What is Causation?
Examining causation should help you determine the relative strength or weakness of a particular argument. Say for example that someone says that A caused B, and maybe it’s very likely that A did indeed cause B. However, we do not know that for sure because the only thing we know for certain is that B occurred because we can see that B occurred. However, we don’t know what caused B. Although it’s likely that A caused B, there’s a number of other possible factors that could have caused B.
Let me give you a practical example, someone is in a car wreck and then a few days later they developed neck pain. We could say then that the car wreck caused the neck pain. This is a very strong argument. It’s very likely that the car wreck did indeed cause the neck pain. It’s very common for people in car wrecks to have neck pain. However, do we know this for certain? No, because there’s a number of other factors to take into account.
This person who was in the car wreck is an athlete, they enjoy playing basketball. How do we know that they didn’t bump into someone else and jerk their neck a little bit? This person also has some medical conditions that have caused them to have neck pain in the past. This person also goes to the gym a lot to work out. Maybe they were working on some of their upper back muscles and strained their neck. As you can see the car wreck is the most likely cause of the neck pain, but there’s a number of other potential factors that could have caused this neck pain.
Let’s look at this first statement here. Andy didn’t want a child, because of that he murdered his only son. This first statement here is true Andy didn’t want a child. But can we determine from this first that it’s that because his son is dead that Andy murdered his son? As you can see there’s a lot of weak links here. How do we know Andy’s feelings about the child? Well, you didn’t want a child to begin with, but now that he has a child he may enjoy having a child around.
Or even if he still doesn’t want a child, does that necessarily mean that he’s going to murder his son? Is that common for people who don’t want a child, to murder their child? No, not at all. There’s lots of weak links here. And Is there any concrete evidence here that suggests that Andy is the perpetrator? A lot of weak links here and so we can’t necessarily say that A cause B here. We know that B occurred. We know that his son was murdered, but we don’t know who caused that murder.
The second statement says, because Andy was tortured for many years in a POW camp, he was mentally unstable. This is a much stronger argument. Now the statement is not 100 percent conclusive, but there is a stronger case here for cause and effect. Andy could be genetically predisposed to psychological problems. However, one would reason that years of torture would probably cause psychological problems, that would cause mental problems.
One thing that’s important to look at when looking at causation is trying to determine how many other possible causes for that outcome you can think of. If you can think of many other possible causes for the outcome. The causal relationship is weak, and any resulting conclusions should be questioned. However, if a few other possibilities come to mind then the causation is somewhat strong.