Slippery slope arguments are seductive, but often inherently flawed

2012-07-31T00:00:00Z Slippery slope arguments are seductive, but often inherently flawedGil Shapiro Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

"If devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality, then there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking."

- Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)

The massacre in Colorado demands that we honestly re-evaluate gun control laws.

Opponents of firearm restrictions often make the following claim: First, there will be relatively minor restrictions, but then bans on entire categories of guns, as well as their use and possession, will follow. Soon, the public will be burdened with stringent new conditions for ownership, sale, transfer, control and taxation. Finally, our Second Amendment rights will be shredded.

This is the "slippery slope" argument against gun control. It needs to be viewed with caution because this type of reasoning is often fallacious.

In general, a slippery slope argument claims that situation A has an inherent and inevitable trajectory to become situation B, which invariably is a more extreme and undesirable state than A.

In politics, slippery slope is a popular form of argumentation used to reject good legislation (A) because bad legislation (B) will surely follow.

Other familiar A to B scenarios are: gay marriage? All types of marriages will be legalized; Internet censorship? Where will it end?; bank regulations? infringement and impediments to free markets and capitalism; smoking bans? end of tobacco farming and prohibition of smoking; the Affordable Health Care Act? socialized medicine and our nation's bankruptcy; legalizing marijuana? gateway to harder drug addictions and a stoned society.

FreeThought Arizona recommends a healthy dose of skepticism when confronted with the seductive simplicity of slippery slope arguments -especially as they are used to argue for laws and policies on important social, economic and political matters such as those listed above.

This way of thinking can prevent people from supporting good laws and policies for fear of this slippery slope to undesirable legislation.

Slippery slope arguments need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and according to their own merits.

This is a type of reasoning that carries weight only if there are demonstrable logical connections and causations for good legislation to go bad.

Appropriate questions to ask politicians who use slippery slope arguments are: What facts support the inevitability of this good legislation going bad? On this issue, have your claims of causal and conditional predictions been realized before? In what way will our nation's constitutional safeguards not prevent the bad outcomes you predict? Can your theory be tested?

If this slippery slope fallacy were properly understood, I speculate that many National Rifle Association members would support common sense restrictions on assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines if they were sure those restrictions would not eventually impact their fundamental Second Amendment rights; many social conservatives (religionists exempted) would support gay marriage rights if they were assured that no further "liberal" interpretations of marriage would be forthcoming; and many economic conservatives would support banking regulations if those changes brought strength and stability to these institutions and reduced the current environment of greed and speculation, which must be unnerving for the majority of ethical workers in the financial services industry.

As our national debate intensifies on many economic, social and political issues, FreeThought Arizona hopes the public will become more educated and rightly suspect of slippery slope arguments.

Our complex and highly civilized society needs disciplined thinking rather than the mental laziness of jumping to easy but erroneous conclusions.

Gil Shapiro is a Tucson podiatrist and foot surgeon, and spokesman for Free Thought Arizona. Email him at gdshapiro@comcast.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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