P05: Causal Argument

Helmets Prevent Injury
(by Preventing Biking)

Your second short argument is due TUE FEB 27 at midnight. It will make an argument essential to your Research Position Paper, which will be due WED APR 11, following shortly after rewrites of your three short arguments. Getting a substantial head start on the arguments for your thesis before Spring Break is the best way to assure that you’ll be free to prepare for finals in your other courses toward the end of the semester.

You should be able to use all or most of your causation argument in your final paper to very good effect. So, try to think of next week’s deadline as a chance to finish a good chunk of your final paper early.

Your Causal Argument will identify one or more cause-and-effect relationships essential to proving your thesis. Over the next few days, I will add material to this post particular to your individual research projects. Until now, you may not have thought of your thesis as causal, but every thesis contains causation worthy of 1000 words.

Causation Basics

We make causation statements all the time, without necessarily realizing that we’re engaged in argument and proof.
1) The Sixers lost because Joel Embiid was limited to 24 minutes of floor time. 
–Absence of the team’s best player cost the team a win.
2) His parents’ divorce made it difficult for Charles to form lasting relationships
–Early childhood trauma caused Charles’s three divorces
3) A dispute over abortion prevented the government from passing a budget
–A small detail kept a huge compromise from being finalized

Types of Causation Statements
Causation is complicated because life and the world are complex webs of interconnected activities all with consequences. Rarely does a single cause yield just one effect. Your job in writing causal arguments will often be to identify the most important of the several causes for one effect (or the several effects of a single cause).
1) Immediate Cause
–Deep philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats caused the US Congress to have difficulty passing a budget last week. But tiny matters like the funding of a few abortions can be cited as the Immediate Cause of the last-minute budget crisis. So an immediate cause and a persistent conflict combine to create an episodic effect.
2) Remote Cause
–It’s been decades since Charles’s parents divorced, but the lingering effects of that childhood trauma do bedevil his relationships with women to this day. The immediate cause of his third divorce is that he visits hookers, but he blames the remote cause instead when he talks to his therapist.
3) Precipitating Cause
–Very similar to the immediate cause, the precipitating cause is the sudden change that allows an underlying cause to have its way with objects or events. We should say gravity caused the car to roll downhill into the bay, but we’ll probably say instead it was the failure of the brakes.
4) Contributing Cause
–The Sixers don’t have the skilled players to match up against the Orlando Magic most nights, and that’s always the underlying cause for their losing when they do, but on this particular night, the limit placed on Joel Embiid’s playing time contributed to the skill mismatch that caused a loss.

Other Complications

Considering how many causes are usually in play to achieve any individual result, you’re not responsible to prove causation beyond a shadow of a doubt. Your demonstration of a likely cause, with evidence and reason, will suffice.

Your “proof” will yield a probable cause, not a certain conclusion. That said, you will need to defend against oversimplification and false causation. Because they often occur together, correlations mimic causations.

You never want to make the mistake of claiming that breakfast causes lunch.

Correlation as False Causation
Here’s a case study from Freakonomics. Annie does well in school because?:
–Annie always brings her lunch in a brown bag
–Annie gets nothing but support for good scholastic performance
–Annie’s parents are both brilliant
–Annie’s parents don’t let her watch much television
–Annie’s house is full of books
–Annie was born after a full 9-month gestation

  • TV (NO) It turns out television viewing has little predictable correlation with strong academic performance, so even if both exist in Annie’s case, neither is likely to cause the other.
  • Books (NO) House full of books? No proven causal effect.
  • Parents’ IQ (YES) The IQ of parents does have a causal effect, according to Freakonomics
  • Birth Weight (YES) especially low birth weight.
  • Lunch (NO) Bringing your own lunch? None at all.
  • The most important correlation of all, and probably causative, is a full-term pregnancy, also connected to regular birth weight.

The rules here are fuzzy, but the best refutation for your strongest argument is often that you’ve only demonstrated a correlation, not causation. Yes, most heroin addicts smoked marijuana before taking up the hard stuff, but an even larger percentage of them drank soft drinks as a kid. Which one is causal?

What I Think
You’re under no obligation to accept my thesis recommendations, but after thinking about my students’ research topics in prior semesters, I made them recommendations like those below.

If you’d like me to provide you some similar guidance, place a Reply beneath this post saying, “Feedback please. I need help with my Causal Argument.”

