On “Slippery Slopes”: A Response to Richard Mouw

That’s the title of my latest essay over at The Catholic Thing. It is a response to a First Things blog post by Richard Mouw. Here’s how my piece begins:

My friend, Richard Mouw, a philosopher and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has raised an important challenge about the use of counterexamples when making one’s case on certain controversial moral and political questions.

He shares one of the arguments he employs to explain to his friends why he opposes the legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” (SSM): “If we are to operate as a society on the assumption that any sincerely held view about what constitutes a marriage should be granted status in our laws and practices, I have asked, what would keep us from legalizing plural marriages, or even incestuous ones?” Mouw says that his question is often “met with disdain,” with the retort, “[C]an’t you do better than a ‘slippery slope’ argument?”

He finds the retort frustrating, since, “some slopes are indeed slippery, and we do well to approach them with caution.” In other words, if you advance the truth of principle X in order to justify practice Y, something that you support, why not also accept practice Z, something that you reject, since it too is entailed by principle X?

So, for example, if you support the legalization of marijuana for competent adults on the principle that “one has a right to do whatever one wants to one’s body without directly harming others,” then that principle not only justifies marijuana legalization but also the decriminalization of hard drugs like heroin.

A person who resists this entailment by saying it’s a slippery-slope fallacy is confusing the fallacious form (often called a “causal slippery slope”) with the legitimate form of the slippery slope (often called a “logical slippery slope”). To point out that a principle entails something undesirable is not a slippery-slope fallacy. It’s an acknowledgment that principles have a logic of their own, so to speak.

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  • Donalbain

    But if you have an actual argument against polygamy, then use THAT argument when someone tries to advocate polygamy. If you have an actual argument against incestuous marriage, then use it when someone tries to advocate for incestuous marriage. If you say gay marriage is wrong because incest is wrong, then you are magnificently missing the point and you are showing that you have no actual reason that the rest of us should take seriously in the argument on the rights of gay people to marry.

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    The sad thing is that in many ways, gay marriage isn’t at the top of the slippery slope, but in the middle. It started with contraception, then pornography, then free love, then abortion….we’re quite a ways down the slope already, and I very much doubt we’re at the bottom yet.

    • http://daveyorksgodtalk.blogspot.com/ daveyork7

      I agree. Sin begets ever greater sin. It goes into deeply darker things the further we go down. At the bottom lies death.

      • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

        Death of the soul, I hope you mean. Death of the body can come somewhat before the bottom. Along the way for those who don’t die, is enjoying the death of others.

        Don’t believe me? do a web search on “she asked me to kill her”. I refuse to link to any of those stories.