A Philosopher's Blog

Cruzing the Slippery Slope

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on April 24, 2013
English: Ted Cruz at the Republican Leadership...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Because of its psychological appeal and versatility, the slippery slope is a very popular fallacy.  Thus, it is no surprise that Senator Ted Cruz employed it in his recent “argument” against expanding background checks.

The slippery slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no adequate reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:

  1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
  2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

In the case of Cruz, his  reasoning was as follows:

“The Department of Justice has been explicit that when you require background checks for private firearms transactions, the only way to make that effective is through a national gun registry. So if the bill that is pending on the floor of the Senate passed, the next step in the process would be that critics would say, ‘Well this isn’t effective. We don’t know if you’re selling your firearm to someone else unless we know you have your firearm.’ And in my judgment a federal registry of firearms … would be terrible policy and would be inconsistent with the Constitution.”

On the face of it, it might be contended that Cruz is not presenting a slippery slope fallacy. After all, he does  claim that making background checks effective would require such a registry and the “critics” would presumably make that “terrible policy” a reality.

However, looked at more closely, he is still presenting a slippery slope fallacy. While he does purport to provide a reason to think that passing the law in question would lead inevitably to a national gun registry, he actually fails to adequately connect the two.  As he conceded on 4/17/2013, the proposed legislation does not create a national gun registry. In fact, the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation actually makes it a felony for government officials to store gun records.  Thus, the legislation that is alleged to lead to a national gun registry actually would have made it illegal which would, obviously enough, stop the slippery slope slide immediately.  As such, the argument given by Cruz fails to support his conclusion and its only appeal is the psychological fear that passing the law would have led to a national gun registry.

It might be countered that someone could come along a pass a law that would allow a national gun registry, thus there is no slippery slope. However, what is wanting would be the same thing that is wanting now-adequate evidence that this would occur because of the passage of the original law.

I am reasonably sure that Cruz knows he employed a slippery slope-I do not think that he said what he said out of an ignorance of logic. Rather, I suspect he employed it intentionally, knowing how effective the fallacy is as a rhetorical device. After all, he is an Ivy League graduate and perhaps even an intellectual under his new persona. It was, it seems, clever of him to use this approach: he won, despite the fact that the majority of the senate and the vast majority of Americans supported the proposed legislation.

 

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34 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on April 24, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Are you confusing the reductio ad absurdum with the slippery slope? Cruz was referring to a DOJ commissioned study that concluded registration was the most efficient means of gun control. Was Socrates using the slippery slope too? Or the reductio ad absurdum? The same seems to apply to your critique of same-sex marriage arguments, which I see more as the use of reductio ad absurdum than as the use of the slippery slope. Reasons given and no reasons being given being the difference between the two, I think.

    • WTP said, on April 24, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Said as much 4-5 posts ago:
      https://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/owning-genes/#comment-27411

      Reducto ad absurdum good, slippery slope bad. Mike can see a problem with laying legal groundwork for something he doesn’t like, thus it’s RaA. But if he’s in favor of a change in standard operating procedure, any similarly based argument is dismissed without consideration as an always fallacious slippery slope. Sophistry.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 8:32 am

    The big difference is that Mike is dealing with logical certainties whereas Cruz is dealing with probabilities.

    Example:

    Proposition: If you feed a wild bear, it will lose its fear of humans and will most likely eventually need to be destroyed.

    Mike would argue that this is a slippery slope fallacy because it is not inevitable that a particular bear will need to be destroyed.

    However, based on ursine nature and historical experience it is still not a good idea to feed the bears.

    Likewise, based on human nature and historical experience, the creation of a gun registry will lead to its misuse. This does not follow as a logical certainty, but it is certainly probable.

    I do not feel arguments like this are justly labeled as fallacies just because they deal with probabilities rather than logical certainties.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

      “The big difference is that Mike is dealing with logical certainties whereas Cruz is dealing with probabilities.”

      Not at all. The slippery slope is an informal fallacy. So, my claim is not that Cruz must present a sound (valid + all true premises) argument. Rather, I just claim that he needs to adequately show that his claim is at least probable given the evidence.

      “Proposition: If you feed a wild bear, it will lose its fear of humans and will most likely eventually need to be destroyed.

      Mike would argue that this is a slippery slope fallacy because it is not inevitable that a particular bear will need to be destroyed.

      However, based on ursine nature and historical experience it is still not a good idea to feed the bears.”

      Not at all. There is adequate evidence that feeding bears does have a reasonable chance of leading to bear behavior that will lead to its destruction.