Recommendations for this semester SP18

Self-Help Mantras are Happy Bullshit
UgandanKnucklesMeme is analyzing the data in search of evidence that self-help mantras produce psychological or spiritual benefits to those who adopt a mantra and chant it earnestly in the hope that the vibrations their chanting produces will “tune” their bodies to better harmonize with the universe. Practitioners report both practical advantages: a sense of well-being, enhanced careers; and unspecified spiritual advantages. There’s room for nuance and generosity here. 1) Proof that practitioners feel validated by the process is easy to find, and no amount of disgruntlement from novices who abandon chanting as pointless can disprove that adherents find it empowering. 2) Objective proof that mantra-chanting improves the lives of practitioners (or even raises their self-esteem) is unlikely to be found, but that doesn’t invalidate 1). Finally, 3), Very likely, Knuckles will persuade readers that a group of the faithful, whose self-awareness is intact, will practice mantra-chanting to good effect, just as members of a team might benefit from a pep talk or the religiously devout might gain confidence, validation, humility and succor from prayer. In other words, faith has value but can’t be proved.

Wealth Creates an Education Gap
AmongOthers wants to combine a causal claim (wealth creates an educational imbalance or learning gap) with an ethical claim (that ain’t right!). The ethical claim rests on a fundamental principle that equal access to quality education was a “talent leveler” that would neutralize privileges of wealthy birth. In the causal essay, AO will not have to prove the ethical claim (won’t have to demonstrate the social purpose of equal access to quality public education), but will need to demonstrate that wealth subverts that worthy purpose. If AO is correct, how does wealth unbalance the scale of an equal free public education? The answer may be different in other cultures, but in ours it’s a monstrous mutation of the funding process. Funded by local property taxes, wealthy school districts can lavish resources on students, whereas schools in poor districts (which should be able to give graduates an equal shot at success) have to “make do” with much less. AO’s challenge is to detail the Causal Chain W (being born into a poor neighborhood) results in X (attending an underfunded school), which results in Y (unimpressive transcripts), which results in Z (a weak start to a career doomed by its inauspicious beginnings).

Mixed Ethnicity Creates Cross-cultural Discomfort
TheNaturalist is tackling the uncomfortable topic of racial discrimination from a unique perspective. Multiracial couples (whether they be dear oblivious love-struck pairings,  obstinate progressives, benign humanists, or secular saints) inflict a challenge on their progeny. Their children experience discrimination from everyone, alienation from all races and ethnicities. That’s causal if inexcusable. No race fully embraces them (individuals excluded). Worse, they are wrongly assumed by every race to be benefiting from their “membership” in another race. In the case of black/white biraciality, black groups resent bonding attempts from biracial individuals who are presumed not to have suffered equivalent discrimination; meanwhile, white groups can be equally wary that the newcomers may anticipate compensatory treatment for perceived wrongs. For society to achieve anything like full humanity, the conversation must be had, but our unenlightened selves remain humiliatingly uncertain that we can achieve anything like authentic naturalistic communion. My fond hope for this essay is that it will explore from a first-person perspective (bolstered by whatever academic sources are available) a Single Cause-Multiple Effect causal condition with this simple construction: I present to three groups (black, white, mixed) with three results. Find the truth. Call out the discomfort and hypocrisy.

College Students Abuse Drugs and Alcohol
pATricKStar is examining the connection between substance abuse and mental health issues among college students. So far PS has established that a percentage of college students suffer mental health “issues,” and some of them abuse alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs. But that is all. We don’t know whether a larger or smaller percentage of young adults in college suffer adverse health than non-students. Imagine a group of four recent high school graduates. One goes to college, one starts a new job, one is unemployed but looking, one has no job but is traveling abroad. Which one is more likely to suffer a mental health problem, abuse alcohol, or partake of illicit drugs? We have no idea. The topic is too broad for us to form any sort of categorical distinctions. The first job for PS in developing a Causal Argument will be to limit the terms. For example: Take college freshmen. Take high-achieving college freshmen. Take high-achieving college freshmen who are the first in their families to attend college. Are THEY more likely than other freshmen to abuse drugs, suffer depression, or attempt suicide? That would be worthy of investigation. Once we know the numbers, we can build a case for WHY they might be disproportionately at risk.

Adderall is Low-Dose Methamphetamine
DudeintheBack believes there is a significant similarity between two drugs. What’s more, that the effects of long-term use of one drug are as dangerous as the effects of using the other. That’s a good thesis for a Definition/Categorical essay, but how does it help explore causality? Simple, really. We examine the effects (one-half of any cause/effect pair) of the two drugs in their users. Evidence will be factual. Brain scans indicate erosion of brain functions. Appetite suppression is measured in weight loss. Sleep patterns can be studied. And so on. One might ask whether either finding will matter. If massive doses of adderall mimic the effects of crystal meth, who cares? Dosage is everything. Tiny microdoses of LSD are used to alleviate depression (Atlantic article). A more fruitful Causal argument might be to follow the chain that results in lifetime use of a drug that is probably only needed in youth. Why is ADHD so routinely diagnosed? Why is adderall so routinely prescribed? How would a patient whose perhaps temporary condition is alleviated by a drug ever know when to stop? These causal questions, well-served by research, offer DudeintheBack a chance to write a meaningful ethical argument.

