In an argument, it is the situation where acceptance of a minor detail of the opposing position will greatly weaken your position.
This is Part 10 in a series about Logical Fallacies. We are going through one fallacy at a time. There are many types of fallacious arguments. I’m going to try to explain them with examples then find ways to help you refute those arguments when they occur. Please comment or email if there’s a particular fallacy you want me to tackle, or if you have success with refuting an argument using a good technique you can share.
- If A happens, B will happen. If B happens, C, D, E, ... Z will happen! (oh noes!)
- We don't want Z to happen.
- Therefore A can't happen.
- If I take aspirin, I'll start taking Oxycontin for headaches. If I take Oxycontin, I'll start buying it on the street. If I do that, I'll start looking for heroine to shoot up. If I start shooting up heroine, I'll get a dirty needle and get HIV, then die of AIDS....
- I don't want to do heroine and die of AIDS.
- Therefore I can't take anything for my headaches.
- Man: Will you have sex with me for a million dollars?
- Woman: Sure!
- Man: How about for ten dollars?
- Woman: What kind of woman do you think I am?
- Man: We've established that, now we're just arguing over price.
The woman has lost her argument over what seemed like a minor concession.
The Fallacy of the Beard term comes because what constitutes a beard? If you see a man and he has a beard, if he had one less whisker would it still be a beard? Two less? A thousand whiskers less? There is no clear cut line. Just because the difference between beard and no beard is vague (or bald versus hairy, etc), doesn't mean that there's no difference between the two. The difference is in degree. A big enough difference in degree can amount to a difference in kind.
How to Refute the Slippery Slope Fallacy?
My first suggestion is to state the fallacy and explain it. I think that's important in most circumstances. I think often people don't realize they are falling into fallacious arguments.
Once you've briefly explained it, I would recommend talking about moderation and how people every day all over the world restrain themselves thousands of times more often than not. Maybe even bring up how the person you're talking to has restrained themselves in some way recently, perhaps by restricting how much they ate or drank, etc (might not work if they are obese or an alcoholic, but you get my point). For instance, I really love coffee, but I only drank 2 cups for breakfast instead of the 5 I could have easily consumed.