Freakonomics logo: a green apple sliced to reveal inside is an orange.Freakonomics Radio called on philosophy professor Christopher Tindale to discuss the validity of slippery slope arguments.

Professor lends expertise on argumentation to discussion of slippery slopes

His appearance on Freakonomics Radio, a show that purports to explore “the hidden side of everything,” impressed philosophy professor Christopher Tindale.

Producers called on Dr. Tindale, director of the Centre for Research in Reasoning, Argumentation, and Rhetoric, for an episode entitled “Enough with the Slippery Slopes,” exploring whether claims of dire consequences inevitably following actions constitute a valid logical construction.

In their interview, Tindale found the host, Stephen Dubner, had done his research.

“It was good that he was taking the issue — and argumentation generally — seriously,” Tindale said. “I am also pleased that they chose to include some of the discussion around the importance of teaching argumentation studies and what it contributes to society.”

The professor added that he has been surprised by the positive reaction from people across the U.S. who listen to the show, either as a podcast or weekly broadcast on National Public Radio.

Tindale told listeners that slippery-slope arguments are usually phrased in terms of freedoms.

“You take away some freedoms, that’s going to lead to the erosion of freedoms, and ultimately the imposition of government control over all areas of life, which is obviously undesirable,” he said. “The questions we have to raise here are, will A lead to B? Will B lead to C? … furthermore, is there no way to stop the slope, as it were — stop on the slope and go back? Is it indeed slippery?”

He said that education can help to forestall the misuse of these types of arguments.

“When we’re teaching critical thinking, or teaching argumentation, we’re encouraging people to develop certain kinds of habits of thought so that in the future, they will think in similar kinds of ways, they will resist thinking in other kinds of ways,” Tindale said. “And they become disposed to think appropriately.”

The entire episode is available on the Freakonomics website.