Causal Analysis
Causes, Effects, Argument, and Common Fallacies

Overview of Causal Analysis

Causal Analysis is the most common form of writing in academic and professional career areas. It explores the reasons why or how something occurred or the results or consequences that resulted from an action.

It is closely tied to argument as a writing strategy. In argument writing, the purpose is to explain to the reader how and why a writer believes something to be true.  Causal analysis is often the model of choice for argument papers, as the reasoning often follows a cause or effect pattern when examining issues. 

 

Issue: A topic that sparks controversy in a community of speakers.

 

Each of the examples below requires causal development to explain the topic.

Examples of Causal Analysis papers:

 

Causal analysis papers that students write in college and beyond often require research. This encourages the writer toward self-directed learning, a valuable life skill.

 

Causal Analysis: Exploring Causes and Effects

The term "Causal Analysis" refers to both Causes and Effects in writing. For any event or thought, there are actions or ideas that lead up to the event (causes) and actions or ideas that resulted from it (effects). Our awareness of time means that past events sometimes "cause" or have an impact on future events.

From a writing standpoint, those actions or ideas that significantly affected the topic under discussion are what is most important. In a causal or argument paper, a thesis presents an assertion (judgment) that the writer wishes to prove. The paper then offers the significant evidence that the writer feels will best convince the reader.

 

"Significant Evidence:" The reasons, facts, examples, and experiences that lead directly to the judgments or conclusions.

 

Causal Analysis papers usually examine only Causes or Effects, although they can explore both. Usually only one is more significant to the discussion.

Writing Strategies for Causal Analysis

 Causal Analysis writing usually follows one of several basic patterns:

Significant Details

For all patterns, it is important that writers distinguish between the more and the less significant details.

 Usually, the thesis (main point) of the writing will focus on the most helpful or significant cause or effect. This may or may not be the Primary Cause or Effect. It is necessary to examine the individual points of discussion through brainstorming and draft writing.

Traps and Fallacies

 Causal Traps

Advertising often makes use of invalid causal relationships to sell products. Weak logic and fallacious reasoning are combined with emotional situations to suggest causal relationships exist between happiness and purchasing or consuming a product.  In a causal analysis, it the responsibility of the writer to consider the relationship between points and between the writing and its conclusion.

 

The Law of Unintended Consequences

When writing about hypothetical effects of a proposed change, or any causal paper that deals with future events, a writer must be careful to avoid too much speculation. The Law of Unintended Consequences reminds writers and theorists that the future cannot be predicted with certainty, particularly when intentional changes are made. To say, for example, that legalized gambling will "automatically" lead to criminal acts and moral degeneration is not accurate. A writer can suggest it "may" occur, or that the writer "believes" it may happen, but it cannot be predicted with accuracy.

 

In causal papers, it is always wise to base conclusions on Limited Assertions. Broad conclusions should never cover "All" people at "All" times, since there are usually unexpected consequences to any decision that the writer could never predict.

Fallacious Reasoning

 Issue:  A topic that sparks controversy in a community of speakers.

Remember the definition of an "issue"?  Topics important to a group of speakers often cause controversy. When emotions run high, it is common to argue to "win" rather than argue for the best solution. In these sorts of emotional and competitive situations, bias, prejudgments, and self-righteousness (the belief that one is right, and everyone else is wrong) can lead to errors in reasoning.

 It is always wise to base conclusions on facts, evidence, and thoughtful analysis of an issue. Sometimes, though, facts are inaccurate, or the writer desires a specific conclusion despite contradictory evidence.  "Fallacies" are errors in judgment that can occur when issues are not carefully considered.

 All people are guilty of jumping to conclusions. It is helpful, therefore, to recognize some of the more common fallacies.

Common Fallacies

This is not an exhaustive list, but represents some of the more common errors in reasoning.

 

HASTY GENERALIZATION

This fallacy occurs when the reasoning based on evidence is insufficient or unrelated to the issue under discussion.

Ex.: Deaths by drug overdose have increased in El Paso since the beginning of the year. This suggests a dangerous trend in nationwide drug abuse.

 How does the evidence of drug use in El Paso relate to abuse nationwide?

