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Slippery Slope

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Slippery Slope

There is no question that devastating consequences begin somewhere. If someone commits a terrible crime, their previous crimes might have led to it. However, notice the word "might" in this example. If someone commits a terrible crime, a previous crime may or may not have been the cause. This is where the slippery slope fallacy comes into play.

Slippery Slope Definition

The slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy. A fallacy is an error of some kind.

A logical fallacy is employed like a logical reason, but it is actually flawed and illogical.

The slippery slope argument is specifically an informal logical fallacy, which means that its fallacy lies not in the structure of the logic (which would be a formal logical fallacy), but rather in something else about the argument.

To understand the slippery slope argument and fallacy, you must know the term "slippery slope."

A slippery slope is when something innocuous leads to something direr. The term is related to the idea of an avalanche or landslide, which may begin as a single shift higher on the slope, but grows into a huge and dangerous collapse of the mountainside.

However, a small shift only might lead to a landslide, and not all landslides begin with a small shift. This is how the slippery slope fallacy is born.

The slippery slope fallacy is the unsubstantiated assertion that a small issue grows into a huge issue.

Not all landslides begin as pebbles, just because some landslides begin that way. Likewise, not all small-time criminals become big-time criminals, just because some big-time criminals were once small-time. To assert these things is to commit the slippery slope fallacy.

The slippery slope fallacy is an appeal to fear, similar to scare tactics.

An appeal to fear tries to persuade somebody on the basis of fear.

This appeal to fear coupled with illogic creates the slippery slope fallacy.

Slippery Slope Argument

Here is a simple example of a slippery slope argument:

My son Tim is ten, and he's obsessed with lighting fires. One day, he's going to become a pyromaniac.

This fits the definition perfectly: an unsubstantiated assertion that a small issue will grow into a huge issue. Two parts are crucial: unsubstantiated and assertion.

In argumentation, an assertion is a strong claim of fact.

  • In this example, the assertion is "he's going to become a pyromaniac."

  • In this example, the assertion is unsubstantiated because a ten-year-old liking to light fires is not evidence of pyromania.

There is nothing wrong with asserting in an argument. Indeed, confident and unhedged claims are preferable. However, assertions are only preferable in this way if they are substantiated, meaning supported by evidence.

Slippery slope, Fire example, StudySmarterFig. 1 - A slippery slope argument delegitimizes a concern.

Why Slippery Slope is a Logical Fallacy

The lack of evidence makes the slippery slope argument a logical fallacy. To provide context, here is an example of a substantiated argument:

According to a ten-year study by Root Cause, 68% of 3rd and 4th-time users of Substance X become addicted to it. Because of this, you should not take substance X even in a short-term recreational setting.

This example uses a study to assert a reasonable conclusion: Substance X shouldn't be used even in the short term. However, it isn't hard for this to become a slippery slope argument:

If you take Substance X, you will eventually become a junkie and probably end up homeless or dead.

Obviously, there is a good reason not to take Substance X, but this slippery slope argument is exaggerated and unsubstantiated. The study cites 3rd and 4th-time users, and it only concludes that addiction results in 68% of cases. This is a far cry from all people who use substance X become junkies and end up homeless or dead.

Still, why not exaggerate? It's fair to say that no one should take Substance X, so why not paint the direst picture possible to dissuade them?

Why Not to Use the Slippery Slope Fallacy

If your argument is an exaggeration or lie, someone will find out. If you lie, someone can and will dismiss even the truer parts of your argument.

Take, for example, the absurd drug-related public service announcements (PSAs) of the 1980s, which showed drug users rapidly declining into monsters. These PSAs were filled to the brim with scare tactics and slippery slopes. One PSA showed a drug user deflating into a grim, flaccid version of themselves.

Anecdotally, it would be easy for a drug user to dismiss these arguments when talking to a young person because they don't occur. When people use drugs, outlandish, scary transformations, like turning into a snake monster, don't happen.

Slippery slope, Dealer example, StudySmarter

Fig. 2 - "Listen, kid, you won't deflate into a monster. That was a slippery slope fallacy."

In cases like drug abuse, slippery slope arguments can fuel stubborn substance abusers and detract from those who use facts to prevent new substance abusers.

Slippery Slope Example in an Essay

Here's an example of how the slippery slope might appear in an essay format:

Others have defended Charlie Nguyen's actions. To be clear, in the novel, Charlie kills his landlord before giving his wife the five hundred dollars and fleeing to Bristol. These critics, however they choose to frame it, are defending a murder. Soon they will be defending crimes casually in the paper, then outright defending convicted felons. Let's not beat about the bush: Charlie is a killer, a felon, and there is no defending this in any arena, academic or otherwise.

This is a strong assertion by the writer: that those defending a fictional character's actions will soon be "outright defending convicted felons." Unlike what this writer asserts, defending a character is not the same as defending a real crime because the context is literature, not life. For example, someone might defend Charlie's actions in terms of the author capturing the realities of his situation, defend Charlie's actions because they contribute to a theme, or defend Charlie's actions because they shed light on a social problem.

Context is everything. A slippery slope argument often takes something and applies it in a different context. Here, someone takes an argument in the context of literature and applies it to the context of real life.

How to Avoid the Slippery Slope Argument

Here are a few tips to prevent making this kind of mistake yourself.

