The questionable cause fallacy occurs when you conclude that one thing caused another simply because they are frequently intertwined. The fault here is that the reasoning for the conclusion is based on an assumed causal connection that does not exist.
The conclusion based on this fallacy is not pronounced false definitely, but it does demonstrate that an adequate amount of evidence has not been provided to support the claim. The lack of adequate evidence makes it a questionable cause argument.
An assumed connection is a crucial component of the questionable cause fallacy. Most of the time people look at an obvious connection that is not adequate to be termed a cause. Just because there is a link between A and B, that does not mean that A causes B.
The simultaneous or close occurrence of events A and B should serve as a starting point to dig deeper into the causal relationship between the two events. A mere correlation shouldn’t determine a causal connection. A causal connection can only determine once sufficient background. Knowledge has been obtained and the correlation has been tested.
While it is possible to conduct extensive research for scientific explanations, it is difficult to provide tried and tested information during an everyday debate to ensure that a questionable cause fallacy has been committed.
Types of Questionable Cause Fallacy
Here are the types of questionable cause fallacy.
Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
The argument provides an explanation that conflates co-occurrence with causality and is based on the temporal ordering of the event.
The Latin phrase “Post hoc ergo propter hoc” means “After this, therefore because of this,” or “If B happened then A had happened, then A must have caused B to happen.”
In other words, if event B occurs after event A, then A must have caused B to occur.
Examples of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc:
- The moment the railroad crossing alarm goes off and the gates open, a train always passes. As a result, the train passes because of the railroad crossing.
- Despite all the odds, my team won while I was wearing my purple sweater. I will therefore wear that sweater to every game going forward.
- Before divorcing, the majority of married couples visit a therapist. As a result, seeing a therapist will increase your risk of getting a divorce.
- Academically, divorced children typically perform worse. Therefore, if you divorce, it will reduce the likelihood of your child attending college.
The first step in the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy is to note that two events happened one after the other. The fact that such a temporal ordering is precisely the kind of concomitance that could imply a causal connection, appears to be sound retroductive reasoning. However, it’s also possible that the temporal ordering is merely a coincidence or the result of additional causal factors; after all, unrelated events frequently occur in chronological order. The vast majority of things that happen at one time have no bearing on things that happen later. As a result, temporal ordering by itself is a poor indicator of causal connections.
Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
It is a Latin phrase and translates to “with this, therefore because of this” or, “A and B happen at the same time, so A must be causing B to happen.” or, “events A and B occurred simultaneously, therefore A caused B.”
The “Correlation is not causation” fallacy is another name for this fallacy. In other words, when two events occur simultaneously, it is not always the case that one of them was the direct result of the other. The two incidents may still be connected, but it will take more research to identify which causes which.
This fallacy occurs when a cause-and-effect conclusion is reached without taking into account the following three potential alternative explanations for the correlation:
- The true cause of the correlation is the third event.
- The cause’s direction may be reversed.
- The correlation may be a coincidence.
Examples of Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc
- Sun rises because the rooster crows every morning.
- There are many sick people in hospitals. As a result, hospitals make people ill.
- When I am around him, he occasionally exhibits violent behavior. I’m not sure what I’m doing to provoke his violent behavior.
- She appears happier when she makes purchases for herself. I have to look for another way to increase my income.
Non Causa Pro Causa
It is a Latin expression that translates to “not the cause for the cause,” i.e., that something has been confused with its opposite. Non causa is the shorter term that describes the fallacy.
The explanation provided by the argument conflates correlation with causation. One thing is said to be the cause of another, but even though there may be a connection between the two, the hypothesis wrongly places it by either treating the effect as the cause or by treating two things that are both the outcomes of a single common cause as cause and effect.
Examples of Non Causa Pro Causa:
- Increasing the number of police officers on the streets makes crime rise. The number of crimes that police officers saw increased as we added more officers to the street.
- We found that sick people tended to have fewer lice than healthy people on a South Pacific island where lice are common. Having lice is beneficial to health.
- Those on Medicaid typically have worse health than those with no insurance at all. This demonstrates why Medicaid is a poor choice. Medicaid enrollment makes people sicker.
The observation that two events seem to be connected by some concomitance or other typically serves as the starting point for the fallacy of Non-Causa Pro Causa. As a result, it seems to be a solid example of retroductive reasoning since it starts here, as it always does. Concomitance is a symmetrical relationship, which is unfortunate. If A and B share an attribute, then B also shares that attribute with A. As a result, even when there is a causal relationship between events, it is often difficult to distinguish between cause and effect. An understanding of how causality works and good retroductive reasoning are both necessary.
The Ending Note
It can be difficult to determine the exact relationship between concurrent events in the real world. But you must be aware of your tendency to assume one event caused another Question your presumptions. Be open to accepting alternate explanations, and, as with other logical fallacies, always be ready to change your mind. By doing this, you will be less likely to fall victim to this logical fallacy yourself and less likely to accept an argument that uses questionable cause reasoning.