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Causal Reasoning

Of the three types of inductive reasoning we will discuss, causal reasoning is both the weakest and the most prone to fallacy. Nevertheless, it is a useful and common method of thought.

To argue by causation is to claim that one thing causes another. A causal argument can be either weak or strong depending on the context. For example, to claim that you won the lottery because you saw a shooting star the night before is clearly fallacious. However, most people believe that smoking causes cancer because cancer often strikes those with a history of cigarette use. Although the connection between smoking and cancer is virtually certain, as with all inductive arguments it can never be 100 percent certain. Cigarette companies have claimed that there may be a genetic predisposition in some people to both develop cancer and crave nicotine. Although this claim is highly improbable, it is conceivable.

here are two common fallacies associated with causal reasoning:

Confusing Correlation with Causation

To claim that A caused B merely because A occurred immediately before B is clearly questionable. It may be only coincidental that they occurred together, or something else may have caused them to occur together.
For example, the fact that insomnia and lack of appetite often occur together does not mean that one necessarily causes the other. They may both be symptoms of an underlying condition.

Confusing Necessary Conditions with Sufficient Conditions

A is necessary for B means “B cannot occur without A.” A is sufficient for B means “A causes B to occur, but B can still occur without A.”
For example, a small tax base is sufficient to cause a budget deficit, but excessive spending can cause a deficit even with a large tax base. A common fallacy is to assume that a necessary condition is sufficient to cause a situation.
For example, to win a modern war it is necessary to have modern, high-tech equipment, but it is not sufficient, as Iraq discovered in the Persian Gulf War.
The mind and the immune system have been shown to be intimately linked, and scientists are consistently finding that doing good deeds benefits one’s immune system. The bone marrow and spleen, which produce the white blood cells needed to fight infection, are both connected by neural pathways to the brain. Recent research has shown that the activity of these white blood cells is stimulated by beneficial chemicals produced by the brain as a result of magnanimous behavior.
The statements above, if true, support the view that
  1. good deeds must be based on unselfish motives
  2. lack of magnanimity is the cause of most serious illnesses
  3. magnanimous behavior can be regulated by the presence or absence of certain chemicals in the brain
  4. magnanimity is beneficial to one’s own interests
  5. the number of white blood cells will increase radically if behavior is consistently magnanimous
The gist of the argument is that being magnanimous makes you feel good, both mentally and physically. In other words, it is to your benefit to be kind and friendly.
The answer is (D).
The other choices can be quickly dismissed. (A) is not supported by the passage. (B) commits the fallacy of denying the premise. The premise of the argument is “when you behave magnanimously” and the conclusion is “you are less likely to get ill.” (B) negates the premise: “lack of magnanimity.” Then invalidly concludes that illness will result. (C) has the wrong direction. It is magnanimous behavior that causes certain chemicals to be released; it is not chemicals that cause certain magnanimous impulses. Finally, (E) grossly overstates the argument. Beware of extreme words. (E) would be a much better choice if “radically” were dropped, though it would still be off the mark. The argument presents evidence only that the activity of white blood cells is stimulated by magnanimous behavior, not that their number increases.

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