Types of Causal Arguments

In the post for your Causal Argument task I’ve provided several examples of specific recommendations you might find helpful in crafting Causal Arguments for your research topics. While you put your arguments together, decide what sort of framework suits your argument best:

Single Cause with a Single Effect (X causes Y)
“Facebook Can Cost Us Our Jobs”
The premise is that something supposedly personal, about which our employers should have nothing to say, is nevertheless available to our employers, and to prospective employers, if we make it so. What needs to be proved is that information about our non-work lives, or information we post to Facebook about our work lives, can keep us from getting a job, from advancing in a job, or from keeping a job.

  • You may say that sounds illegal or unethical, but your objection is irrelevant to the causal argument.
  • You could examine how different professions handle social media differently (for example kindergarten teachers might be fired for indiscretions that wouldn’t cost an insurance agent her job), because your topic is still what costs the teacher and the agent their jobs.
  • You could argue that free speech should be protected if it’s true, and nobody should be fired for saying his boss cheats on his wife, but your objection is irrelevant unless there really are certain types of speech for which we can’t be fired and types for which we can (X causes Z, but Y does not cause Z).
  • You could certainly make a good argument that employers have different policies regarding social media activities of their employees (X causes Y at Company 1, while X causes Z at Company 2).

Single Cause with Several Effects (X causes Y and Z)
“We Are the Casualties of the War on Drugs”
The premise is that the War on Drugs has been counterproductive, subjecting the nation to increased drug use and drug-related death. What needs to be proved is that government interference in drug production and distribution creates crime, interrupts quality control, causes disease, and kills users, traffickers, and innocent bystanders of the illicit drug trade.

  • You could argue that the prohibition of certain desirable substances leads inevitably to a frenzied underground and by definition criminal enterprise to meet the demand.
  • You could argue that criminals aren’t always scrupulous about the quality of the contraband they deliver and that their product often harms or kills.
  • You could point out the countless people languishing in jails for owning small amounts of something that used to be legal.
  • You might want to mention that drug use, even sanctioned use of safe prescription drugs, can be very detrimental in and of itself, but your comments would be completely irrelevant to the causal argument.
  • You might also want to say that drug dealers get what’s coming to them when they deal in illicit materials and it’s wrong to blame cops for killing them, but again, that’s irrelevant to the question of whether the War on Drugs results in death.

Several Causes for a Single Effect (Both X and Y cause Z)
“There’s No One Explanation for Gangs”
The premise is usually employed to refute the “common knowledge” that a single cause can be blamed for an effect. If you’ve chosen a topic about which everybody “knows” the cause and effect, your causal essay will dispute the notion that there is in fact a single cause.

  • You could produce evidence that gangs are more prevalent in public housing projects than in suburban neighborhoods, but with special care. You still won’t have identified the cause, only the location of the cause.
  • You could produce evidence that a large majority of the kids in gangs come from families without a present, positive, male role model, but with great care in how you describe the situation, to avoid using misleading shortcuts like “kids with no dads.”
  • You could describe gangs as often engaged in petty criminal activity or as pointlessly obsessed with territorial disputes, but it’s completely irrelevant to your causal argument to describe what happens after a kid is in the gang when you intend to prove why he joined it in the first place.

A Causal Chain (X causes Y, which causes Z)
“Failure to Prosecute Rape Causes Rape”
The premise is that rape occurs because it’s tolerated and that every resulting rape reinforces the sense that it will be tolerated. Rapes of female students on college campuses are routinely reported to campus authorities, not local police, and are kept from local law enforcement to protect the reputation of the school at the expense of the rights of the victim. What needs to be proved is that the rapes are in fact kept secret, that the assailants escape justice, and that there is local awareness that sexual assaults are not prosecuted or punished.

  • You might want to investigate how it came to be that colleges got jurisdiction for sexual assaults on campus, but it’s probably irrelevant, unless you can demonstrate that they did so deliberately in order to keep assaults secret.
  • You might want to explain what you think are contributing causes, such as the loss of bonuses or jobs for administrators on whose watch the public learned of campus rapes.
  • You would need to argue that somehow, even though the outside world never hears of these rapes, students on campus learn that assault victims are not believed or supported and that assailants are not punished. This is essential to the chain.
  • You could make a suggestion that if victims of rape refused to be “handled” by honor boards and campus judiciaries and took their cases to the local prosecutors instead they could break the chain. Arguing how to break the chain is a confirmation of why the chain continues.

Causation Fallacy (X does not cause Y)
“Violent Games Are Not the Missing Link”
The premise of this causation fallacy argument is nobody has yet proved a causal link between a steady diet of violent video games and actual physical violence in the lives of the gamers.

  • You might be tempted to demonstrate that gamers are actually sweethearts who join the Boy Scouts and help old ladies across the street without knocking them down, but you don’t have to. You merely want to prove that they’re no more violent than players of other games.
  • In fact, you don’t need to prove anything positive of your own to produce a strong causation fallacy argument; you only need to discredit the logic, the methods, or the premises of your opponents who think they have proved causation.
  • For example, if an exhaustive study finds a strong link between kids who play violent video games and kids who kick their classmates on the playground, you argue this is mere correlation. It’s equally likely that the kids were violent first and attracted to the games as a result of their taste for aggression.
  • You could also question the methodology of the supposed proof. If a questionnaire measures hostility, the answer: “I am suspicious of overly friendly strangers” no more proves hostility than it indicates a healthy wariness of the unknown.

In-class Exercise

Consider what you know about your own Topic and Thesis.
As a Reply to this post, make 5 brief Causal Arguments derived from your own research, as I have done above.

