Thursday, March 24, 2005

When it's not a "slippery slope"

Joe at the Evangelical Outpost is discussing slippery slopes.

I think that often times what liberals dismiss as a "slippery slope" is actually a redictio ad absurdam. What's the difference? A slippery slope asserts without demonstrating that if one thing is allowed then other things will result. On the other hand, premises can have other conclusions besides just the one under consideration, and sometimes these other valid conclusions are absurd or unacceptable. It is arbitrary if not dishonest to insist that only the one conclusion may be discussed. Rather, if an unacceptable conclusion follows logically from its premises, then the premises themselves should be examined.

Joe mentions the example of same-sex marriage and Matt Yglesias' admission that there is merit to the idea of a slippery slope leading to polygamy and/or androgyny. This argument has some merit since the premise -that we can define marriage or gender roles whatever way suits us- leads to these other conclusions also. It is no good merely to deny that polygamy and/or androgyny will result from this premise. Indeed, it seems impossible to construct a coherent argument that society may define marriage one way but not another, other than as an arbitrary choice backed up by the coercive power of the state: might makes right. Let's show this with a couple of syllogisms:

Major premise: Marriage is defined any way that society chooses.
Minor premise: Society defines marriage to include same-sex couples.
Conclusion: Marriage may include same-sex couples.

If the premises are correct, then the conclusion is perfectly logical. Let's use the major premise another way though:

Major premise: Marriage is defined any way that society chooses.
Minor premise: Society defines marriage to include multiple spouses.
Conclusion: Marriage may include multiple spouses.

Now, let's state the major premise more broadly:

Major premise: Morality is defined any way that society chooses.
Minor premise: Society defines euthanasia (or infantacide, theft, laziness, methamphetamine use, cowardice, betrayal, injustice, etc. etc.) as moral.
Conclusion: These things are moral.

Rather than being expected to consider and then accept just leftist conclusions, we should be asking what the underlying premises are and examining those.

Joe asks what we should do when absurd conclusions do become acceptable. Well, I think that they are acceptable only to a fringe and not to most. That's why leftists want to cry "slippery slope" when other valid conclusions from their premises are pointed out; it's just a trick to limit discussion in a manner favorable to their cause. What we should do is not accept such arbitrary ground rules but put leftists on the defense by asking them to show why the other conslusions are not also valid. This they cannot do in a coherent manner. If we are free to make up our own morality, there is no objective limit to this. There is only the arbitrary application of the power of the state to limit the madness that would ensue. The fact is that someone has to choose between alternatives.