Slippery slope

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In debate or rhetoric, a slippery slope (also known as thin edge of the wedge, or the camel's nose) is a classic form of argument, arguably an informal fallacy.

A slippery slope argument states that a relatively small first step inevitably leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant impact, much like an object given a small push over the edge of a slope sliding all the way to the bottom.[1] The fallacious sense of "slippery slope" is often used synonymously with continuum fallacy, in that it ignores the possibility of middle ground and assumes a discrete transition from category A to category B. Modern usage avoids the fallacy by acknowledging the possibility of this middle ground.

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Slippery slope arguments

The argument takes on one of various semantical forms:

  • In the classical form, the arguer suggests that making a move in a particular direction starts something on a path down a "slippery slope". Having started down the metaphorical slope, it will continue to slide in the same direction (the arguer usually sees the direction as a negative direction, hence the "sliding downwards" metaphor).
  • Modern usage includes a logically valid form, in which a minor action causes a significant impact through a long chain of logical relationships. Note that establishing this chain of logical implication (or quantifying the relevant probabilities) makes this form logically valid. The slippery slope argument remains a fallacy if such a chain is not established.
  • Some claims lie in between the two. For example: "If we accept censorship on most disgusting material, the politicians may easily widen the area under censorship. This has happened often before too, with far-reaching consequences. Therefore, we should completely avoid the slippery slope of censorship." This claim is not a fallacy: some people think that there is enough evidence for the claim to be probably true, some not.

Examples

Eugene Volokh's Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope (PDF version) analyzes various types of such slippage. Volokh uses the example "gun registration may lead to gun confiscation" to describe six types of slippage:

Slippery slope can also be used as a retort to the establishment of arbitrary boundaries or limitations. For example, one might argue that rent prices must be kept to $1,000 or less a month to be affordable to tenants in an area of a city. A retort invoking the slippery slope could go in two different directions:

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