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The Causal Fallacy: Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything

Have you ever been in a debate with someone, and they bring up an irrelevant point that has nothing to do with the argument? Or maybe you’re in class, and the professor goes off on a tangent about something that doesn’t seem to make sense. In both cases, you may be experiencing what’s known as the “causal fallacy.” 

The causal fallacy is when someone incorrectly assumes that two things are related because they happen simultaneously. It’s a common mistake, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. 

What Is The Causal Fallacy?

Unlike the Red Herring, the causal fallacy is when someone incorrectly assumes that two things are related because they happen simultaneously. This type of thinking is often used to oversimplify complex issues or to make a weak argument seem stronger than it is. 

For example, let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. You start eating healthy and working out regularly, and after a few weeks, you notice that you’re starting to feel better. You might then assume that eating healthy and working out causes you to feel better. 

But other factors could be at play, such as getting more sleep or reducing stress. Just because two things happen simultaneously doesn’t mean one caused the other. 

How To Avoid The Causal Fallacy

Now that we’ve seen some examples of the causal fallacy, let’s discuss how you can avoid it in your writing and thinking. The first step is to be aware of it; once you know what to look for, it’ll be easier to catch yourself (or others) making this type of mistake. 

When considering whether two things are related, ask yourself if there’s another explanation for what’s happening. If there is, then it’s likely that the causal fallacy is at play. 

For example, let’s say your friend tells you about a coworker who was just fired for being lazy. Your friend then says that she saw this co-worker sleeping on the job, so she must have been lazy. 

However, there could be other explanations for why this co-worker was sleeping on the job; maybe she has a medical condition that causes her to fall asleep during the day, or maybe she was up all night caring for her sick child. 

Types Of Causal Fallacy

Here are the most important kind of causal informal fallacies: 

Post Hoc Fallacy Ergo Propter Hoc

This type of fallacy occurs when someone assumes that because event B followed event A, event A must have caused event B. 

For example, it starts raining after you walk outside without an umbrella. Does that mean your walking outside caused it to rain? Of course not! The chances are that it would rain anyway, and your walking outside was just a coincidence. 

Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

The cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is similar to post hoc ergo propter hoc but with one key difference: causation is assumed because two events occur simultaneously instead of sequentially. 

For example, let’s say that every time you eat ice cream, you get a headache. Does that mean eating ice cream causes headaches? Again, the answer is no! It’s more likely that something else is causing both the ice cream cravings and the headaches. 

False Cause

The false cause is a logical fallacy, which occurs when someone assumes that because event A preceded event B, event A must have caused event B. This one can be especially tricky to spot because sometimes there is a causal connection between two events.

For example, let’s say you study for an exam and then do well on said exam. In this case, it would be correct to say that studying caused you to do well since there was a direct link between the two events. 

The Slippery Slope Fallacy

The slippery slope fallacy occurs when someone argues that if we allow A to happen, then Z will happen. Even though there’s no logical connection between A and Z, this argument relies on emotional appeals rather than logic and reason. 

For example, let’s say your boss asks you to work late tonight, and you don’t want to do it. You might argue that if you stay late tonight, you’ll have to stay late every night. Before you know it, you’ll be working 24/7 with no days off! This may or may not be true, but it’s not a logical conclusion based on the information given. 

The Non-Sequitur Fallacy

Last but not least, we have the non sequitur fallacy. This occurs when someone makes an illogical or irrelevant conclusion based on the information given. 

For example, let’s say your friend tells you they got a new car. You might respond by saying, “well, congratulations, I hope it was worth going into debt for! ” Even though buying a car usually requires taking out a loan, this statement does not logically follow from what your friend told you. 

The next time you find yourself in a debate or discussion, pay attention to whether anyone commits the causal fallacy. If you make this mistake, don’t worry; we all do it occasionally. Just try to be more aware of it in the future, and you’ll be well on your way to avoiding this common error. 

Bob Hart
Bob Hart

An experienced author and writing professional who graduated from the University of North Carolina. He has worked as a ghostwriter, editor, and content creator for various academic sites.

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