Cause and effect (aka causal analysis) Cause and effect writing deals with relationships in time. Keep a timeline in mind. past ___________ present__________future A cause is an event or situation that brings about something else, which we call an effect. An effect is the result of one or more causes. Usually, an effect has more than a single cause. Why we analyze cause and effect People want to know the answer to the question “Why?” Our curiosity about origins and causes can be traced back to the earliest records of civilization. 2. If you have a problem and you can determine the causes of it, you might be able to eliminate the problem by eliminating one or more of the causes. 3. By the same token, if something good happens, you might be able to recreate it if you can duplicate one or more of the causes. 1. Two directions We can start with an effect and trace back to the causes of it. (This is the method our class will use). Or we can start with a cause and either study or predict its effects (depending on whether those effects have already happened or not). How many causes are there? An effect is the result of a cause, which is itself the result of previous causes, so really, any single effect can have an unlimited number of causes. However, you need to limit your causes depending on the length of your assignment and the amount of explanation each cause will require. Where do I find causes? If you are writing a paper on a topic about yourself—say, the causes behind a decision you once made—you will discover causes as you examine your own history. If you are writing on a single text--for instance, if you are examining the reasons why a character did something in a book—you need to uncover causes by closely studying all the clues offered by the text. If you are doing a research project—looking for the causes behind a crisis, for example—you need to do research in accepted sources by responsible authors. These will offer many possible causes for you to evaluate. How do I know I have the right causes? Causal analysis is interpretive. Different people may disagree about what caused an effect. Different writers might write completely different causal analyses to explain the same situation. “Good” or legitimate causes make sense. The writer can explain the logic behind a sensible cause, and the reader can see its connection to the effect. In an analysis involving texts or research, there is quotable proof to support the cause. Beyond the obvious If you are not used to looking for causes, you might only think of human actions as causes, but causal analysis encompasses much more. What follow are eight different types of causes that you might consider as you search for material for your paper. The names of the causes do not matter; just present the causes themselves. 1. conditions Conditions are the background for an event. They are not separate events in themselves; they are situations that may exist before, during, and even after the effect. They are like force fields that shape an event. (Examples: physical setting, social climate, historical time, all the circumstances—natural and artificial—surrounding an event). 2. Proximate causes These help us to separate causes according to their occurrence in time. Proximate causes happen relatively close in time to the effect they cause. Example: if a shopper receives a coupon for an item and then buys the item because of the coupon, the coupon is a proximate cause. 3. Remote causes Remote causes are separated from their effects by great expanses of time. Perhaps the best way to identify a remote cause is to think of it as a cause of a cause. (Example: When a candidate is elected at a political party convention, the remote causes for her election might be her decision to run for the office, made four years ago, or the massive contribution made to her campaign a year ago by a local organization. Proximate causes of her election might be conferences and deals that were made during the week of the convention.) Warnings about proximate and remotes causes: since you do not want to reach back to the dawn of time for your remote causes, you are going to have to decide how far back it is appropriate to go. Also, where remoteness ends and proximity begins is going to be your decision. 4. responsibility Responsibility is a cause only in human affairs. When you determine that someone is the cause of an effect, you are attributing responsibility to her, whether she intended the effects she caused or not. 5. Absence of a blocking cause When the lack of a cause actually causes something, you must pay attention to that lack. Let’s say something could have prevented or blocked the effect from happening. If that something itself never happens, then its absence allows the effect to occur. That is an absence of a blocking cause. If your friend Bernard never gets married, the cause of this effect is the absence of what it would take to make Bernard’s marriage happen: no one asked him, and he asked no one. 6. Reciprocal cause Reciprocal causes are self-reinforcing cycles. A causes B, which in turn causes an emphasized version of A, which in turn produces B in a more extreme form. An example of a negative reciprocal cause, also known as a vicious cycle, is when a student enters a class with a poor attitude toward it. That attitude predictably leads to poor grades, which only intensify the bad attitude, and so on and so on. A student who enters a class with a positive, can-do attitude will likely produce good work, which enhance his attitude, which will lead to better grades. 7. chance Good or bad luck. Even though pure chance may seem to be the exact opposite of causality, accidents are causes in themselves.. An earthquake, the spontaneous mutation of the DNA molecule, or the family a person is born into are events whose occurrence we cannot know beforehand. Even though we can predict that they will occur, the actual time is a matter of chance. Many human situations are partially the results of accident or chance. 8. Final cause The final cause can be the most important cause, or it can be the last cause to occur before the effect happens. The last “straw that breaks the camel’s back” is a final cause. Final causes usually happen just before an effect and are especially clear in situations governed by physical laws. Example: Police now know that the precipitating cause of the Santiago Canyon fires was arson. Remember: you should not need to use terms such as “reciprocal cause” in your paper. Those terms are just to help you understand the different types of causes. Also, a cause may be an overlap between types. A chance cause may also be a remote cause, for instance.