Recommendations for Previous Semesters

Change of Heart about Physician-Assisted Suicide
Casper has gone to lengths to distinguish between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide but without investigating the cause/effect difference. Perhaps it seems obvious: the effect in both cases is patient death. But that’s not true. Physician-assisted suicide places death in the hands of the patient, who leaves the office with pills that will bring about a swift and painless death whenever the patient elects to take them. The surprising result is that not everybody who has gone to considerable trouble to obtain these precious life-ending prescriptions eventually takes them. That crucial difference could be explained by a better understanding of what the pills were meant to accomplish. Were they acquired as a weapon to hasten death? Or did the patients who received them want something else: the power to decide? We must all feel quite helpless when we see our deaths coming. Suppose all we really need is something to balance that helpless feeling, as if death were the boss we hate, and who doesn’t much care for us either. It may be small comfort, but comforting nonetheless, to know that we can always quit before he fires us.

Massive Collaboration of Small Efforts
The Captain offers us a chance to contemplate the enormous engineering projects that can be accomplished by a massive collaboration of small human efforts. The cause and effect combination is pretty obvious. Millions (eventually billions) of people perform small tasks that, taken together, accomplish an unimaginably large job, like translating every page of wikipedia into a majority of the world’s 6000 human languages (or into enough languages that a large majority of the world’s people can understand them). Constructing the pyramids, landing men on the moon, required massive collaboration. What I hope the Captain will investigate is what will cause billions of people to contribute their small efforts. Will compulsion, competition, or compensation give way to some other motivator? Slaves were compelled to build the pyramids; thousands of Americans put a rocket on the moon to beat the Russians; millions now are helping to translate the web in exchange for free language instruction. The most compelling feature of this topic for me is what will cause the humans of the future to contribute to the big projects.

Men Should Not Be In Charge of Defining Rape
Username thinks men have been in charge of defining rape long enough. She devotes considerable space to enumerating some of the insane male attitudes toward rape that would be funny if they weren’t so frighteningly misinformed. While there are not necessarily causal claims per se in her theses, causal arguments can certainly be made from the claims made here. Username could say, for example, that rapists go free when legislators, judges, and prosecutors are primarily male. She could identify the dehumanizing, devaluing, decriminalizing effects of an archaic definition of rape. The definition is far more important than a semantic exercise. It is legal language with very specific statutory requirements for law enforcement. Criminals have been exonerated by a reliance on fundamental flaws in the definition of what means consent, and when persuasion becomes coercion. Such are the effects of leftover language that causes behavior to be interpreted in the criminals’ favor.

Citizenship Was Stolen from Thousands of Dominicans
Not long ago, people born in the Dominican Republic were thereby Dominican citizens. A recent law, though, declares that no matter where they are born, children of Dominican parents—and no others— are Dominican citizens. The consequence of this law is that thousands of DR residents, who were formerly considered citizens, are no longer, and that children born now and in the future to Haitian parents will not be citizens of the Dominican Republic. Such a change has dramatic consequences for “former” citizens who are stripped of their citizenship. Albert can concentrate on the consequences of the change, or its causes, or both. If the law was effective in accomplishing certain outcomes, those outcomes will explain the reason for the law. The most obvious outcome is that thousands of DR residents are deprived the benefits of citizenship. A similar new law is often proposed in the United States by groups that believe we attract illegal immigrants by granting citizenship to children born here illegally. Those groups wish to deprive the newborn residents the benefits of citizenship. Examining the parallel between the DR and the US might be very fruitful for Albert.

The Pursuit of Happiness Is Happiness
Bglunk is making arguments on both sides of the debate about whether happiness can or cannot be pursued. Clearly some people are happy; others are not; the question is what makes them so. Most commonly, the argument is made that a superficial life of selfish devotion to immediate gratification is ultimately unfulfilling, whereas a life devoted to the selfless pursuit of a long term greater good not only results in happiness, but actually defines what it means to be happy. The Pursuit itself gives life the meaning that is the closest humans can come to happiness. The whole argument is cause-and-effect. Superficial results in despair; devoted commitment results in happiness, it says. Explaining why the formula is true would be the harder part for bglunk. Perhaps humans can’t ever be truly satisfied. If we accept that as a premise, satisfaction is a pointless and desperate goal. The cast of the Housewives of Atlanta should be satisfied, but they spend their agitated lives comparing what they have to what they should have. They’ll never be the world’s richest and most beautiful person, so they’re miserable. The only happy humans are those who don’t strive for perfection; they only strive to improve, to contribute, to do their best. They pursue something, and the pursuit is their happiness.

