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Confusing Cause and Effect
AKA Questionable Cause, Reversing Causation

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

Confusing Cause and Effect is a fallacy that has the following general form:

  1. A and B regularly occur together.
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B. This fallacy requires that there not be, in fact, a common cause that actually causes both A and B.
This fallacy is committed when a person assumes that one event must cause another just because the events occur together. More formally, this fallacy involves drawing the conclusion that A is the cause of B simply because A and B are in regular conjunction (and there is not a common cause that is actually the cause of A and B). The mistake being made is that the causal conclusion is being drawn without adequate justification.

In some cases it will be evident that the fallacy is being committed. For example, a person might claim that an illness was caused by a person getting a fever. In this case, it would be quite clear that the fever was caused by illness and not the other way around. In other cases, the fallacy is not always evident. One factor that makes causal reasoning quite difficult is that it is not always evident what is the cause and what is the effect. For example, a problem child might be the cause of the parents being short tempered or the short temper of the parents might be the cause of the child being problematic. The difficulty is increased by the fact that some situations might involve feedback. For example, the parents' temper might cause the child to become problematic and the child's behavior could worsen the parents' temper. In such cases it could be rather difficult to sort out what caused what in the first place.

In order to determine that the fallacy has been committed, it must be shown that the causal conclusion has not been adequately supported and that the person committing the fallacy has confused the actual cause with the effect. Showing that the fallacy has been committed will typically involve determining the actual cause and the actual effect. In some cases, as noted above, this can be quite easy. In other cases it will be difficult. In some cases, it might be almost impossible. Another thing that makes causal reasoning difficult is that people often have very different conceptions of cause and, in some cases, the issues are clouded by emotions and ideologies. For example, people often claim violence on TV and in movies must be censored because it causes people to like violence. Other people claim that there is violence on TV and in movies because people like violence. In this case, it is not obvious what the cause really is and the issue is clouded by the fact that emotions often run high on this issue.

While causal reasoning can be difficult, many errors can be avoided with due care and careful testing procedures. This is due to the fact that the fallacy arises because the conclusion is drawn without due care. One way to avoid the fallacy is to pay careful attention to the temporal sequence of events. Since (outside of Star Trek), effects do not generally precede their causes, if A occurs after B, then A cannot be the cause of B. However, these methods go beyond the scope of this program.

All causal fallacies involve an error in causal reasoning. However, this fallacy differs from the other causal fallacies in terms of the error in reasoning being made. In the case of a Post Hoc fallacy, the error is that a person is accepting that A is the cause of B simply because A occurs before B. In the case of the Fallacy of Ignoring a Common Cause A is taken to be the cause of B when there is, in fact, a third factor that is the cause of both A and B. For more information, see the relevant entries in this program.

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8
Slippery Slope
AKA The Camel's Nose

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

The Slippery Slope is a fallacy in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any argument for the inevitability of the event in question. In most cases, there are a series of steps or gradations between one event and the one in question and no reason is given as to why the intervening steps or gradations will simply be bypassed. This "argument" has the following form:

  1. Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
  2. Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because there is no reason to believe that one event must inevitably follow from another without an argument for such a claim. This is especially clear in cases in which there are a significant number of steps or gradations between one event and another.

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330
Appeal to Pity
Ad Misericordiam

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Distracting Appeals

An Appeal to Pity is a fallacy in which a person substitutes a claim intended to create pity for evidence in an argument. The form of the "argument" is as follows:

  1. P is presented, with the intent to create pity.
  2. Therefore claim C is true.
This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because pity does not serve as evidence for a claim. This is extremely clear in the following case: "You must accept that 1+1=46, after all I'm dying..." While you may pity me because I am dying, it would hardly make my claim true.

This fallacy differs from the Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief (ACB). In the ACB fallacy, a person is using the effects of a belief as a substitute for evidence. In the Appeal to Pity, it is the feelings of pity or sympathy that are substituted for evidence.

It must be noted that there are cases in which claims that actually serve as evidence also evoke a feeling of pity. In such cases, the feeling of pity is still not evidence. The following is an example of a case in which a claim evokes pity and also serves as legitimate evidence:

Professor: "You missed the midterm, Bill."
Bill: "I know. I think you should let me take the makeup."
Professor: "Why?"
Bill: "I was hit by a truck on the way to the midterm. Since I had to go to the emergency room with a broken leg, I think I am entitled to a makeup."
Professor: "I'm sorry about the leg, Bill. Of course you can make it up."

