Slippery Slope
KSU   -   English 1101/55 & 57   -   Mr. Hagin   -   Fall 2002   -   Revised: 27 November 2002


Slippery Slope – exaggerating the possible future consequences of an action.

If a person stands on a slippery slope, then one small misstep can force him to fall or begin the avalanche that causes havoc or destruction down the hill.  The slippery slope fallacy occurs when an argument exaggerates the possible future consequences of an action, usually with the intention of frightening the audience; hence, slippery slope arguments are forms of the scare tactic.  Slippery slope fallacies differ in that their arguments actually contain valid cause/effect relationships, but they are linked together loosely in a long chain of possible events.


Although one specific sequence of events might occur exactly as the speaker predicts, the odds of a long sequence of events occurring as predicted drop off dramatically when each new link is added to the chain of proposed events.  If any one link is disproved or is discovered to be circumstantial, then the entire argument falls.


An anti-drug advocate speaks: “Cigarettes should be banned!  Children who start smoking cigarettes will then move on to marijuana, which is a gateway drug to all the others.  Once a kid starts smoking dope, he’ll get curious and then try cocaine, then LSD, and then heroin and crack.  Cigarettes are the gateway to death.”

Anti-drug campaigns often argued that cigarettes are just one example of “gateway drugs” — harmful, yet weaker, substances that “open the gate” to harder drug use.  They argued that teens who smoke cigarettes are more likely to try marijuana; likewise, pot smokers are more apt to try cocaine, then heroin, and so on.  Although statistics certainly suggest a correlation between cigarette smoking and other “at risk” behaviors, a child who tries a cigarette is not going to become a heroin user (most likely).  To suggest otherwise commits the slippery slope fallacy.  Ideas and actions do have consequences, but they are not always as dire (or as predictable) as the authors of the slippery slope tactic would have us believe.


A National Rifle Association president might say: “We have to support our Second Amendment rights to bear arms.  As soon as guns are made illegal, suddenly you’ll find the government taking more and more of our rights away until we are all slaves to the state.  If we lose our Second Amendment rights, the others will follow, one by one.  Therefore, support the NRA before the government robs us all!”

Many people fear our government’s increasing intrusion into our privacy: laws tell us who we can marry (straight people only), what kinds of sex are allowed in our with our spouses bedrooms, and who gets to see our credit card information when we buy something on eBay.  True, each new law brings a tighter restriction on our freedom, but to suggest that government regulation necessarily leads to more regulation in the future is impossible to prove.  Remember, what can’t be proven cannot be considered valid.  Yes, our freedoms are restricted every day, but does that mean that we will all be slaves to the state in 10 years’ time?  Hardly.  People who believe this are overreacting, based on their fears and perceptions.  Nobody can predict the future with any certainty.


A panicked citizen asserts: “Legalizing assisted suicide will lead to murder of the old and the mentally handicapped.”

This person is suggesting that legalizing the right of a dying individual to control the manner of one’s death will lead to future laws legalizing the murder of the sick and old.  However, the links between these two scenarios are weak, if not nonexistent.  Most of us would be surprised if such inhumane laws as harming the handicapped ever became seriously considered by lawmakers.

Public acceptance of assisted suicide in Oregon have made the case for euthanasia stronger, but any real change in society usually takes two to three generations to manifest itself.  Laws as serious as these are never made arbitrarily.  People always have time to protest any new laws that seriously affect our lives.  We are not going to see sweeping, radical changes in our laws overnight.