Whenever controversial moral issues are debated such as: euthanasia, the use of torture in war, or the recent phenomenon of same-sex marriage, the argument of the slippery slope is usually employed. Also known as ‘the thin edge of the wedge’ or ‘the domino effect’, the slippery slope argument implies that a chain-reaction toward unintended moral consequences will ensue if certain ‘questionable’ actions are initiated.
But is the slippery slope a valid argument? Are all ‘questionable’ moral positions necessarily predisposed toward declining or augmenting further moral decline, or is this argument simply a fear-driven logical fallacy?
Logicians are often quick to point out that slippery slope arguments are nothing more than logical fallacies. That is, just because (A) exists it should not imply that (Z) will eventually come into existence. For example, it is fallacious, some would say even absurd, to suggest that all shoplifters will eventually and necessarily become armed bank robbers.
However, we should be aware that simply viewing the slippery slope argument as a logical fallacy happens to be drawing on Hegel’s notion that ‘the real is rational and the rational is real.’ This maxim implies that, what is reasonable (rational) is actually real, and consequently what is unreasonable is more than likely unreal (or untrue).Therefore, if it can be shown that, any given slippery slope argument is ‘logically’ unsound, then what is being argued by using it, must also be unsound, unreal, and by extension untrue. Because, what is rational ‘is’ real, and logic, in this view, always determines life.
However, while some slippery slope arguments may be fallacious, this is not true in all cases. In fact, employing the slippery slope may be very valid if the slope in question is ‘actually’ slippery! That is to say, if it can be proven that the mechanism that causes (A) to move toward (Z) is valid, such that (Z) will follow on from (A), then the argument may be deemed as empirically or scientifically valid, even if it may appear to be illogical.
In truth, history shows that life rarely follows logic, and when it comes to mechanisms that empower moral entropy, that there is no mechanism more slippery than the slope of human morality.
Indeed, one has to go no further than the 18th century French Revolution to see this slippery slope of declining morality clearly in action.
Maximilien Robespierre, the primary leader of the revolution, was a young idealist who, among other things, spoke out: against the death penalty, for the abolition of slavery, for the equality of rights, and for the establishment of a republic. Indeed, his altruism prompted his close supporters to call him ‘The Incorruptible’.
However, although Robespierre was theoretically opposed to the death penalty, the necessity of the times ‘forced’ him to modify his views. For the sake of the revolution and the necessary removal of the ‘tyrannical’ monarchy, Robespierre compromised his once deeply held principle; a compromise which lead to the execution of the King in 1792. The death of the king then heralded a new dark era in French history, known as The Terror.
The Terror was formally instituted in a proclamation which read, ‘It is time that equality bore its scythe above all heads. It is time to horrify all the conspirators. So legislators, place Terror on the order of the day! Let us be in revolution, because everywhere counter-revolution is being woven by our enemies. The blade of the law should hover over all the guilty.’ As a consequence, almost anyone suspected of conspiracy was executed.
Racked with paranoia, Robespierre made no room for mercy in his Terror, arguing that “slowness of judgments is equal to impunity” and “uncertainty of punishment encourages all the guilty”. Furthermore, in response to the supremacy of the monarchy and its sister organization of the church, Robespierre established the ‘cult of the supreme being’ (a Deism based religion), a belief system designed to replace Christianity. However, as this ‘cult’ developed many saw Robespierre as personally adopting a God-like status, becoming that which he once despised.
So it is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The supreme tyranny that Robespierre once opposed, now returned under his own hand; the ‘incorruptible’ had become absolutely corrupted. In the end, Robespierre’s hubris was no longer tolerated by the sensible citizens of France. He was executed at the Guillotine in 1794, ironically the last official execution by the instrument of death, he so readily wielded. As you can see, even the most virtuous of intentions, driven by the urgency of the hour and unrestrained by a substantive moral standard, can and do degenerate into the most evil of actions. In the case of the French Revolution, it was only when citizens with a strong sense of moral decency stood up and stepped in, did the decline actually slow.
Patterns of societal moral decline are evident in all civilizations, if this were not so, many once powerful empires would still be in existence. Human moral declension will continue until it is arrested by some moral corrective. It may be conscience, an external agent of law, or if left long enough the calamitous consequences. History consistently proves that human virtue always decline without due diligence being given to its upkeep and maintenance.
I know it seems strange, but there appears to be ‘some’ innate force in nature animating this entropy (the fundamental bias toward chaos). Consider this: Why do people age? Why does my coffee go cold? Why does a garden become weedy when not kept? Why do we become unhealthy if we don’t exercise? Why don’t you have to teach children to be bad? Why do virtuous people become evil? In short, what is the cause of this predilection toward the undesirable?
I am sure that many can offer a scientific solution, but I want to suggest that the answer to the moral aspect actually lies in the ancient text of the Bible and its creation story.
The story of creation set out in the book of Genesis intimates that entropy was not originally a factor in the world. Only after Adam (the first human) disobeyed God’s specific instructions, do we witness decay; decay arising from a divine response to Adam’s willful rebellion: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’ (Genesis 3:17 NIV)
From the point of humanity’s fall from grace, their plight took a further downward turn, such that the author of Genesis observes a few short chapters later: ‘The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.’ (Gen 6:5 NIV)
Despite the subsequent establishment of a rigorous religious and political system with laws specifically design to mitigate this innate bias toward immorality, the problem remained— in fact, it still remains. I wish it were not so, but human beings are predisposed toward moral decline, I only have to look at my own motives and actions to see that.
So, is the slippery slope simply a logical fallacy embraced by fear-mongering moralists, or is it a legitimate argument based on a long history of empirical verification? I would suggest that although the former may be true in some cases, the latter is true in almost every case regarding human morality. Why? Because the mechanism that causes it (human morality) is fundamentally inclined toward moral entropy.
Yet, as much as the Bible highlights this fallible human condition, it also offers a solution. That solution does not involve: the legislating of morality, the promotion of rigorous religious activity, or militant political action.
Rather, and somewhat surprisingly, it actually involves entering into a loving relationship with a person unrestrained by entropy—Jesus Christ. Ultimately, because the problem is personal, only a personal solution can correct it.
While I don’t have the space to discuss this in-depth now, may I suggest that if you are genuinely concerned about the slippery slope of human morality and how it affects you personally, that you take time to closely look at the person and works of Jesus Christ—I guarantee it will revolutionize your thinking on this matter.