      “Likewise, based on human nature and historical experience, the creation of a gun registry will lead to its misuse. This does not follow as a logical certainty, but it is certainly probable.”

      The creation of a registry will lead to misuse-this is backed up by evidence about how governments work. But, Cruz is claiming that the proposal will lead to a national registry, despite the fact that the proposal would make creating such a registry a felony. That is, his slippery slope is to the registry, not from it.

      “I do not feel arguments like this are justly labeled as fallacies just because they deal with probabilities rather than logical certainties.”

      Being fallacious is not a matter of failing to be certain-after all, there are many informal/inductive fallacies. You should buy my book.🙂

  3. biomass2 said, on April 24, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I believe Mike’s last three paragraphs clarify why Cruz’ claim about gun registries qualifies as a fallacy. If you’re going to “connect the dots” you have to be connecting dots, not dots and dits.
    My guess is that Cruz’ statements about the registry fall under at least one of the following definitions of “fallacy”.

    a deceptive, misleading, or false notion, belief, etc/ a false or mistaken idea / an often plausible argument using false or invalid inference /a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound arguments

  4. T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I remember the critics of Obamacare were mocked for claiming that the ACA would cost far more than claimed by its supporters.

    Guess what?

    • biomass2 said, on April 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      TJ: What?
      First, I’m going to wait for all the special interest groups(insurance cos. ,drug companies—the entire health care industry AND their political thugs who are in Congress or lobbying Congress ) to have their twisted way with the ACA .

      Assuming I’m still alive, I’ll be here in 2015—the year after the act as it exists now is fully in force— to say you were right (of course you seem to be right-leaning 🙂 —ideologically). If you are correct. Right now, I just don’t have the time or the energy to jump that far for a conclusion.

      • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

        President Obama’s landmark healthcare overhaul is projected to cost $1.76 trillion over a decade, reports the Congressional Budget Office, a hefty sum more than the $940 billion estimated when the healthcare legislation was signed into law. To put it mildly, ObamaCare’s projected net worth is far off from its original estimate — in fact, about $820 billion off.

        http://news.yahoo.com/cbo-obamacare-price-tag-shifts-940-billion-1-163500655.html

        Facts are stubborn things.

      • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

        Is anybody really surprised that the cost of the ACA is far higher than originally estimated? Were the people who predicted this committing the “slippery slope fallacy” or were they just being realistic?

        Again, I don’t think that predicting a probable result should fairly be labeled a fallacy.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm

          No. I’ve dealt with bureaucracies and the only thing that is ever less is my paycheck.🙂

        • biomass2 said, on April 24, 2013 at 5:27 pm

          I ,for one, am not at all surprised that the cost is higher now. As I stated before, all the special interests have to take their best stabs at proving the concept weak and costly. If they manage to do so, the worst that can happen is that we go back to the old, more-expensive-year-by-year system with all the usual suspects making huge profits. The best that can happen is that we’ll have a better system that will salvage the lives of people with pre-existing conditions and allow children under 26 to remain on their parents’ policies, etc. etc. If you’re looking for something worthwhile in between, I’d advise you not to expect it from the houses of Congress. Best to seek intervention from Above.

        • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 11:46 pm

          More stubborn facts.

          RICHMOND, Va. — Many adjunct instructors at Virginia’s 23 community colleges will see their hours cut starting this summer because of Virginia’s response to the new federal health reform law, a change that could cripple or kill livelihoods for teachers like Ann Hubbard.

          The onrushing 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is forcing governments at all levels to scramble to accommodate changes — some intended, some not — to public- and private-sector jobs over the next year.

          The changes in store for about a quarter of Virginia’s 9,100 adjunct faculty members have less to do with health insurance — a benefit they don’t receive anyway — than with the opportunity to teach enough class hours to pay the bills. Hubbard learned a few days ago that she would see her annual 45 credit-hour load nearly halved.

          As a 48-year-old single mother from Williamsburg with a daughter finishing her freshman year at Virginia Tech, the income from her heavy teaching schedule at two southeastern Virginia community colleges is vital. Ask her what she will do when she’s cut to no more than 27 credit hours a year and it is almost more than she can bear.

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/new-federal-health-reform-regs-cut-hours-pay-for-some-va-community-college-adjunct-faculty/2013/04/24/34d331fe-acbe-11e2-9493-2ff3bf26c4b4_story.html

          • biomass2 said, on April 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

            The article overall seems to indicate that the approaches state governments and colleges are taking to deal with the requirements of the ACA are, perhaps, the biggest factors affecting the adjuncts. And,of course, IRS lack of guidance in the matter.

