Causal Reasoning

Causal reasoning argues to establish a relationship between a cause and an effect. When speakers attempt to argue for a particular course of action based on potential positive or negative consequences that may result, they are using causal reasoning. Such reasoning is evident in the following example: Eating more local foods will boost the local economy and make you healthier. The “if/then” relationship that is set up in causal reasoning can be persuasive, but the reasoning isn’t always sound. Rather than establishing a true cause-effect relationship, speakers more often set up a correlation, which means there is a relationship between two things but there are other contextual influences.

To use causal reasoning effectively and ethically, speakers should avoid claiming a direct relationship between a cause and an effect when such a connection cannot be proven. Instead of arguing that “x caused y,” it is more accurate for a speaker to say “x influenced y.” Causal thinking is often used when looking to blame something or someone, as can be seen in the following example: It’s the president’s fault that the economy hasn’t recovered more. While such a statement may garner a speaker some political capital, it is not based on solid reasoning. Economic and political processes are too complex to distill to such a simple cause-effect relationship. A speaker would need to use more solid reasoning, perhaps inductive reasoning through examples, to build up enough evidence to support that a correlation exists and a causal relationship is likely. When using causal reasoning, present evidence that shows the following: (1) the cause occurred before the effect, (2) the cause led to the effect, and (3) it is unlikely that other causes produced the effect.

Review of Types of Reasoning

  • Inductive. Arguing from examples to support a conclusion; includes reasoning by analogy. Examples should be sufficient, typical, and representative to warrant a strong argument.
  • Deductive. Deriving specifics from what is already known; includes syllogisms. Premises that lead to a conclusion must be true, relevant, and related for the argument to be valid.
  • Causal. Argues to establish a relationship between a cause and an effect. Usually involves a correlation rather than a true causal relationship.

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