Friday, November 30, 2012

Slippery Slope: Logical Fallacy But Social Reality

Whenever reactionaries make a slippery slope argument in the public square, they’re almost always correct, although their timing is sometimes off a bit. For instance, they predicted that legalizing contraception for unmarried people would INCREASE the rates of unwed mothers—certainly very counterintuitive at the time. And…they were right. Pretty much everything they have predicted has come to pass. Slippery slope might be a fallacy in the Platonic world of formal logic, but it is an inductive argument that is usually correct when discussing human behavior, politics, or law.


I'm hard pressed to think of any counterexample. 


10 comments:

Phineas said...

Perhaps some of the War on Drugs rhetoric would qualify -- although that hasn't typically been by reactionaries. I don't think there is much evidence of legalization, decriminalization, or free needle programs leading to more drug use.

Jehu said...

Reactionaries never pushed the WoD to begin with---such began with the Progressives establishing the FDA, and there's probably more support among the far Right for ending the WoD than most other places. The main reason, of course, is that the present state is Reaction's enemy, and War is the health of the state.

Bill said...

I am usually an anti-fan, but Eugene Volokh has an interesting article on this.

Jehu said...

Volokh is usually worth at least a quick look. Interestingly, his article points up a reactionary dilemma---one where we'd be ok with sales of MJ but NOT advertising of same (or worse yet, entertainment where MJ users were portrayed as high status or sexually desireable). We'd actually prefer the opposite regime than persists today, but as he points out, via the political power slippery slope it is very hard to get there, at least in a democratic (nominally) system.

ukFred said...

The other side to the slippery slope argument comes when a government decides to reduce restrictions on something, an example of which was the scientific argument that Cannabis could be reduced from a Class B to Class C (a less serious classification) in the UK, which developed into a political row leading to the resignation of the government's chief scientific adviser. The politicians felt that he was publicly suggesting that cannabis was not so bad as had previously been thought and that he was saying that they were oppressive in keeping the classification as B, while he felt they were refusing to accept scientific advice. The politicians took the view that this was a slippery slope which would lead to more harm from recreational drug use and pressure to reduce the classification of other recreational drugs.

rps said...

Most fallacies are like that - they're heuristics which work most of the time. For example, if you see people running in terror in one direction, and you join them, you've committed the bandwagon fallacy, but you're probably right. If you refuse to invest in someone's business because they've been convicted of fraud, that's ad hominem, but you're probably right.

Anonymous said...

Knowledge is justified true belief.

Slippery slope is a fallacy because it isn't ALWAYS true.

Conclusions reached by slippery slope aren't properly justified, and CAN be true "by accident." Slippery slope often leads to UNjustified true beliefs.

But in fact "accident" is often just a synonym for "non-codified empirical knowledge."

Bill said...

Your argument proves too much. Inductive reasoning doesn't always work, either. Take that seriously, and you arrive at the conclusion that science is a fallacy, based, as it is, on induction.

In fact, many "fallacies" in philosophy can be understood as inductive arguments---just as rps says above. And many objections to these "fallacies" by analytic philosophers involve radical context-dropping, blithe assumptions of zero information processing costs, and general bias against induction. "A is false because X says it is true and X is a liar" is a good argument in lots of contexts. It's not a deductive proof, and sometimes it is wrong, but it's very often a good argument. Calling it a fallacy isn't wrong, exactly, but it is entirely pointless, always.

contemplationist said...

Total victory or annihilation is rare and hence incrementalism is an attractive strategy to advance one's cause, which necessitates duplicity on long-term goals to advance short-term ones.

Proph said...

I've never thought it useful to call "slippery slope" a fallacy since, as has been pointed out, the slope often is slippery. It's a fallacy only when there's no logical connection between the peak and the valley, so the assertion of such a connection is a non sequitur. Which, you know, is already considered a fallacy.