  1. Understand the causes and effects in your topic. If you understand why things start and end, you are less likely to create a fallacious line of cause and effect.

  2. Do not exaggerate. Although it may seem like a good way to drive a point home, exaggeration will only make your arguments easier to defeat logically. Why? Because your arguments will not be logical anymore. They will be exaggerations of the truth.

  3. Make sure that your evidence matches your conclusion. Sometimes, you can get carried away by your argument. You can start with one thing but arrive somewhere much worse by the power argumentation. Always look back at your evidence: does the evidence support your conclusion, or is your conclusion built on little more than a persuasive line of rhetoric?

Slippery Slope Synonyms

There is no Latin term for the slippery slope, and there are no synonyms for this fallacy. However, the slippery slope is similar to other concepts, including the knock-on effect, ripple effect, and domino effect.

The knock-on effect is a further unintended result of a cause.

For instance, cane toads were introduced to Australia for pest control. The knock-on effect was an overabundance of cane toads that became an ecological menace, thanks to their poisonous skin.

The ripple effect is when one thing causes many things, and those things cause many more things, like a ripple in the water.

For instance, World War I began as a regional conflict, but the effect of the conflict rippled outward from Europe and created a world war.

The domino effect is when one thing causes another thing, causes another thing, and so on.

These are all related phenomena to the slippery slope. However, none of these is as closely associated with argumentation as the slippery slope. The slippery slope is the only one that can be classified as a scare tactic or logical fallacy.

Slippery Slope - Key Takeaways

  • The slippery slope fallacy is the unsubstantiated assertion that a small issue grows into a huge issue.
  • A lack of evidence makes the slippery slope a logical fallacy.
  • While you should be assertive in an argument, you should not assert an exaggeration.
  • Someone will find out exaggerated arguments and discredit your message.
  • To avoid the slippery slope argument, understand the causes and effects in your topic, don't exaggerate, and be sure your evidence matches your conclusion.

Frequently Asked Questions about Slippery Slope

No, a slippery slope is not a valid argument. A slippery slope argument requires more evidence.

Slippery slope arguments don't work because they appeal to fear rather than logic. They might work at an emotional level, but not in the realm of reason.

The slippery slope fallacy is the unsubstantiated assertion that a small issue grows into a huge issue.

A slippery slope is a logical fallacy when it is unsubstantiated.

The problem with a slippery slope argument is the lack of evidence. Slippery slope arguments are assertive but unsubstantiated.

Final Slippery Slope Quiz

Question

How is a slippery slope like a landslide?

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Answer

A slippery slope is when something innocuous leads into something more dire. The term is related to the idea of an avalanche or landslide, which may begin as a single shift higher on the slope but grows into a huge and dangerous collapse of the mountainside.

Show question

Question

"A small time criminal will become a big-time criminal."

Is this a slippery slope argument?

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Answer

Without further evidence, yes. Think of it this way: Not all avalanches begin with pebbles, just because some avalanches begin that way. Likewise, not all small-time criminals become big-time criminals, just because some big-time criminals were once small-time. 

Show question

Question

A slippery slope argument is what?

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Answer

All the above. 

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Question

What is the main issue with a slippery slope argument?

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Answer

It turns a small issue into a big issue

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Question

What is an assertion?

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Answer

A strong claim of fact.

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Question

"Avoid assertions in argumentation."

True or false?

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Answer

False. 

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Question

What does it mean, that an argument should be substantiated?

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Answer

Substantiated, meaning supported by evidence.

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Question

Why should you not exaggerate in an argument?

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Answer

If your argument is an exaggeration or lie, it will be found out; and if someone is lying, it is easy for someone else to dismiss their argument, even the truer parts of it.

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Question

A slippery slope argument is unlikely to occur in your essay, if you always provide substantial evidence.


True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

How is context important when defining a slippery slope argument?

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Answer

Think about a mother asserting that her child will become a pyromaniac. This mother fails to contextualize her child's actions as the probable result of simply being a kid.

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Question

To avoid the slippery slope argument, understand the causes and effects in your topic. Why?

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Answer

If you understand why things start and end, you are less likely to create a fallacious line of cause and effect.

Show question

Question

How could you get carried away with your argument, in terms of evidence and conclusion?

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Answer

You can start with one thing, and by the power of argumentation arrive at something different.

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Question

To avoid the slippery slope, make sure your _____ matches your _____.

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Answer

Evidence, conclusion.

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Question

What is "slippery slope" in Latin?

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Answer

It has no Latin equivalent. 

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Question

To which logical fallacy is the slippery slope similar?

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Answer

Scare tactics.

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Question

In argumentation, an assertion is a strong claim of ________. 

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Answer

Fact.

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Question

Where is the assertion in the following argument?


If you continue to eat at fast food restaurants, you'll become morbidly obese and die young.

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Answer

You'll become morbidly obese and die young.

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Question

Is the following claim substantiated?

My roommate listens to hardcore metal. He has anger issues. 

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Answer

No. 

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Question

Is the following claim substantiated?


Long grass and weeds invite insects and pests. If we don't mow the lawn, we will encounter more and more bugs.

Show answer

Answer

Yes.

Show question

Question

It is beneficial to have strong assertions in your essay. 

True or false?

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Answer

True.

Show question

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