Vancouver Battles Heroin Addiction with Free Heroin
Brettb is writing about Vancouver’s free heroin for addicts program. It’s unclear what the definition essay defines, and there’s no rebuttal essay yet to clarify the developing thesis, but the obvious contradiction in the very premise of providing free heroin to citizens is that the government has a clear policy of discouraging drug use (a War on Drugs, if you will), that does not seem well served by actively injecting local residents with powerful opiates. That contradiction disappears, though, if brettb considers the situation from a different set of causes and effects. Most Vancouver residents don’t care that their neighbors use heroin. If addicts can afford the stuff, and use it at home, and don’t bother the neighbors, they don’t care. The government gets involved when the addicts can’t afford the stuff, and use it in public, and break into the neighbors’ houses to steal stuff, and furthermore clog up the emergency rooms when they get sick from overdoses and dirty shared needles. What effect does the government really want to accomplish? Not the drug use, necessarily; it’s the public nuisance and expense they wish to eliminate. If giving drugs to addicts in clean needles reduces theft and robbery, and keeps the addicts out of the hospital, the program is cheaper than the alternative. Cause, Effect.

Technology Has Made Us Weak
Cypher’s entire project appears to be an effort to prove that technology has made humans stupid and weak, sort of. The actual consequences are not specifically stated (which makes them easier to declare). According to cypher, because of electricity, our physical ability, work ethic, and decisiveness have been “degraded.” As an illustration, cypher suggests that we are weaker because of elevators, as if before they were invented, we all climbed stairs to the 25th floors of our office buildings. While it’s true we don’t chop a lot of firewood now, was there a time when all of us chopped firewood? Apparently also we no longer innovate or think hard because we’re given calculators, which seems to argue in turn that there’s something innovative about following the rules of long division. The theory that we’re weakened by technology is certainly tempting, but a closer examination of what exactly is lost would be more enlightening. Could we build the pyramids today? Of course we could. Could we do it by sheer force of manual labor? Yes. Could we also accomplish the same task with a lot less physical exertion? Yes. Could the ancient Egyptians have sent a satellite to circle certain stars? No. Does the clerk at Wawa understand why I give him $11.14 for a $6.64 purchase? Probably not. Does he give me the correct change anyway? Yes. Certainly some modern skills and abilities do not align with those of old. Deciding whether that’s a loss or a realignment will make a good essay.

Vancouver Battles Heroin Addiction with Free Heroin (2)
Like brettb, mopar is writing about Vancouver’s free heroin for addicts program. Unlike brettb, mopar appears to argue that the desired consequence of the program is to improve the lives of the addicts. Mopar’s argument in the definition essay pits those who consider “harm reduction” to be a worthy goal against those who characterize the program as “kind death.” Both sides work from the premise that the addiction cannot be cured, and both acknowledge that the result of the program is likely the same: longer, healthier life that ends in an opportunistic death. What sounds like an argument is actually agreement. They disagree in just one way: one side says we’re doing as much as we can; the other side says you’re not doing as much as you could. It would be helpful to compare the outcomes each of these groups desires and the procedures they believe would result in those outcomes. At the same time, the actual outcomes of all previous attempts to “solve the drug problem” could also be compared with the results of Vancouver’s current experiment. While it’s always possible to “do more,” it may well be that Vancouver (along with other jurisdictions) has found a way to achieve multiple desired effects by eliminating several causes at the same time.

The More Often We Access a Memory, the More it Changes
juggler has addressed a large amount of cause and effect material in a definition essay that identifies what causes us to produce memories that differ from factual reality. The explanations of several types of variables that act on our perceptions to produce deviant memories are all causal, but they merely indicate that such variables exist without describing how they operate, which means there’s plenty of work left for a good causal argument. A good causal argument could be made about the results of erroneous eyewitness testimony, but I’m hoping juggler will instead explain how the testimony comes to be erroneous in the first place. Are witnesses lying?; are they influenced by their prejudices?; do prosecutors coerce them?; does the investigative process urge them to draw certain conclusions about what they’ve seen? One paragraph of the definition essay claims that the more often we remember an event the less reliable our recollections. But what is the remedy for that? Not remembering it? Or are we forced to deal with the inevitability of memory decay? Presumably a statement made immediately after the witnessing would be the most reliable memory. So, does what we learn afterwards alter our memory? Or can we be influenced by the opinions of other witnesses? All of these are rich causal topics I’d like to see discussed.