  1. Single Cause with a Single Effect (X causes Y)
  2. Single Cause with Several Effects (X causes Y and Z)
  3. Several Causes for a Single Effect (Both X and Y cause Z)
  4. A Causal Chain (X causes Y, which causes Z)
  5. Causation Fallacy (X does not cause Y)

14 Responses to Types of Causal Arguments

  1. doorknob9 says:

    Single Cause with a Single Effect (X causes Y)- Video games melt kids brains’.
    Single Cause with Several Effects (X causes Y and Z)- Pollution makes the water nasty and kills sea life.
    Several Causes for a Single Effect (Both X and Y cause Z)- Smoking cigarettes and not finding an alternative can lead to lung cancer.
    A Causal Chain (X causes Y, which causes Z)- The Vietnam war caused problems with Vietnam, which led to tension with China.
    Causation Fallacy (X does not cause Y)- Football itself does not cause CTE.

  2. nina525 says:

    Single cause with a single effect: suffering a terminal disease, could lead to euthanasia.
    Single cause with several effects: From suffering a terminal disease, because euthanasia can be an option or if it occurs, the family may have a hard time handling the death of a love one.
    Several causes and a single effect:Allowing a child to suffer from a terminal disease may cause backlash to the parents and family members.
    A casual claim:Child euthanasia has been held up in arguments in many countries around the world.
    Causation Fallacy: A doctor can recommend euthanasia but does not have the final decesion.

    • davidbdale says:

      Hmm.
      –A terminal disease doesn’t CAUSE euthanasia. A desire to end suffering CAUSES a desire for euthanasia for sure.
      –You’ve got at least three causes here. Suffering, the disease, euthanasia, and the death of a loved one. They seem to combine to produce one effect: grief.
      –This one seems to have one cause: letting a child suffer. And one effect: backlash.
      –This is supposed to be a CAUSAL CHAIN: Euthanasia is permitted for children in Belgium CAUSES euthanasia for children to be considered by other countries CAUSES a backlash of outrage from right-to-life advocates. ETC
      –A causation fallacy responds to somebody else’s FALSE CAUSATION CLAIM. For example: The fact that a child will die in 6 months DOES NOT change that child’s age as Professor Hodges spuriously suggests it does.

      Is this helpful, Nina?

  3. g903254 says:

    1. Economic equality causes more poverty
    2. A UBI would close the wealth gap and stimulated the economy.
    3. A combination of both government lobbying and economic inequality have caused the decline of the middle class
    4. Higher income inequality causes higher poverty which causes a higher rate of crime.
    5. Tax cuts for the rich does not cause economic prosperity for the poor.

    • davidbdale says:

      1. I think you mean Economic INEQUALITY.
      2. Yeah
      3. I wonder if INCOME inequality might be a better way to craft this claim.
      4. This is true with or without the Highers.
      5. That’s clever. The argument you’re more likely to NEED is: Providing an income for the poor DOES NOT impoverish the rich.

  4. yourfavoriteanon says:

    1. Video games make you sharper
    2. Video games make you sharper and smarter
    3. Playing and watching video games makes you sharper
    4. Playing video games make you sharper, which makes you smarter.
    5. Video games do not cause harm.

  5. jets1313 says:

    1. additives in our food are causing cancer
    2. addiction to technology is creating many health problems
    3. violent video games cause psychological and devlo0ment problems in adolescents
    4. failure to enforce strictly enforce immigration laws leads to an increase in immigration
    5. an increase in wealth does not cause drug addiction

  6. pomegranate4800 says:

    1. There are so many mattress stores, they are a money laundering scam.
    2. There is no one ever inside, there is always sale signs in the window.
    3. Large amounts of money being laundered should be spread, which explains why there are so many mattress stores open.
    4. To not get caught, something legit must come out of it. People get mattresses.
    5. People hide money in mattresses, which is why the owner opened a store with countless mattresses.

    • davidbdale says:

      1. Not a causal claim. The existence of the stores does not CAUSE them to launder money.
      2. These are facts without causal claims.
      3. This is causal, but it’s an example of type 1. Single Cause, Single Effect. The need to spread out the cash CAUSES the opening of too many stores.
      4. This is another SC, SE example. The need to appear like a legitimate business CAUSES the store to conduct actual mattress sales.
      5. This is funny and, I hope, a deliberate joke. 🙂

  7. chavanillo says:

    -Single Cause with a Single Effect (X causes Y): “phones can cause us brain damage”
    -Single Cause with Several Effects (X causes Y and Z):“We Are the Casualties of the disruption on alcohol”
    -Several Causes for a Single Effect (Both X and Y cause Z):”there’s no explanation for basketball”
    -A Causal Chain (X causes Y, which causes Z):“Failure to Prosecute safety Causes disruption”
    -Causation Fallacy (X does not cause Y):”Toy guns are not the reason why people are dying.”

    • davidbdale says:

      These aren’t good examples of the types they’re supposed to represent, Chavanillo.

      Also, they don’t have anything to do with YOUR thesis, which was the assignment.
      1. Phones cause brain damage. (This one’s fine. Single Cause, Single Effect)
      2. Alcohol causes liver damage, domestic violence, unemployment, and early death (Single Cause, Several Effects)
      3. Basketball exists because young men have energy to burn and like to show off their athleticism in a way that requires very little equipment. (Several Causes for a Single Effect)
      4. Failure to prosecute safety violations CAUSES an awareness that there will be no consequences for delinquency, which CAUSES even more safety violations (a Causal Chain)
      5. The child was shot NOT BECAUSE he was carrying a toy gun. The child was shot BECAUSE a racist cop thought a child with a toy was a threat. (Causation Fallacy)

      See the difference?

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