The Slippery Slope Argument Fallacy Explained

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People can make arguments through logical facts or the use of fallacies. Fallacies are designed to distract the audience or hyperbolize the argument in favor of the person who’s making it. If you can learn to identify a fallacy, then you can spot poorly made arguments and ignore the presenter’s ploys. 

You may encounter logical fallacies in political debates and everyday arguments with friends or colleagues. Catching these fallacies can help you avoid low-quality arguments that don’t make sense. You can also avoid fallacies by reading trusted news sites and sticking to responsible sources.  

One common fallacy is the slippery slope argument. Learn more about this technique and how to spot it. 

Slippery Slope Definition

The slippery slope is one of the most common logical fallacies because it doesn’t require research or proof. It plays on the audience’s fears that allowing one action will lead to several negative consequences. The slippery slope will supposedly create a domino effect that leads to disaster. 

The slippery slope fallacy plays against the idea of compromise. While the audience might be willing to concede one point, this fallacy prevents them from even giving an inch. 

You can see the slippery slope fallacy across the United States political landscape. For example, Republicans sometimes use the slippery slope argument against LGBTQ rights, in one case claiming the next wave will involve people marrying their pets.  

Alternatives to the Metaphor

This fallacy goes by different names depending on who is describing it. Here are a few similar phrases that discuss the same concept. 

  • The thin edge of the wedge: This is something seemingly small and unimportant at the time, but becomes a larger problem as it develops. 
  • Dam burst: One action causes the floodgates to open leading to uncontrollable consequences. 
  • Camel’s nose: The entire saying goes, once you let a camel’s nose under the tent, the whole thing will eventually end up inside. It is a metaphor for allowing one small thing that causes the situation to get out of control. 
  • Parade of horribles: This is a list of terrible things that could happen if one action is allowed.  

For a fun example of a slippery slope argument, read the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”. In this story, a simple action of handing over a cookie results in a mouse wanting milk, a straw, and various other things that cause distress to the giver, making them regret this choice.

Why Is It a Fallacy?

A fallacy, by definition, is an error in reasoning. The person who makes the slippery slope argument lists a variety of consequences that either aren’t true or are hyperbolized. The goal is to persuade audiences by using the fear that allowing one action will create a dire sequence of events. 

Even though it is a fallacy, people commonly use the slippery slope argument. It plays on the emotions of audiences by challenging them to look at the big picture or the long-term effects of an action.

How To Identify the Slippery Slope Fallacy

Slippery slope fallacies come in different shapes and forms. Here are a few types of slippery slope arguments so you can stop them in their tracks. 

  • Correlating: One action will result in a similar one that may or may not be correlated. 
  • Precedential: Allowing one small action will set a precedent for much worse actions in the future. 
  • Conceptual: One compromise will kick off a series of actions that will cause something unrelated to happen. 

There are also a few common characteristics that make up slippery slope fallacies. Even if you don’t know that your opponent is using the slippery slope, you can keep an eye out for these red flags.

  • They use if-then statements: Look for arguments that state if X happens, then Y will occur. 
  • They focus on the worst-case scenario: There is no room for a middle ground in terms of consequences. 
  • They are often hyperbolic: They may try and pile on as many negative consequences as possible. 

Slippery slope arguments usually aren’t backed up by facts. For example, in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a supporter of Donald Trump said there would be “taco trucks on every corner” if Hillary Clinton was elected. This played on the fear that immigration would go unchecked if the speaker’s desired candidate wasn’t in the White House. 

Examples of the Slippery Slope Fallacy

One of the best ways to learn about the slippery slope fallacy is to see examples of it. Here are a few statements that utilize slippery slope logic. 

  • School uniforms lead to less bullying because kids can’t make fun of unfashionable clothes. 
  • When one employee is allowed to leave early, everyone will want to go home early. Soon the entire office will be empty before noon. 
  • If residents are allowed to keep chickens, then they will eventually want sheep, cows, pigs, and llamas. Where does it stop? 
  • If a littering ban is repealed, residents will dump all of their trash in the streets. Soon the waterways will be so filled with garbage that it will kill all the fish. This will eliminate the fishing industry, harming the economy. 

This last example is the most hyperbolic. One small action, like reducing littering fines, leads to the destruction of an entire society’s environment and economy.

How To Counter the Slippery Slope Fallacy

Once an opponent gets going with a slippery slope argument, it can be hard to stop them. Here are a few ways to counter this attack. 

  • Utilize precedents: Point to similar situations in the past and highlight how the negative consequences didn’t happen.
  • Call out a lack of correlation: Illustrate how the negative effects that your opponent is trying to bring up are unrelated. 
  • Highlight the likelihood: Showcase how the potential consequences are highly unlikely and are truly the worst-case scenario. 
  • Call your opponent out for fear-mongering: You can attack their credibility by accusing them of trying to manipulate the audience. 

Your goal is to tap into the critical thinking skills of the audience so they will realize your opponent is using illogical reasoning. You can then present your opponent’s argument as absurd.

More Effective Arguments

You don’t have to rely on fallacies to win arguments. In fact, you can win more people over by presenting information clearly and logically. Here are a few tips to craft better debates:

  • Focus on one clear idea. Then build supporting arguments that defend your idea.
  • Identify potential counterarguments and attacks. This will prepare you for any negative comments or fallacies.  
  • Know your audience. Identify how educated they are on the topic and whether they are likely to support your ideas.
  • Provide in-depth research and reliable sources. This will help you back up any argument with proof. 

A good education can help you hone your argumentative skills and win over audiences. Not only will you be able to counter logical fallacies like the slippery slope argument, but you can make strong points that support your cause.

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