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Cause and Effect

Cause And Effect
Owen Williams


Most of us have come across the Latinate logical fallacy with the high-falutin title post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means simply: "after this, therefore because of this." Nevertheless, if we can rule out coincidence, a strong argument can be built on the linking of an event or condition that most likely causes some result, or effect. This rhetorical mode is often encountered in history, chemistry, and biology.

There are several paradigms or patterns often used to map out these connections:

  1. Single cause-multiple effect: namely, that one action has several ramifications.
  2. Multiple cause-single effect: conversely, that there are several reasons (usually with varying degrees of causation) for one result.
  3. Causal chain (domino theory): in which each effect becomes the cause for yet another effect, and if interrupted at any point the chain is disrupted.
  4. Multiple cause-multiple effect: several reasons cause some occurrence which has several results.

In addition to these patterns, you should probably recognize that causes naturally fall into three categories: (1) necessary causes, which must be present for an event to occur but may not be solely responsible for the event, (2) contributory causes, which help bring about events but can't produce effects independently, and (3) sufficient causes, which are all that is needed to cause an event. Be aware that most causes are either necessary or contributory.

Also be aware that there are many reasoning errors, or logical fallacies, associated with causal relationships. A few of the more common ones: (1) ignoring multiple causes (stating that permissive parents, space aliens, or TV cause teenage violence-it's actually all three), (2) mistaking chronology for causation, (3) confusing causes with effects, and (4) inept causal analysis (I didn't study and got an "A"-therefore I won't study ever again!).

Now for the examples. If I say "freshman drinking," can you give me several causes for this event? How about several effects? Create an hypothetical causal chain.

Next, break into groups of 2 or 3 and produce a rough paper outline for each of the above patterns for the topic "teenage marriage."