The above example does not involve a fallacy. While the professor does feel sorry for Bill, she is justified in accepting Bill's claim that he deserves a makeup. After all getting run over by a truck would be a legitimate excuse for missing a test.

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5
Ignoring a Common Cause
AKA Questionable Cause

Category: Fallacies of Presumption → Casual Fallacies

This fallacy has the following general structure:

  1. A and B are regularly connected (but no third, common cause is looked for).
  2. Therefore A is the cause of B.
This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that one thing causes another simply because they are regularly associated. More formally, this fallacy is committed when it is concluded that A is the cause of B simply because A and B are regularly connected. Further, the causal conclusion is drawn without considering the possibility that a third factor might be the cause of both A and B.

In many cases, the fallacy is quite evident. For example, if a person claimed that a person's sneezing was caused by her watery eyes and he simply ignored the fact that the woman was standing in a hay field, he would have fallen prey to the fallacy of ignoring a common cause. In this case, it would be reasonable to conclude that the woman's sneezing and watering eyes was caused by an allergic reaction of some kind. In other cases, it is not as evident that the fallacy is being committed. For example, a doctor might find a large amount of bacteria in one of her patients and conclude that the bacteria are the cause of the patient's illness. However, it might turn out that the bacteria are actually harmless and that a virus is weakening the person, Thus, the viruses would be the actual cause of the illness and growth of the bacteria (the viruses would weaken the ability of the person's body to resist the growth of the bacteria).

As noted in the discussion of other causal fallacies, causality is a rather difficult matter. However, it is possible to avoid this fallacy by taking due care. In the case of Ignoring a Common Cause, the key to avoiding this fallacy is to be careful to check for other factors that might be the actual cause of both the suspected cause and the suspected effect. If a person fails to check for the possibility of a common cause, then they will commit this fallacy. Thus, it is always a good idea to always ask "could there be a third factor that is actually causing both A and B?"

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2
Circumstantial Ad Hominem
Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Ad hominems (Genetic Fallacies)

A Circumstantial ad Hominem is a fallacy in which one attempts to attack a claim by asserting that the person making the claim is making it simply out of self interest. In some cases, this fallacy involves substituting an attack on a person's circumstances (such as the person's religion, political affiliation, ethnic background, etc.). The fallacy has the following forms:

  1. Person A makes claim X.
  2. Person B asserts that A makes claim X because it is in A's interest to claim X.
  3. Therefore claim X is false.
  1. Person A makes claim X.
  2. Person B makes an attack on A's circumstances.
  3. Therefore X is false.
A Circumstantial ad Hominem is a fallacy because a person's interests and circumstances have no bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made. While a person's interests will provide them with motives to support certain claims, the claims stand or fall on their own. It is also the case that a person's circumstances (religion, political affiliation, etc.) do not affect the truth or falsity of the claim. This is made quite clear by the following example: "Bill claims that 1+1 =2. But he is a Republican, so his claim is false."

There are times when it is prudent to suspicious of a person's claims, such as when it is evident that the claims are being biased by the person's interests. For example, if a tobacco company representative claims that tobacco does not cause cancer, it would be prudent to not simply accept the claim. This is because the person has a motivation to make the claim, whether it is true or not. However, the mere fact that the person has a motivation to make the claim does not make it false. For example, suppose a parent tells her son that sticking a fork in a light socket would be dangerous. Simply because she has a motivation to say this obviously does not make her claim false.

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4
Appeal to Fear
Ad Baculum

AKA Scare Tactics, Appeal to Force

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Distracting Appeals

The Appeal to Fear is a fallacy with the following pattern:

  1. Y is presented (a claim that is intended to produce fear).
  2. Therefore claim X is true (a claim that is generally, but need not be, related to Y in some manner).
This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because creating fear in people does not constitute evidence for a claim.

It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (RRB) (evidence) and a prudential reason to believe(PRB) (motivation). A RRB is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A PRB is a reason to accept the belief because of some external factor (such as fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief) that is relevant to what a person values but is not relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim. For example, it might be prudent to not fail the son of your department chairperson because you fear he will make life tough for you. However, this does not provide evidence for the claim that the son deserves to pass the class.

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