March 5, 2024

Does a slippery slope look like this?

Hi there,

One of my duties as editor is moderating comments (do post more of them, please; they add a lot to the site). It’s interesting to watch battles unfold in which the weapon of choice is not pistols at 20 paces, but the perfect squelch.

The most effective of these is “Godwin’s Law”. This works as follows: if one mentions that the Nazis did such-and-such, someone is certain to respond in supercilious derision, “sooner or later all morons end up invoking the spectre of Hitler; you, sir, are a moron”.

There is some truth to this, but I take exception to a squelch which is becoming more common: “aha! The slippery slope. But everyone knows that this is a demagogic logical fallacy. Everyone, that is, except you, you moron.”

I’ve never quite understood the strength of this argument. I realise that logicians delight in carving up slippery slopes into very small bits and carting them away to rubbish tips. However, I’ve never thought of the slippery slope as a tool of deductive logic. It is a tool of policy analysis based on the historical record. It’s a shorthand way of asserting that ideas have consequences.

Besides, when confronted by news from Belgium that transplant surgeons there are using vital organs from patients who have been (voluntarily) euthanased, what else can you say but “aha! The slippery slope!”. As we report in the article below, the surgeons claim that terminal organ donation makes the lives of their patients meaningful. Of course, it is not a common procedure, but it is a useful one and useful procedures tend to snowball. After all, in 1978, only one IVF baby was born. Now there have been about 5 million of them…

Any comments? 

Michael Cook
Belgium surgeons are using organs from euthanased patients.