Chapter 5, “Arguments about Causes” pp. 31-36
Cause and effect arguments require careful analysis. They are not as simple as they may appear. However, Weston identifies them as often vitally important (Weston 2009, 31). He continues his list of rules for argument.
“18. Causal arguments start with correlations” (Ibid., 31). A correlation is an association of one event to another. For instance, sitting in the front of the classroom and getting better grades. The correlation may or may not be causal, though our general assumption is that there is some form of causality. On p. 32 Weston discusses inverse correlations, such as increases in vitamin use being correlated with declines in health. He also observes that sometimes there are items which are simply non-correlated. For instance, money and happiness do not seem strongly tied to one another. Finding a correlate which is always present is key to identifying causality.
“19. Correlations may have alternative explanations” (Ibid., 32). Weston observes that some correlations have nothing to do with causality. For instance, an expanding universe does not explain an increase in the price of vegetables. He also points out that the direction of causation is not always clear. “For example, while it is true (on average) that people with “can-do” attitudes tend to be wealthier, it’s not at all clear that the attitude leads to the wealth” (Ibid., 33). There also may be many causes involved in situations where correlation is evident.
“20. Work toward the most likely explanation” (Ibid., 33). The careful speaker will show how various explanations could work. It is important to take many factors and analyze each.
“21. Expect complexity” (Ibid., 35). Some causes are more weighty than others. The correlations of life are rarely simple. Weston reminds the speaker to engage complexity and allow for it, while still being free to urge a conclusion.