cause and effect

Cause and effect is a major thread of argumentation. One thing leads to another. This follows that. Smoking causes cancer. Doing push ups leads to arm muscle growth. Eating Twinkies leads to childhood obesity and diabetes. We examine cause and effect relationships all the time. But, at a very basic level, it is an argument that we make anytime that such a relationship is discussed. David Hume, a 18th century British (Scottish) philosopher contributed heavily to the philosophy of science, and specifically was concerned with the question of cause and effect and how we can really know the relationship between the two. As Hume writes in his seminal text An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

To be fully acquainted, therefore, with the idea of power or necessary connexion, let us examine its impression; and in order to find the impression with greater certainty, let us search for it in all the sources, from which it may possibly be derived.

When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in a single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects: consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion.

From the first appearance of an object, we never can conjecture what effect will result

from it. But were the power or energy of any cause discoverable by the mind, we could foresee the

effect, even without experience; and might, at first, pronounce with certainty concerning it, by mere

dint of thought and reasoning. (Section VII)

Here Hume points out the lack of what he calls “necessary connexion (archaic English spelling)” of cause and effect. That connection is really just a mental thing. In a sense, our mind makes an argument to ourselves that one billiard-ball caused the other one to move, or that being around Bob when he had a cold made us sick. Hume is saying that we can observe the cause, and observe the effect, but we make the mental argument that the two are connected.

In writing to an audience we need to consider that we have to convince them about the relationship between these two things. The cause does in fact lead to the effect is, at a very basic level, an argument. It could be argued against. Or someone could argue an opposite cause and effect relationship, or that another cause was the real reason for the effect. We need to prove the cause and effect relationship. We need to find sources to help us with that.

The basic structure of the THESIS or CLAIM will be as follows:

A (cause) leads to B (effect). This is the simplest relationship to argue. It is one single cause leading to one single effect.

Another possible scenario is up to three causes leading to one single effect. This is more challenging. And the final way is to have one cause leading up to three possible effect. Both of these styles of theses are more complex.

Note: having multiple causes and multiple effects in the same thesis is dangerous. Why?

When arguing for a cause effect relationship, one must be certain not to conflate causation with correlation. In other words, two facts could be wrongly examined as a cause and effect relationship. For instance, the fact that ice cream sales increase in the summer, and home break-ins increase in the summer are both fairly self evident. A faulty cause and effect argument might be fashioned out of those two facts, stating that “ice cream causes home break-ins”. Such an argument would be illogical, and moreover, lacking evidence to prove. In Anthony Weston’s A Rulebook for Arguments Chapter V, he lays out some of the considerations for causal argumentation (32). He describes that many of the medical and scientific arguments made are in fact governed by some sense of correlation (Weston 33). Dissecting further nuances of the cause and effect relationship is imperative. The reader needs to be convinced.

You will need three sources for this essay. Those sources should be found through the Library’s database search. There should be a tab on the left side of the Blackboard site marked “Library”. Click on that, and look for the prompt marked “Databases”.

You will want to analyze those sources, and weed out sources that do not fit with what you are wanting to say. You probably want to have a source that “disagrees” with what you are trying to say. Why? Think about that as you peruse sources.

You will also, of course, want to cite your findings both in text and on a Works Cited page per MLA guidelines. This must be at least 4-6 pages in length.

P.S. Note the Works Cited Page!

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