            • T. J. Babson said, on April 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

              Here is how Congress plans to deal with the ACA. Are you surprised? I’m not.

              Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.

              The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said.

              Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/obamacare-exemption-lawmakers-aides-90610.html#ixzz2RUAh3vnX

            • biomass2 said, on April 25, 2013 at 12:22 pm

              I’m kind of surprised they’re “engaged in high level confidential talks”. Boehner and Reid, et al seemed to have a massively difficult time talking about the deficit. . .

              On the other hand, not much gets done in the House and Senate. It’s mostly all talk and hearings. Talk. Hear useless, self-serving speeches go on for hours. The “speeches” often have nothing to do with, well, anything important. Hearings. I’ll ask questions; you answer. Depending on my party affiliation, I’ll accept or reject your answer. We’ll wrangle. The questioner gets snarky, and the hearing moves on. Generally, nothing is accomplished.
              I’m not at all surprised that this is how “Congress plans to deal with the ACA”.
              I’m not at all surprised that , when Medicare D was passed, Medicare was prohibited to negotiate prices with drug companies. Are you?
              I’d like to see these high-level talks deal with reining in insurance companies and drug companies.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 26, 2013 at 12:21 pm

              Quite so. The colleges are not mandated by the ACA to cut pay, etc. The administrators are electing to do so.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 26, 2013 at 12:24 pm

            The ACA does not mandate pay cuts. This is the course of action chosen by the administrators. Now, if it can shown that the administrators are acting ethically and fairly in response to an onerous and unjust burden imposed by the ACA, then the blame could be put on the folks behind the ACA.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 24, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      Well, as a general rule, things always cost more. That is probably some sort of law.

      • WTP said, on April 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

        Yeah, it’s the law of philosophy vs. reality. AKA Murphy’s Law.

  5. ajmacdonaldjr said, on April 24, 2013 at 10:41 am

    So as long as it doesn’t follow by necessity it’s a slippery slope fallacy, but if it does follow by necessity it’s not? Logic would seem to dictate what should follow, but doesn’t always,follow, because people don’t always follow their position to the absurdity logic would dictate they should?

    Not many things follow by necessity, when it comes to argumentation. The modern scientific enterprise is built upon deductions and experiments designed according to these deductions that inevitably “discover” what they had deduced to be true about the world. But this incorporates the logical fallacy of affirming the antecedent, or affirming the consequent, depending on which term people use, because the conclusions drawn by scientists don’t follow by necessity.

    Much of modern science asserts their conclusions and experimental results as certain proofs when in fact they are only possibilities, which are dependent upon the presuppositions and assumptions made in the deductive process before experiments were designed and proofs discovered.

    Examples would be the assumption of light as a particle, or photon, and the speed of light as a constant. Both are HUGE assumptions and likely fatal to the deductive theory. Dark matter is yet another deduction is search of proof when in fact the theory is, like relativity, based only on mathematics and not upon observation. The math says it, I believe it, and the experimental results will be ignored unless they fit the theory. Red shift is yet another theory likely to be erroneous.

    “The founders of modern science, searching for universal truths of nature, were well aware of a problem with using experiments to validate universal know- ledge claims. Aristotle’s logical writings identify Affirming the Consequent (called by some Affirming the Antecedent!) as an invalid form of deductive infe- rence. The experimental method in fact employs just this form of inference. It follows that the truth of what is claimed to be a universal theory, a universal law of nature, cannot be deductively certain. Scientific theo- ries may be presented deductively, but they incorpo- rate a deductive logical ‘flaw’” ~ Professor Steven L. Goldman, “Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It”

    • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Exactly. I’m sure quantum mechanics contains a LaBossierian slippery slope argument in it somewhere. That does not prevent it from being scientifically true.

      • WTP said, on April 26, 2013 at 6:54 am

        Not sure about all the “exactly”. nothing is scientifically true until proven by experiment, but that doesnt make theory into fallacy. Pretty sure red shift has been proven, as has the related Doppler effect. There is much here that Mike seems to want to dodge. Of course, if he does he will make use numerous fallacies to extrapolate the argument into something it isn’t, then claim that such is what he was saying all along, and declare victory. Sophistry.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on April 25, 2013 at 12:43 am

    It appears to me Cruz was giving a reason and not employing the slippery slope fallacy.

    He cites the DOJ report which states bans on assault weapons are not enough to achieve the stated goals of the Obama administration and that registration and confiscation are the only logical steps that can be taken to attain Obama’s stated goals.

