Logical Fallacy Series: “The False Cause and False Effect”
By: Dion McNeil
The false cause is a logical fallacy that sometimes some people invoke to explain something or to be intentionally misleading. Now of course there are other reasons but for the purpose of explaining this logical fallacy better we’ll just focus on those two lines of reasoning. To explain this logical fallacy better we’ll use simple explanations and simple conclusions based off of those explanations to hopefully leave the reader with a better idea, if a better idea didn’t already exist, about what this logical fallacy is and how to better identity the false cause when witnessed.
So what exactly is the false cause? The IEP or Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes the false cause as, “Improperly concluding that one thing is a cause of another. The Fallacy of Non Causa Pro Causa is another name for this fallacy. Its four principal kinds are the Post Hoc Fallacy, the Fallacy of Cum Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc, the Regression Fallacy, and the Fallacy of Reversing Causation.” In other words a person can be guilty of committing this logical fallacy by looking at something and determining one thing is the cause of that something. To put it simply it is a way of rushing to conclusions that has a name, can be explained and can be identified. Today we’ll explore some examples of this fallacy and see if you can spot where the false cause is.
Review this explanation and see if you spot the false cause:
“Jane goes to the supermarket. She likes to eat sample foods there. After going home and preparing dinner Jane weighs herself. She has gained weight. Jane only ate the sample food at the supermarket. Jane enjoys making only fatty foods. She concludes that the food she ate at the supermarket caused her to gain weight.”
Now could Jane be correct? Of course. But could she also be incorrect? Yes, she could also be incorrect. In this case she is. What is more likely to be the cause of her gaining weight? Remember the part that says, “Jane enjoys only making fatty foods”? Well it is more likely that the fatty foods she likes to cook is the cause behind her weight gain. She could also not exercise or have some sort of medical condition. But for her to conclude that the sample food at the supermarket is the sole cause of her weight gain is a fine example of the false cause. Jane didn’t bother to look at other causes and certainly made an incorrect assumption.
Let’s look at a more sneaky example:
“Bill is bored one night and decides to go roller skating. Bill always loved going out when he is bored. When he arrives at the skating establishment he gets excited. He starts skating and feels joy. Bill declares that skating is what made him happy.”
Sounds reasonable enough, right? Think again. It is a sneaky example because at first glance some people might say that there is no logical fallacy here. Well just because he committed the logical fallacy doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad thing. Remember that Bill loves to go out when he is bored. So is it really the skating that causes his happiness or is just the act of going out? It is going out because the only thing we know about Bill is that he likes to go out and that skating really doesn’t have much to do with his happiness. He could like skating but the skating in of itself didn’t dictate how happy he felt as he could have skated at home.
Now we need to look at a more real world example. We need something that will help us look at situations another way if we haven’t already. Sometimes the false cause can create a stereotype or a falsehood that can insult some people or put people into a box. Here is a pretty good example:
“So many black people have won track and field events! Black people are fast!”
Do you see the false cause here? The statement is generalizing and is indeed a false cause but it is also a racial stereotype. This implies that because there are many black people who have won track and field events that speed is inherently a black trait. Of course this statement is not only a logical fallacy but utter nonsense. Many have competed in track and field events who were not black people and many of those people are faster than the average person.
Another example of this logical fallacy in action is the false cause that is turned into a weapon. Often times what we see is that the false cause tends to come in the form of stereotypes of the strawman and/or ad hominem logical fallacy course. When we witness this it isn’t a bad idea in some cases to call it like we see it. Take this example and see if you can spot the false cause:
“Those damn white people! Their ancestors enslaved and killed people! White people are evil!”
Do you see now how the false cause can be used as a weapon? This statement implies that because there were some white people, but certainly not all, who engaged in horrible acts that all white people must be evil. In fact the statement doesn’t just imply this but push this off as an absolute fact. Now of course this sort of statement can come in the form of an angry outburst or misinformation and maybe even perhaps some personal bias. The reason is irrelevant. All that matters is that we know this is a false cause and isn’t true as all white people are not inherently evil or enslaved and killed people.
Now we get to the juicy part. This is where the false cause can be utilized as a defense mechanism. Often times we see this false cause fallacy used in this case to try to deflect and cast a broad shadow on an issue or a person(s). Take a look at this example and see if you spot the false cause:
“It’s not you that I don’t like. Please don’t be offended. Men are always trying to hit on me! Men are nothing but horn dogs who just want to get in my pants! Men frighten me!”
Not only is this statement is broad generalization, not representative of reality for all men or really logical but this is also used in concert with a potential appeal to emotion logical fallacy. The person here is trying to manipulate another person into believing that it isn’t them they don’t like but it’s just men in general and the “please don’t be offended” part is just icing on the cake. Is it really true that every man on Earth wants to try to have sex with this person? Is it really true that all men are nothing but horny beasts or that every man this person has come across has tried to make a pass at them? Of course not.
In conclusion being guilty of this logical fallacy isn’t inherently bad. However being guilty of this fallacy while using it as a sword or a shield is questionable behavior. Try not to be the false cause devil.
Thanks for reading!
Dion McNeil is a writer for the Soap Box Corner. Dion is a 29 year old stay at home dad who specializes in psychology and social issues. If you want to contact Dion please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to comment, discuss and share. As always please be skeptical, question everything and always be rational.