Bitcoin Solves the Problems of Currency
Most of ginger’s definition essay claims are causal. Bitcoin solves the problems of other currencies; it will dominate the economy of the future; it will alter our perception of the very nature of currency; it will usher in an age of money not tethered to any national or international government (that last one is mine). So far, there has been no mention of the causes of Bitcoin, so I presume ginger has no interest in why its inventor(s) launched it. That’s OK by me, but if those “problems” Bitcoin is meant to solve are the cause of its origin, we might want to know about them. In fact, it would be hard to describe the solutions (the effects) without addressing the problems (the causes). OR. It’s possible Bitcoin’s inventors wanted only to make money, literally and figuratively. Insofar as they’ve made the money valuable, they can make as much of it as they like. Something is motivating millions of enthusiasts to invest other currencies and real tangible property into a very speculative commodity. Maybe that’s the best angle for cause and effect. From what little I’ve seen of ginger’s thinking, it’s too soon for me to tell. But there are certainly plenty of opportunities in this topic.

Multivitamins are at Best Useless, at Worst Deadly
Contraindications for Multivitamins. Well, they’re useless, it seems. They don’t promote heart health, mitigate cognitive decline, or prolong our lives. Moneytrees’ apparent cause/effect argument is that we have somehow been convinced to buy and consume a useless product. What caused this persistent error? Well, for one thing, they can plug nutritional gaps for those whose diets don’t provide everything essential. But according to moneytrees, those gaps are few and mostly predictable, so they could be plugged by adding iodine or iron to the diets of specific populations. My guess is that they’re simply convenient for people who don’t know what their diet lacks and who consider the investment of a few cents a day to be an affordable way to insure their daily requirements are met. For my money, the more compelling argument would explain the tactics the vitamin industry has used to sell the effectiveness of their products. They’ve convinced millions that their diets don’t provide their needs (which moneytrees claims is mostly untrue) and that their additional doses of what we already get from food somehow promote our health (also disputed by moneytrees). So, how did they do that? seems to me to be the most intriguing cause/effect question.

The Marshmallow Test Predicts Adult Success
Qdoba is writing about the Marshmallow Test, which by now we’re all familiar with from classroom discussions. In a rebuttal essay, qdoba took great pains to demonstrate that a particular individual named Dante Washington overcame his origins in a tough neighborhood to graduate college and buy his own home. The explanation qdoba offers is that Washington’s past “encouraged him and forced him to become” successful. Qdoba’s point appears to be that Washington’s early experience did not doom him to repeat the life of his parents and neighbors. He surpassed his origins. That anecdotally refutes the common knowledge that we are shaped and limited by our early environment, but it doesn’t appear to refute the Marshmallow Test, which doesn’t address environment at all, but instead concludes that children’s personalities are formed early and determine whether they will seek immediate gratification or long-term goals. We’d have to know about Washington’s early character to conclude anything about the Marshmallow test’s accuracy about him.

Zoos and SeaWorld are Commercialized Cruelty
Skyblue can choose from a variety of cause/effect topics. The question of how animals, primarily elephants, are handled in entertainment, primarily circuses, raises many causal concerns. First is how responsible the visitors are for the way the animals are treated. It could be argued that without paying customers there would be no circuses, hence no need to capture and train elephants, hence no elephant abuse. That causality would hold whether the visitors understood their part in the abuse or not. Now that the abuse is being made public, visitors will be shamed away, so the immediate cause of the awareness of elephant suffering is the shutting of circuses or the elimination of animal acts. Zoos have had to react too, so their public relations teams have launched campaigns to distinguish their handling techniques from those of circuses. They will position themselves as conservators, educators, protectors of elephants and other wild animals. OR skyblue could approach the topic of animal training from a cause and effect angle. What does it take to break an elephant? How well do positive and negative techniques succeed relatively? OR skyblue could concentrate on the effect of hunting elephants on their native populations. OR . . . .

Apple Products Are Fashion Accessories
Sall’s hypothesis, that Apple products are successful more as fashion accessories than as superior technology is full of cause and effect claims. For starters, something about the first Apple products made them more desirable to a segment of the computer-buying public. Think of a causal chain here. Apple produces the Macintosh personal computer. It sports a graphical user interface that makes it much easier to use than IBM machines and their clones. Its different looks and attention to its own appearance endear it to artists, designers, and drones who aspired to being artists and designers. In other words, they were cool. That early success with a particular segment of the market compelled the company to drive further into its niche, and the widening gulf between Apple and IBM/Microsoft products became a turf war in which both consumer groups displayed fierce loyalty. Apple deliberately refused to run Microsoft programs even after Windows was released to mimic the interface features of Macs. To this day, the choice of one platform or another is as much a lifestyle statement as it is a decision based on functionality. All of that is driven by the single cause of wanting to capture the loyalty of a particular segment of a market.

