Slippery Slope Arguments

W. van der Burg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientific


Slippery slope arguments hold that one should not take some action (which in itself may be innocuous or even laudable) in order to prevent one from being dragged down a slope towards some clearly undesirable situation. Their typical purpose is to prevent changes in the status quo and, therefore, they are most common in those fields that are characterized by rapid developments. Slippery slope arguments are easily confused with other types of arguments, like arguments that merely point to long-term effects in general or to side-effects. Often they are not so much rational arguments, but expressions of feelings of unease about general trends in society. In such cases, we had better address those underlying worries directly, than discuss them in their disguise as slope arguments. There are various types of slippery slope arguments, and they should be carefully distinguished because the conditions under which they are convincing arguments differ. There are an empirical version and two logical versions, and there is a full or combined version. A second distinction can be made with regard to the contexts in which the slope is supposed to exist. The mechanisms of social dynamics and the role of logic differ in each of these contexts. The conclusion can be that they are only seldom convincing arguments; their most important role is in institutionalized contexts like law. Nevertheless, they are very popular in practical debates. To understand their popularity, we are to address their rhetorical role. The main reason why they are so hard to attack (and to substantiate) is that they are based on controversial interpretations of reality and of future developments, interpretations that are strongly influenced by underlying attitudes, different backgrounds and emotions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics
EditorsR.F. Chadwick
Place of PublicationSan Diego
PublisherAcademic Press
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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