Cause and effect

Cause and effect
(aka causal analysis)
 Cause and effect writing deals with relationships in time.
Keep a timeline in mind. past ___________
 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.
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
 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
 Also, a cause may be an overlap between types. A
chance cause may also be a remote cause, for