply that something will follow (not may follow).
    That is why the risk/reward calculations are important to determining whether a slippery slope is a fallacy or not. Even when we do not calculate them explicitly on paper (which is most of the time), our brains are still sloppily doing the math internally. We can conclude that outcome "F" is 68% likely to occur if we shift from point A to point B earlier, even if "F" cannot be *guaranteed* to occur based on our limited understanding. If outcome "F" carries minimal potential harm while also has the potential for enormous benefit, that would make it more reasonable to shift our stance from A to B. If it instead has relatively more potential harm than benefit, that would shift the optimal strategy towards avoiding shifting from A to B. It depends on not just the potential risks and potential rewards, but also the likelihoods of success versus failure.

    Many people object to making some initial change based on the danger it poses though if carried through, and then others will react to that and say "No, that's a slippery slope fallacy. The fact that we would change from A to B does not necessarily mean we would wind up at Z." Well, actually it is not so simple about who is right or wrong. Either scenario is possible, depending on the circumstances and the risk/reward calculations. Saying that it would "not necessarily" (an abused phrase) result in outcome Z does not mean that outcome Z would still be unlikely. It may very well be likely even if not necessary. Or the destruction could potentially be so massive, even there there was only a miniscule chance of any destruction occurring, that it would still make sense to avoid making the change.

  5. Top | #15
    Contributor ruby sparks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    But that said those who use it often seem to informally imply that something will follow (not may follow).
    That is why the risk/reward calculations are important to determining whether a slippery slope is a fallacy or not. Even when we do not calculate them explicitly on paper (which is most of the time), our brains are still sloppily doing the math internally. We can conclude that outcome "F" is 68% likely to occur if we shift from point A to point B earlier, even if "F" cannot be *guaranteed* to occur based on our limited understanding. If outcome "F" carries minimal potential harm while also has the potential for enormous benefit, that would make it more reasonable to shift our stance from A to B. If it instead has relatively more potential harm than benefit, that would shift the optimal strategy towards avoiding shifting from A to B. It depends on not just the potential risks and potential rewards, but also the likelihoods of success versus failure.

    Many people object to making some initial change based on the danger it poses though if carried through, and then others will react to that and say "No, that's a slippery slope fallacy. The fact that we would change from A to B does not necessarily mean we would wind up at Z." Well, actually it is not so simple about who is right or wrong. Either scenario is possible, depending on the circumstances and the risk/reward calculations. Saying that it would "not necessarily" (an abused phrase) result in outcome Z does not mean that outcome Z would still be unlikely. It may very well be likely even if not necessary. Or the destruction could potentially be so massive, even there there was only a miniscule chance of any destruction occurring, that it would still make sense to avoid making the change.
    As I see it, the risk/reward aspects do not determine if its a fallacy. If it's used as a logical claim, and if the consequences are not certain and logically necessary, it's a fallacy.

    Once likelihoods enter into it, it's merely an argument, a good or bad one depending, as you say, on the degrees of risk or reward.

  6. Top | #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith&Co. View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    A lot of times though, people seem to think that a slippery slope is necessarily a logical fallacy. They are mistaken. Sometimes it is a fallacy, sometimes it is a valid argument.
    But is it really valid?
    The slippery slope argument is about a fear of the next steps being unavoidable, not a risk analysis. And often about unconnected consequences.
    Once we let races intermarry, then we'll have to let same sex marriages, then we will have to drop the age of consent, then cross species, then we will have children marrying their teddy bears.... The fallacy is in the claim that going two steps in makes it impossible to stop the third, fourth.

    But an alcoholic being susceptible to alcohol is an established fact. I mean, that IS what alcoholic MEANS. So taking that first drink is not a slippery slope, it is the step between being a recovering alcoholic and being in trouble.

    I really don't think likely and predictable consequences fit the 'slippery slope fallacy.' They're just consequences. The third drink is directly connected to t he fourth drink....
    I think Brian63 is correct. "Slippery slope" is a form of argument about the ultimate negative consequences that follow from an initial seemingly minor "step". It can be a valid, sound, reasoned argument or an unsound one, depending upon the probability of causal assumptions. After all, slippery slopes do exist in reality, in both literal and metaphorical senses. You take one step onto the top of a slippery slope and you wind up at the bottom of the hill. In fact, even if the causal chain is only plausible rather than certain or highly probable, the argument is not a fallacy, so long as the arguer does not imply certainty.

    The argument is only a fallacy if the causal chain is less than certain AND the person asserts that it is certain, or has no sound warrants to suggest that there is any plausible causal connection between the events.