 

FALSE ANALOGY (FAULTY COMPARISONS)

This fallacy occurs when an individual assumes similarities in some areas means two things are identical in other, more significant respects. This may be true, but additional evidence is often required

Ex.: Doctors, lawyers and other professional rely on reference books every day, so shouldn't students be allowed reference books during all tests?

Police officers have computers mounted on the dashboard next to them, so it is unfair that everyday citizens should not have the same privilege when they drive.

The error comes in assuming that the two situations are alike in all respects because they are alike in some respects.

 

NON SEQUITUR

This fallacy occurs when the stated conclusion is not necessarily a logical result of the presented evidence.

Ex.: Name brand products are more expensive; therefore they must be of higher quality.

Expensive does not necessarily mean high quality.

 

ARGUMENT TO THE PEOPLE (AD POPULUM)

This fallacy occurs when emotions and enthusiasm are used to argue a conclusion rather than facts and evidence.

Ex.: The country has been run too long by old, selfish, and pompous politicians who steal your hard-earned dollars and waste them on worthless projects.

The argument appeals to the emotion rather than to reason.

  

EITHER / OR FALLACY (FALSE DILEMMA)

This fallacy occurs when a complex issue is reduced to two simple sides. Often, one is right and one is wrong.

Ex.: America: Love It or Leave It.

Students come to college either to work hard or to loaf.

More options or reasons exist, yet the writer only focuses on two.

  

PERSONAL ATTACK (AD HOMINEM)

This fallacy occurs when an argument attacks a person's character or situation rather than the issue itself.

Ex.: I see no need to debate Commissioner Hornbeam on the Court House Budget. He quibbles about details and drags the process out.

The debate is about the budget, not the about the character of the individual.

 

CIRCULAR REASONING (BEGGING THE QUESTION)

This fallacy occurs when an issue that should be proved by argument is stated as truth. Often the arguments merely restate all or part of the issue as evidence that the issue is already true.

Ex: "Bennett is the most successful mayor the town has ever had because he's the best mayor in our history."

The evidence is a restatement of the claim.

 

RED HERRING (CHANGING THE SUBJECT)

This fallacy occurs when an irrelevant point is suggested to divert the reader's attention from the main issue.

Ex.: "We admit that this measure is popular. But we also urge you to note that there are so many bond issues on this ballot that the whole thing is getting ridiculous."

Saying that number of bond issues relates to quality of one diverts the attention from the merits of the measure.

 

BANDWAGON APPEAL

This fallacy occurs when an attempt is made to validate or prove a point by suggesting that everyone believes it already.

Ex.: Drink Orca Cola! For 50 years it's been the favorite drink of Americans. You'll like it!

The argument assumes that conformity is important in decision making.

 

SLIPPERY SLOPE

This fallacy occurs when the assumption is made that one action will inevitably lead to a cascade of future actions. The "steps" from the first action to the exaggerated final action are not explained and the reasoning they are "inevitable" is never explored.

Ex.: "We've got to stop them from banning pornography. Once they start banning one form of literature, they will never stop. Next thing you know, they will be burning all the books!"

The progression ignores the reasoning for reducing pornography might not apply to "all" books.

 

FALSE CAUSE (POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC)

This fallacy occurs when the writer suggests that one event following another creates a relationship.   This may not be the case.

Ex.: Money makes people arrogant

Perhaps some, but not all people. Perhaps money, but other things cause arrogance, too.

Ex.: It is dark now, which makes it very dangerous

Does the darkness create the danger?

 

TESTIMONIAL

This fallacy occurs when writers use respected or well-known figures – who are not experts in the issue -- as evidence or causes.

Ex.: Noted actor Bert Fred Granite recognizes the value of Genie's nutritional cocktail to his daily health needs.

What makes an actor an expert on nutrition?

 

CARD-STACKING

This fallacy occurs when a writer relies only on facts that support the writer's position.

Ex.: "We should more frequently use the death penalty because it deters crime, saves the taxpayers from supporting non rehabilitative criminals, validates our penal system, and shows our commitment to a law and order. Opponents of the death penalty are idealists on whom criminals prey for sympathy."

The evidence is all one-sided and ignores other evidence. There is no quiz for this eLecture