    See: Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies – http://www.nraila.org/media/10883516/nij-gun-policy-memo.pdf

    I think Cruz is using the reductio ad absurdum and not the slippery slope.

    “The slippery slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question.”

    “The reductio ad absurdum disproof of a proposition by showing that it leads to absurd or untenable conclusions.”

  7. WTP said, on April 25, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    There’s no such thing as a slippery slope. This story could easily have happened in the 1950s…


    In addition to learning vocabulary such as “pansexual” and “genderqueer,” the girls were told to request a kiss from a female peer, Coon said. Her 14-year-old daughter told her it was awkward and uncomfortable, she said.

    http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/article/20130417/NEWS01/304160055/Anti-bullying-lesson-puts-parents-edge-Red-Hook?nclick_check=1

  8. T. J. Babson said, on April 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I don’t believe that the slippery slope is a fallacy. I see nothing wrong with the following line of reasoning:

    1) If we embark on course A then it will likely lead to bad outcome B

    2) Therefore, we should not embark on course A

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      This is rather like saying “I don’t believe that affirming the consequent is a fallacy. I see nothing wrong with the following line of reasoning: 1) If P, then Q 2) P 3) Therefore, Q.” The problem is, obviously enough, that the reasoning being presented is not actually the fallacy but a valid argument.

      Here is the stock slippery slope:

      The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This “argument” has the following form:

      1) Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
      2) Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

      This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there is a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

      With a bit more sophistication, the inevitability can be replaced with probability that is not warranted by the evidence. The general idea is that someone is claiming that X will follow from Y with probability P when adequate evidence for P is lacking. Hence, the fallacy (that is, an argument in which the premises fail to adequately warrant the conclusion).

      So, you may believe that the slippery slope is not a fallacy, but you are not believing something about the actual slippery slope fallacy.

      • magus71 said, on May 4, 2013 at 11:54 pm

        “Therefore event Y will inevitably happen”

        And there’s the problem, Mike. Who’s saying anything is inevitable? But with each door opened, it certainly seems more likely that the next door will open. This is not the case of flipping the coin 50 times and getting “tails” 49 times in a row. This is human psychology. It is the same reason bureaucracies almost always grow.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 5, 2013 at 6:53 am

          1. Cruz. Watch his speech on the matter.
          2. Also, as I note, the SS can be presented in a more sophisticated manner involving errors in overestimating the strength of the support for a claim about the likelihood of something happening.

          • ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

            We’re all part of “the slippery slope crowd…”

            MSNBC – Chris Matthews: “We`re going into nut country. Let`s play HARDBALL…”

            “Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington. Let me start tonight with this. Paranoid America is climbing out of its bunker. The near possibility — the mere possibility — that the Obama administration might stop the easy sale of the scariest guns to the scariest people has aroused the slippery slope crowd. These cousins of the grassy knoll folks believe that any limit on the wide-open market for guns and ammo threatens their own hardware. Any reasonable action by the American people to stop the carnage is, to these paranoids, the first unfaltering step toward mass confiscation of everything from shotguns to daisy rifles. Well, tonight, we let you hear from the craziest of the crazies.”

            See: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/50458580/ns/msnbc-hardball_with_chris_matthews/t/hardball-chris-matthews-friday-january-th/#.UYUjLHBiilc

            VIDEO – Chris Matthews: “We’re goin’ into nut country” – Hardball; Extremist Gun Enthusiasts Threaten……Everybody? – http://youtu.be/HgjBCuhPXm4

            See: Those against the regime must be mentally ill, and disarmed? – http://wp.me/pPnn7-2gt

    • biomasss2 said, on April 27, 2013 at 9:13 am

      So the question is “why” will course A. . . LIKELY lead to bad outcome B”?
      Difficulties with the line of reasoning are compounded when the “likely” is followed by the “SHOULD NOT”

  9. […] Cruzing the Slippery Slope (aphilosopher.wordpress.com) […]

  10. biomass2 said, on May 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    There’s the slippery slope, then there’s George Will this morning on This Week hitting the mark as he sometimes does.

    “There’s the illusion here that a superpower can tiptoe into a sectarian civil war and not change the dynamic fundamentally and not become the chief protagonist. As soon as we intervene we are the chief protagonist.”

    Now, I’m not a sucker for most slippery slopes. My mind is usually elsewhere when George Will opines, but I suspect this slippery slope isn’t a fallacy.

    • T. J. Babson said, on May 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      chief protagonist = great satan

      • biomass2 said, on May 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm

        I don’t believe that’s the interpretation Will intended. Chief ‘antagonist’ might fit that interpretation better.


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