    IOW, most claims that an argument is a "slippery slope fallacy" are themselves fallacious and a misuse of the term, attempting to dismiss causal arguments about probable consequences just because there is some level of uncertainty in the causal chain.

    For example, the label is often mindlessly used against arguments that defend free speech by pointing out the giving government the right to use force to silence speech on the grounds that it is "offensive", will likely lead to authoritarian suppression of other ideas. That is a slippery slope argument but not a fallacy. Even though there is some uncertainty in the exact consequences, there is a shared causal mechanism that is impacted by one act which makes the other effect more likely. Namely, since "offensive" is purely subjective, the principle that such subjective "harm" is insufficient grounds for censorship is the only mechanism that prevents authorities from censoring any idea they don't personally like.

    It's much like the common critique of a "No True Scotsman fallacy" and the "Correlation does not imply causation fallacy", both of which seem to be used incorrectly and fallaciously most of the time to dismiss reasonable arguments prima facie without bothering to counter the contents of the argument and specify where exactly the reasoning fails (aka, the fallacy fallacy).

  7. Top | #17
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    How is slippery slope a logical fallacy as is false equivalence and false dichotomy? The latter two are false on the face of it.

    As ronburgundy said, slippery slope does exist in reality. As such it is it patently not a logical falsehood. It is a label for a particular class of analysis.

  8. Top | #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by ronburgundy View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith&Co. View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    A lot of times though, people seem to think that a slippery slope is necessarily a logical fallacy. They are mistaken. Sometimes it is a fallacy, sometimes it is a valid argument.
    But is it really valid?
    The slippery slope argument is about a fear of the next steps being unavoidable, not a risk analysis. And often about unconnected consequences.
    Once we let races intermarry, then we'll have to let same sex marriages, then we will have to drop the age of consent, then cross species, then we will have children marrying their teddy bears.... The fallacy is in the claim that going two steps in makes it impossible to stop the third, fourth.

    But an alcoholic being susceptible to alcohol is an established fact. I mean, that IS what alcoholic MEANS. So taking that first drink is not a slippery slope, it is the step between being a recovering alcoholic and being in trouble.

    I really don't think likely and predictable consequences fit the 'slippery slope fallacy.' They're just consequences. The third drink is directly connected to t he fourth drink....
    I think Brian63 is correct. "Slippery slope" is a form of argument about the ultimate negative consequences that follow from an initial seemingly minor "step". It can be a valid, sound, reasoned argument or an unsound one, depending upon the probability of causal assumptions. After all, slippery slopes do exist in reality, in both literal and metaphorical senses. You take one step onto the top of a slippery slope and you wind up at the bottom of the hill. In fact, even if the causal chain is only plausible rather than certain or highly probable, the argument is not a fallacy, so long as the arguer does not imply certainty.

    The argument is only a fallacy if the causal chain is less than certain AND the person asserts that it is certain, or has no sound warrants to suggest that there is any plausible causal connection between the events.

    IOW, most claims that an argument is a "slippery slope fallacy" are themselves fallacious and a misuse of the term, attempting to dismiss causal arguments about probable consequences just because there is some level of uncertainty in the causal chain.

    For example, the label is often mindlessly used against arguments that defend free speech by pointing out the giving government the right to use force to silence speech on the grounds that it is "offensive", will likely lead to authoritarian suppression of other ideas. That is a slippery slope argument but not a fallacy. Even though there is some uncertainty in the exact consequences, there is a shared causal mechanism that is impacted by one act which makes the other effect more likely. Namely, since "offensive" is purely subjective, the principle that such subjective "harm" is insufficient grounds for censorship is the only mechanism that prevents authorities from censoring any idea they don't personally like.

    It's much like the common critique of a "No True Scotsman fallacy" and the "Correlation does not imply causation fallacy", both of which seem to be used incorrectly and fallaciously most of the time to dismiss reasonable arguments prima facie without bothering to counter the contents of the argument and specify where exactly the reasoning fails (aka, the fallacy fallacy).
    Very good post.

  9. Top | #19
    Contributor DBT's Avatar
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    Shouldn't slippery slope/deteriation be a matter of degree or probability rather than absolute certainty, hence not necessarily always a fallacy? After all, conditions can deteriorate or fall apart, making the slippery slope fallacy claim false in that instance.

  10. Top | #20
    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    There are so many levels of energy. Transactions at a level do seem to individually be stepwise or binary. So how does wind up with a slope unless one has defocused the visualizing instrument a bit. One might say one gets determinism by averaging across transaction levels yielding things are fixed after time t=0.

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