Humans Are Subject to False Memories
Tagf is arguing that humans are subject to false memories. The definition essay for this project is more or less a summary of Carl Sagan’s formula for creating false memories as reported in a Scientific American article. Oddly, tagf submits as a rebuttal essay a convincing account of the ways humans come to accept photoshopped images of events even when they conflict with their own memories of those witnessed events. It shouldn’t be surprising that we will not insist our memories are perfect when we’re confronted with evidence that they are flawed. After all, we don’t pretend to remember in what order people were standing in a procession, to take a simple example. Instead, if we know something about the event, we apply logic to our memory. Bill had to be standing to Wayne’s left because he’s taller and the guests were arranged in height order. Unless we have that theoretical knowledge to convince us, a photo might easily convince us Wayne stood to the left.

Babies Learn in the Womb
Username doesn’t actually make a thesis claim in her proposal, so it’s hard to tell what her causal arguments would be. I surmise that since she is heavily influenced by a video called “What Babies Learn in the Womb,” she must accept the premise that babies do in fact learn before they’re born. This might be difficult to prove, but some evidence could be helpful. If, for example, babies are born with a preference for certain tastes or food types, we could use that to prove that they “acquired” those tastes by ingesting those food types through the umbilical cord. The tests for these sorts of claims are very subjective and dubious, so Username will need good clinical studies to overcome our natural inclination to doubt that what mommies say about their very special infants is in fact factual.

“Sleeping On It” Actually Improves Decision-Making
Username’s thesis is also unclear at this point, so she too will have to clarify it before she writes a good Causal argument. The topic is “Sleeping On It,” and the general premise seems to be that decisions made after a night of sleep are “better” than snap judgments. But even that is not clear. It’s possible that any sort of distraction (sleep or concentration on some other, unrelated issue) gives the unconscious mind a chance to deliberate on the problem with improved results. Either way, she’ll have to find a way to define “better decisions” in a way that truly convinces readers she can prove that anything produces them. If studies exist that control for distraction and non-distraction, sleep and not-sleep, we’ll still have to know what “better” is.

Westboro Baptist Church Creates Sympathy for Gay Marriage
Username’s topic is the hateful rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church and its recently deceased leader, Fred Phelps, the lovely people who bring us the GOD HATES FAGS protests outside the funerals of servicemen. His thesis, not clearly stated in his Proposal, is spelled out clearly in his Definition essay, that the rabid protests produce support for gay rights advocates. While it’s altogether persuasive to claim that sympathetic humans will rally to defend a vulnerable class as it’s being attacked, the harder proof will be to demonstrate that this sympathy translates into support or advocacy for the vulnerable group. In other words, does our revulsion against the WBC, our abhorrence for their tactics, our outrage at their terrible lack of decency and decorum, even our compassion for their victims last longer than a moment of pity? Once the church members depart the funeral and we calm down, do our open hearts translate into a desire for justice for the targets of that hate we witnessed? We might just rally AGAINST the WBC without rallying TO SUPPORT the gay Americans they condemn.

The More Choices We Have, The Harder it is to Choose
Username is investigating something called “the paradox of choice,” which concludes that we are less, not more, satisfied when we’re given a wide range of options from which to choose. Her proposal makes a causal claim that she might be able to prove with enough evidence: that given a small number of choices, we accept that we’ll be compromising and are satisfied with an option that is good but not ideal; on the other hand, when presented with a plethora of options, we expect to find the perfect choice available and are therefore dissatisfied with the option we select because it’s not ideal. That’s more than enough argument for an essay the size we’re writing, but she hints that there are other explanations (other causes) too for our dissatisfaction: 1) the fear that we’re not knowledgeable enough to make the right choice, 2) the theory that we want to exercise SOME control over our decisions but not MUCH control, 3) the possibility that we’re paralyzed by trying to process too many choices and will make no choice at all just to avoid the exertion (and still end up dissatisfied because we wanted SOMETHING, not nothing). She may be able to structure her essay by claiming the paradox as a given, then arguing for the best, most logical explanation for its existence.

Toms Shoes Do More Harm than Good
Username paints his thesis with a very broad brush, so it’s hard to pin down anything specific enough to summarize in a sentence, but in general, he’s not in favor of the efforts of Toms Shoes to do good in developing countries. His objections are several, and he’ll need to get selective to write a good paper, but the one that provides the best angle for a good causation argument is that donating shoes to the kids in a community undermines the local economy, thus doing more harm than good. That’s a very strong and damning causal claim that deserves to be either proved or disproved. Saying it certainly does not make it so. Plenty of critics make this complaint, and they cite examples of wrongheaded relief efforts as evidence, but those proofs are not persuasive; they merely support our prejudices and suspicions. My best recommendation would be to refute the claims of damage done to local economies and provide contrary evidence that the recipient communities benefit more than suffer from the donations of shoes.

