Types of Causal Argument

In the post for the Portfolio Task: Causal Argument, 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 Task for WED APR 01

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)

Example Questions (from “Mammogram Team Learns from its Errors”) that could be answered with Causal Arguments:

  • What caused the woeful 65% national “success” rate for radiologists reading mammograms?
  • What caused Dr. Adcock to believe he could improve this horrible situation?
  • What caused Kaiser Permanente to adopt the dangerous new strategy?
  • What were the results of publishing the news internally for the radiologists to see?

13 Responses to Types of Causal Argument

  1. rose1029 says:

    – Why do many individuals today have difficulties facing everyday challenges? (X and Y causes Z)
    – What is the reason behind individuals thinking they have been through more than they actually have? (Both X and Y causes Z)
    – Why do some people feel like some of their problems are more drastic then what others may feel when experiencing the same issues? (X causes Y, which causes Z)
    – What do factors such as a household’s income have on affecting a child’s upbringing? (X causes Y)
    – Why having a perfect upbringing may not be the best way to raise a child… (X does not cause Y)

  2. gossipgirl3801 says:

    1. Babies can feel the vibration of their mother’s voice when they are in the womb, allowing them to recognize her voice when they are born.
    2. Babies gain their reflexes through learning, they aren’t born with the reflexes of knowing voices and knowing what food they like; they learn this from their mother while still in the womb.
    3. The pregnant mother likes carrot juice and drinks 300 mL of it almost everyday, when her baby is born the baby will have a preference for carrots.
    4. Pregnant women who were in New York during 9/11 have PTSD, they went through stress and anxiety during their third trimester of carrying their baby, when the child was born it also had PTSD.
    5. If a 1 day old newborn can learn then so can a 270 day old fetus.

  3. bmdpiano says:

    1. The lack of life skills taught in schools causes students not to be prepared for the real world. (X causes Y)
    2. Using a more education approach in classrooms causes learning to be blocked and students cannot form authentic opinions. (X causes Y and Z)
    3. The advancement in technology and requirement for people to withhold special opinion forming skills causes the current education system to be useless in ways. (Both X and Y cause Z)
    4. The lack of life skills taught in schools causes students to not be prepared for the real world which causes them to depend on others defeating their independence. (X causes Y, which causes Z)
    5. If life skills can be taught in a Physical Education class, then they can be taught in core classrooms as well. (X does not cause Y)

  4. dupreeh79 says:

    1.Global warming is caused by carbon emissions being released into the air.
    2.The Utilization of solely carbon free sources of power.
    3.Using nuclear power and using renewable sources of energy will produce an efficient clean power grid.
    4.Large companies wanting to produce energy in the cheapest way.
    5. Nuclear power is not as dangerous as society believes them to be.

  5. a1175 says:

    1. Student athletes getting college scholarships can lead to an opportunity of coming out of college debt free while not spending a single dime of their own money.
    2. NBA players should get a college degree so they eventually can get a job after retirement and can learn how to manage their money and not throw it all away at once.
    3. Going to college to get an education and to play the sport someone loves can lead to a happy life.
    4. Trying to get the most amount of money as a rookie could lead an NBA recruit participating in the one-and-done college rule and then going straight to the NBA.
    5. An NBA player who went to college for 4 years can do just as good as an NBA player who went straight to the league to “make more money in their prime.”

  6. alyse816 says:

    1. Playing sports increases the chance to face an injury. (x causes y)
    2. Playing sports at a young age can cause increasing damage to the body especially, as you get older. ( x causes y and z)
    3. The more injuries you are faced with a a young adult and the more sports you play can cause long lasting affects to the body as you get older.( both x and y cause z)
    4. As you start playing sports at a young age that causes wear and tear on your body which studies only show to get worse as you get older because your body becomes weaker. (x causes y which causes z)
    5. An elderly person can experience their a decrease in their bodies as they get older even if they did not play sports when they were younger. ( x doesn’t cause y)

