In previous articles we spoke about a number of fallacies used in arguments or debates – ad hominem, straw man, ignorance, and false dilemma fallacies.

In this article, Part 3 of 4, we present two more of these for you to be aware of.

Number 5. The Slippery Slope Fallacy

The slippery slope fallacy occurs when an argument suggests that a relatively minor first step will lead to a chain of related events culminating in some significant (usually negative) effect, without providing sufficient evidence to support the inevitable connection between them.

The fallacy lies in the assumption that a specific action will set off an uncontrollable cascade of events, leading inevitably to a disastrous outcome.

This type of reasoning is fallacious because it relies on alarmist predictions and speculative consequences rather than on logical progression or empirical evidence.

The slippery slope argument often plays on fears and presupposes that once the first step is taken, subsequent steps cannot be prevented or controlled, which is not always the case.

To counter a slippery slope argument, it’s important to ask for concrete evidence showing that the initial steps will indeed lead to the predicted extreme outcomes. It’s also useful to consider whether there are safeguards, checks, or balances that can prevent the slide from happening.

Critical thinking and the demand for empirical evidence are key to challenging the assumptions behind a slippery slope fallacy.

Examples of The Slippery Slope Fallacy in Arguments or Debates

1. Legislation and Rights

“If we allow the government to regulate this small aspect of our lives, next thing we know, they’ll control everything we do, leading to a totalitarian state.”

2. Technology and Privacy

“If we start using surveillance cameras for security in public places, it will eventually lead to constant monitoring in all aspects of our lives, completely eroding our privacy.”

3. Social Changes

“If we legalise same-sex marriage, it will redefine traditional family values, leading to the breakdown of society.”

An Example of the Slippery Slop Fallacy in Action

A practical example of the slippery slope fallacy in Australian politics can be seen in the debate over same-sex marriage leading up to its legalisation in December 2017.

Prior to the passage of the legislation that allowed same-sex couples to marry, some opponents of the change argued that legalising same-sex marriage would lead to a series of negative consequences that would fundamentally alter societal norms and values.

For example, they suggested that legalising same-sex marriage would not only redefine marriage but could also lead to changes in school curricula to include more comprehensive sex education at younger ages, infringe on religious freedoms by forcing religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies against their beliefs, or even pave the way for more radical changes to marriage laws, such as legalising polygamy.

These arguments exemplify the slippery slope fallacy by suggesting that the legalisation of same-sex marriage would inevitably lead to a series of related but increasingly controversial or undesirable outcomes, without providing substantial evidence for the inevitability of these outcomes.

The fallacy lies in the assertion that allowing same-sex couples to marry would directly cause these other changes, ignoring the complex legal, social, and political processes that govern such decisions and the fact that each of these issues would be subject to its own separate debate and consideration.

In reality, the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia has not led to the dire consequences predicted by some of its opponents, illustrating how slippery slope arguments can appeal to fear and speculation rather than rational analysis or evidence.

Number 6. The Circular Reasoning Fallacy

Circular reasoning, also known as begging the question or petitio principii, is a logical fallacy in which the conclusion of an argument is assumed in one of the premises.

Essentially, the argument goes around in a circle, with the proof of a statement relying on the statement itself.

This means the argument fails to provide real evidence or support for its conclusion, as it takes for granted the very thing it’s supposed to prove.

Circular reasoning can be subtle and sometimes difficult to detect because it often involves complex or convoluted statements. However, the core issue remains that the argument’s validity is premised on its own conclusion, making it logically invalid as a form of proof.

To avoid circular reasoning, arguments must be structured so that they draw conclusions from premises that are distinct from the conclusion itself.

Supporting evidence or reasoning should independently validate the premises, not merely restate the conclusion in a different form.

Examples of Circular Reasoning in Arguments or Debates

1. Religious Texts

“The Bible is the word of God because it says so in the Bible.”

This statement assumes the authority of the Bible to prove its own authority, which is circular.

2. Legal Arguments

“Laws are just because they are based on justice.”

This uses the concept of justice to validate laws without providing an independent basis for what constitutes justice.

3. Personal Beliefs

“I’m always right because I never make mistakes.”

This statement assumes its conclusion (the person is always right) as a premise (the person never makes mistakes).

An Example of Circular Reasoning Fallacy in Action

A common arena for circular reasoning in Australian politics is the debate over economic policies, particularly concerning tax cuts or changes in government spending.

For example, an argument for tax cuts might go like this: “Reducing taxes is essential because it allows citizens to keep more of their earnings, which is beneficial because it means they’re not over-taxed.”

This argument assumes that not being over-taxed is inherently beneficial, which is the point under debate, rather than providing evidence for why keeping more earnings necessarily leads to overall positive outcomes for the economy or society.

Another instance might be in the justification of certain environmental policies, where a policy is defended by stating, “This policy will protect the environment because it involves actions that are good for the environment.”

Such an argument fails to explain why the actions are beneficial, instead assuming the policy’s effectiveness because it involves “good actions,” making the reasoning circular.

These examples are simplified and generic, but they illustrate how circular reasoning can appear in discussions about complex policy decisions.

In real debates, the circularity might not be as obvious, often buried under technical jargon or complex rhetoric, making it harder to spot. Nonetheless, recognising this fallacy is crucial for critically evaluating the strength and validity of arguments in public discourse.

CLICK HERE to view Part 4.

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