The Shower Is Deadlier than Airplane Travel
Username’s thesis is already causal. He claims that we’re more at risk of dying or sustaining serious injury from a thousand little everyday activities than from the major or catastrophic traumas (plane crash, terror attack) we are more likely to worry about. That’s all cause-and-effect thinking. What he doesn’t do much of is investigate what we can DO about the fact that daily activities are so dangerous. Maybe he could write an essay called “How to Live Forever,” in which he suggests common solutions to the dangers of everyday life. Maybe grab bars in the shower are more effective at saving lives than staying out of race cars. Maybe the seat we choose in an airliner is more important than who runs that airline, or to what country we fly, or the experience of the pilot. After all, if we’re wrong about the likely causes of our deaths, maybe we should spend some time finding the most likely causes and eliminating them.

America’s Poor Conspire to Exploit Themselves
Username makes a causal claim as part of a very broad thesis she’ll need to narrow to make a persuasive argument: America’s poor conspire in their own exploitation. In other words, their own actions cause them to be exploited. They vote for politicians who then abandon them and their interests (It’s not clear what choice they have here). They accept whatever wages and work conditions they’re offered (It’s not clear what choice they have here). They receive less and less support from social service agencies (It’s not clear that this is even an action of theirs). The challenge for Username, who has made a causal claim, will be to demonstrate that the opposite behavior would benefit the poor. (If they fail to vote, will someone champion their cause?) (If they refuse the work, will they benefit?) (If they stop seeking services, will more help come to them?) If she can’t find alternatives to break the causal chain, she’ll be left saying, “Hey, it’s like gravity. Things fall. What can you do?”

On “Let’s Make a Deal,” It’s Always Wise to Swap
Username’s analysis of the Monty Hall Problem is almost entirely causal. He’ll be arguing the counterintuitive thesis that game players improve their odds of finding a car behind one of three doors by changing their choice (a demonstrable causal effect) when they’re shown that one of two unchosen doors contains a goat. Intuition says there’s no benefit to switching. Logical reasoning proves that there is. Vinny’s challenge is not to find evidence of causation but to carefully explain it so that it can be comprehended and eventually embraced by a doubtful reader. Examples will be helpful; a chart is almost required.

Happiness Cannot Be Pursued
Usename wants to prove—contrary to our Declaration of Independence, which declares our right to “the pursuit of happiness” unalienable —that happiness is not a goal that can be pursued. Either that or they mean to prove that the pursuit of happiness can itself be happiness. Either that or they mean to prove that happiness is a process, not a goal, or that a “meaningful life” with a “sense of purpose” is preferable to “mere” happiness. Or something else. They might want to talk with Username about the Paradox of Choice. Maybe the harder we strive toward unattainable goals the more likely we are to feel deprived, the more like failures. That’s a simple, if fuzzy, cause/effect relationship that would explain most of the material they’ve been presenting so far.

Circuses Are Organized Torture
Username’s thesis is that we are deceived by the nature of the circus, which pretends to be a celebration of the amazing abilities of animals to cheerfully perform the feats they’ve proudly learned to delight us (that may be laying it on a bit thick), when in fact it’s a wanton display of the results of a life of torture for animals who have been whipped, starved, cattle-prodded and otherwise abused into submission. The “happiest show on earth” will come the day the animals revolt and slaughter their handlers. The maltreatment is easy to document and might not present much challenge. The cause and effect (besides that the torture—the cause—results in joyless performance—the effect) worth pursuing might be the effect of the show on its audience. We are taught several wrong lessons, aren’t we, Ben? That these massive beasts are “tamable”? That they somehow collaborate with us? That we have dominion over them? That they are our legitimate toys? That we are somehow preserving them by “rescuing” them from the terrible wild? Can you enumerate a dozen or so more?

Suicide Isn’t Murder
Suicide isn’t murder, it’s a senseless killing. Username’s thesis appears to be that suicide is entirely preventable. So the suicide is his effect, and the causes he will investigate in turn to demonstrate that they are all addressable. Eliminate the causes for suicide by first identifying and understanding them, and the effect will disappear. But before he gets started, he wants to assure us what suicide is not. Now either of these approaches might overwhelm a single paper; the combination is certainly too big for a short argument. Reading his descriptions of his sources, clearly he has more support for arguing what suicide is not. I would welcome such a paper. We Will Never Prevent Suicide Because We’re Wrong About What Causes It.

PTSD is Contagious
Username has a bit of a problem because he devoted much of his Definition essay to explaining the causes of secondary PTSD. Here’s what I’d recommend to bring some vitality and personality into his research. Do a side-by-side accounting of the Traumas faced by Dad in combat and his Son back home when Dad returns. How much is living with Dad (his nightmares, his day terrors, his unprovoked anger, his bursts of violence, his paranoia, his hypervigilance, his menu of symptoms) like living in a combat zone? Take us as much as possible through the day of the spouse or child of that traumatized, shell-shocked loved one who won’t stop threatening the safety of the household but also won’t go away. Show us the causes so we’ll understand the effects.

