Critical Thinking

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Slippery Slope Fallacy

 

Arguing that if an opponent were to accept some claim C1, then he or she has to accept some other closely related claim C2, which in turn commits the opponent to a still further claim C3, eventually leading to the conclusion that the opponent is committed to something absurd or obviously unacceptable.

 

This style of argumentation constitutes a fallacy only when it is inappropriate to think if one were to accept the initial claim, one must accept all the other claims.

 

An example: "The government should not prohibit drugs. Otherwise the government should also ban alcohol or cigarettes. And then fatty food and junk food would have to be regulated too. The next thing you know, the government would force us to brush our teeth and do exercises everyday."

 

Logical Form

 

1. If A then B

 2. If B then C

 3. If C then D

 4. not-D Therefore, not-A {OR this can also be in the form of 'A - therefore D'}

 

The problem with this reasoning is that if A happens, it is assumed that inevitably B will happen, and if B happens, C will inevitably follow.  The question we need to ask is whether B follows A is inevitable, or is there room for some outcome other than B or a middle-ground. If the consequence of A happening has outcomes other than B, then the argument becomes a fallacy

 

When B follows A is not a fallacy

If you put your bare hand in boiling water, you will burn your hands. Here too B follows A. This in inevitable and is not a fallacy.

 

When B follows A is a fallacy

If you smoke you will get cancer.  Now not all smokers get cancer. The chances of a smoker  getting cancer is high. But the outcome is not definitive. This is a fallacy when framed in a manner to indicate an inevitable definitive outcome (though it may be wider for us to treat the outcome as inevitable and definitive)

 

 More examples

In India, lets consider the example of wanting to get their children admitted into a prestigious preschool (this will take the form of 'A therefore D':

 

Parents insist that they must put their children into the most prestigious pre-schools. This could be a line of reasoning:

  1. If they (children) don't get into the most prestigious pre-school , they won't get admission in a good high school
  2. If they don't get admission in a good high school, they won't get admission into a good college
  3. If they don't get admission in a good college, they won't get a good job
  4. If they don’t get a good job, they won't be able to earn a lot of money
  5. If they don't earn a lot of money, they won't get a good wife
  6. Without money and a good wife, the child will be unhappy throughout life
  7. Because they are chronically unhappy they will not have good health
  8. Because they do not have good health, and have no money or a good wife, they will go into chronic depression

 

 So the conclusion is - if the child is not put into a prestigious pre-school, they will be chronically depressed the rest of their life.

 

Sure, this is a far fetched argument, though many readers may tend to agree with parts of it. This argument has deliberately been stretched to the point of absurdity. But the fact is, we are presented with this line of reasoning very often, and we tend to not see the lack of logic behind such reasoning.

 

This tactic is a favorite of political parties. They will present arguments of consequences of electing the opposing party, and typically these take the form of 'Slipper Slope' arguments. Lets take a look at some arguments from the 2014 election campaign

Lets imagine three different political parties in the country. Party A, B & C

 

Party A's arguments

  1. If  Party A or B are elected, the government will be corrupt.
  2. Because they are corrupt, they will loot the country of its resources
  3. And because the country is looted of its resources, the country will be destroyed

 

Party B's Arguments

  1. If  Party C is elected, they will misgovern the country
  2. Because they are misgoverning, there will be no development in the country
  3. Because there is no development, there will be no job creation
  4. Because there is no job creation, there will be no growth in the economy
  5. Because there is no growth, the country will become impoverish
  6. Because they are impoverished, the country will be destroyed

 

Party C's arguments

  1. If Party B comes to power, there will be a communalistic approach to governance
  2. Because there is a communalistic approach, there will be clashes between communities
  3. Because there are clashes between communities, there will be disturbance of peace and harmony
  4. Because there is no peace and harmony, the country will be destroyed

 

All these arguments fall neatly into 'Slipper Slope' arguments, which are flawed logically and is a fallacy. Each party claims that if the other party comes into power, they country will be destroyed. The reality is each party has its own strengths and weaknesses, and none of the parties if they come to power will destroy the country. But the arguments are very persuasive, and if one does not examine the arguments properly, then one is likely to believe them to be true. The right way to deal with these arguments is to treat them as fallacies if any premise in the chain of reasoning is questionable, or if any of the premises are not the only likely consequences  of the prior premise.

 

Have you come across such arguments in the workplace or daily life? Please go ahead and add them in your comments

 

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