  7. j6128 says:

    1) STEM candidates possessing soft skills increases their likelihood of being hired (x causes y)
    2) Implementing soft skills in the STEM circulum will help STEM candiates possess soft skills and thus make them more hirable (x causes y and z)
    3) The more STEM candiates are taught soft skills and apply them to the workforce through internships, the more likely they will be hired by employers (both x and y cause z)
    4) By implementing soft skills in the STEM circlum, STEM students will have the oppertunity to apply those skills in internships which leads to employers wanting to hire them (x causes y which causes z)
    5) Only teaching hard/technical skills in the STEM circlum will make STEM candidates more hirable (x doesn’t cause y)

  8. harp03 says:

    1. The hard salary cap results in more teams making the playoffs.
    2. By enforcing a hard salary cap, the league is more balanced and small-market teams are encouraged to spend more
    3. Owners’ willingness to spend and fan support almost always results in a better team.
    4. The use of a hard salary cap would make tv and attendance ratings go up, which would in turn boost MLB’s economy, which would then raise the hard cap and allow general managers to hand out larger contracts to the players.
    5.Teams can spend less money and still be successful, but a hard salary cap provides constant stability and competitive balance for the league, regardless of how much money is spent by small market teams.

  9. davidbdale says:

    These are excellent, Harp, and make a good model for your classmates to follow if they need to see good examples, particularly the tricky #5. We could refute #1 by suggesting that there are easier ways to increase the number of teams getting into the playoffs.

    I do have grammar corrections to make, since there’s nothing else to critique.

    2. Needs a comma before and since you’re effectively starting a new sentence with a new verb (teams are encouraged).
    2. More importantly, following a By clause, you need to name both the action and the person or thing that did the action. In your sentence: By enforcing a hard salary cap, the league achieves balance. Active not passive.
    NOT: By chewing and swallowing, Joe’s breakfast is eaten.
    BUT: By chewing and swallowing, Joe eats breakfast.
    3. Result, not results, in this sentence since two things, willingness and support are doing the resulting.
    4. This is both a very nice Causal Chain and a grammatically beautiful use of which clauses. No correction needed. (I would swap the terms to say “attendance and TV ratings” though.)
    5. No comma needed before regardless, but that’s quibbling.

    Beautiful work.

  10. shaquilleoatmeal2250 says:

    1. Eating the nutritionally balanced school lunches will acquire ones the daily necessities for health.
    2. Eating healthy schools lunches can get ones daily vitamins and minerals and can also improve ones learning.
    3. The more students to buy school lunches and the more to give them a chance will cause the school to receive more income so that they can boost other aspects for students.
    4. Unbalanced homemade lunches cause one to not reach multiple nutrition necessities, which will cause them to possibly gain weight.
    5. The average homemade meal decided through surveys does not improve metacognition in classrooms.

  11. samtheman1448 says:

    1. Eliminating the NFL preseason gets rid of meaningless football games.
    2. Eliminating the NFL preseason gets rid of meaningless football games and it also provides more games for the regular season.
    3. Eliminating the NFL preseason and adding more regular season games boosts ratings and will intrigue more people.
    4. Getting rid of the meaningless games and adding meaningful games causes more interesting games that matter, and more money for teams and players.
    5. Adding more games to the regular season does not mean players will be paid less.

  12. tenere84 says:

    1. Mass media coverage of school shootings gives at-risk individuals an incentive to perpetrate similar incidents in the future (X causes Y)
    2. Minimizing media coverage of school shooters will reduce not only the number of school shootings but also the incentive for journalists to push misinformation such as mental illness as a cause (X causes Y and Z)
    3. A desire for fame and notoriety and the “copycat” effect both cause school shootings (Both X and Y cause Z)
    4. Underlying circumstances that motivate a potential school shooter to act make gun availability a factor in school shootings (X causes Y, which causes Z)
    5. Mental illness is not an accurate or helpful predictor of school shootings (X does not cause Y)

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