Protein Supplements are Dangerous
Protein Supplements are Dangerous and Unhealthy. Luke’s argument is strictly scientific, so his evidence will have to be scientific. He claims protein supplements are dangerous, but vague claims like “liver damage” aren’t persuasive to mildly demanding readers. Onions are supposedly “bad for” my dog, but until somebody makes an actual, responsible claim to distinguish “destroys liver function” from “gives the dog unpleasant breath,” I’m not inclined to deny him something he likes. “Build up of ketones” sounds impressive, but only if ketones are really dangerous. Username promises to provide “the good side” of supplements too, but this offer is irrelevant to the argument. He could deflect the good news in a phrase: “Except for consumers who don’t get enough natural protein in their diets, protein supplements are at best an expensive and worthless habit, at worst an inexcusable health risk.”

Child Euthanasia Is Completely Logical
Support for Child Euthanasia. Username makes two primary claims in his proposal, one causal and one ethical. Ethically, he argues that a patient’s age is irrelevant to end-of-life decisions. Causally, he proposes to refute someone else’s causal chain. Opponents of the law permitting children of any age to request and receive permission to hasten the end of their lives worry that removing the age restriction will result in a consensual massacre. They must think multitudes of children for whatever reason are only staying alive because they haven’t been given permission to kill themselves, haven’t been matched to a doctor willing to deliver them their desired demises. This objection is such a powerful visceral refutation of the rightness of Josue’s more compassionate position that once he counters it, the majority of his opponents will have to surrender. So his course is clear.

Multivitamins Are Useless, Expensive, and Deadly
Contraindications for Multivitamins. Well, they’re useless, expensive, and can kill us. Those are some serious contraindications. Username argument is scientific, so his evidence and his causal argument will be scientific. He doesn’t need to define vitamins; he needs to define vitamin overdose. He doesn’t need to define beneficial actions of vitamins on undernourished bodies; he needs to demonstrate the toxic effects of too many vitamins on well-nourished bodies. He will help himself too by illustrating how, to supplement low dietary vitamin B, for example, a multivitamin containing B might 1) not contain the right B to solve the problem, and furthermore 2) contain way too much of several other vitamins whose detrimental effects outweigh what would have been the benefits of taking the right single vitamin as a supplement.

China’s “One Child” Policy is Gendercide
Username promises to “talk about” gendercide in general and about infanticide in China and India in particular. In other words, she makes the classic error of failing to make an actual proposal or provide a thesis. Therefore, we cannot know whether she considers China’s one-child policy, for example, to be an effect of some historical cause, or whether she wants to argue that it will have some unintended consequences. Rather than provide a general survey of gendercide (for what reason?) she will be wise to choose a much narrower topic and make a specific argument. For example: What message does it send to Chinese girls that so many of them are killed before they can mature by a society that vastly prefers male children? How many generations will they have to suffer this underclass status before they begin to achieve equality? Are there any indications of a turnaround in this national attitude?

References Section

Cite 3-5 sources for your Causal Argument Essay. It’s possible they’ll be repeats of earlier-cited sources, but if at all possible, cite sources you haven’t used before.


  • Write your second Short Argument paper.
  • The paper will take the form of a Causal Argument as described above.
  • Identify and explain the strongest cause and effect sequence in your argument.
  • Anticipate and refute rebuttals to your causal analysis if necessary.
  • Include References.
  • Call your post Causal Argument—Username.
  • Place it in two categories, P05: Causal Argument, and your username.
  • But in addition to that placeholder title, also give your essay a genuine title, centered above the text, using Initial Capitals (like the I and C in Initial Capitals).


  • Due midnight TUE FEB 27.
  • Customary late penalties. (0-24 hours 10%) (24-48 hours 20%) (48+ hours, 0 grade)
  • Portfolio Essay

12 thoughts on “P05: Causal Argument”

      1. I’m actually trying to find the opposite of what you gave me. You had the right title, but what you wrote was in support of mantras, not against them. Thank you for trying though.


        1. Your answer surprises me, Knuckles. I don’t think I’ve been at all supportive of mantras. To reiterate:
          1) People who try TO SELL THEM claim mantras help even when they don’t.
          2) Nobody can prove they work, but that doesn’t stop the salespeople from claiming their effectiveness. And
          3) They’re useful to people who don’t need them but useless to people who do.

          Does that sound like support for mantras? I didn’t mean it to.


    1. I hope this doesn’t disappoint you, AO. I didn’t read my original feedback before crafting these new notes, but my “new” advice sounds very familiar. Is there anything novel or valuable here for you?
      See comments in the text of this post, above.


  1. “Username thinks men have been in charge of defining rape long enough.” When have I said this? This was never my argument…


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