Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 227–239 | Cite as

Consequentialism, Complacency, and Slippery Slope Arguments

  • Justin Oakley
  • Dean Cocking


The standard problem with many slippery slope arguments is that they fail to provide us with the necessary evidence to warrant our believing that the significantly morally worse circumstances they predict will in fact come about. As such these arguments have widely been criticised as ‘scare-mongering’. Consequentialists have traditionally been at the forefront of such criticisms, demanding that we get serious about guiding our prescriptions for right action by a comprehensive appreciation of the empirical facts. This is not surprising, since consequentialism has traditionally been committed to the idea that right action be driven by empirical realities, and this hard-headed approach has been an especially notable feature of Australian consequentialism. But this apparent empirical hard-headedness is very selective. While consequentialists have understood their moral outlook and commitments as guided by a partnership with empirical science – most explicitly in their replies to the arguments of their detractors – some consequentialists have been remarkably complacent about providing empirical support for their own prescriptions. Our key example here is the consequentialist claim that our current practises of partiality in fact maximise the good, impartially conceived. This claim has invariably been made without compelling support for the large empirical claims upon which it rests, and so, like the speculative empirical hand-waving of weak slippery slope arguments, it seems similarly to be undermined. While these arguments have presented us with ‘wishful thinking’ rather than ‘scare-mongering’, we argue in this paper that their complacency in meeting the relevant empirical justificatory burden remains much the same.

Key words:

consequentialism empiricism evidential warrant friendship partiality professional-client relationships scare-mongering slippery slope arguments 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Human BioethicsMonash UniversityVictoriaAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Canberra DivisionCharles Sturt University and Australian National UniversityAustralia

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