Causality and Argumentation

1. The causal relationship and its expression

The notion of cause is central in daily argument as well as in scientific argument. It is considered a primitive, intuitively clear notion. This means that ordinary language defines cause only through notions which are equally complex.

Let us consider some possible ways to refer to and think about causal links and processes:

— The cause explains, accounts for its effect; it gives the why, the reason of things. The effect is understood when its cause is known.
— The cause of something is its principle; origin, basis, foundation, grounds; its occasion. The cause is a motor, which triggers, starts a series of effects.
— Humans act as cause; they are agent, maker; author, creator, inspirer, instigator, promoter, producer…; their aims, purposes, intentions, motives and motivations… are considered as causes. Their incitements, inducements instigations, are second-level causes.
— Metaphorically, the cause is thought of as a spark, a ferment, a germ; a root, a seed; a source, a spring. Their cause is the mother of things as they are.

Beyond the specific verbs corresponding to the preceding nouns, different kinds of causal relations are associated with very general verbs such as bring (about), to give (rise to), to make, procure, lift

Like the logical relation of implication, the causal relation can be associated with passages articulated by conjunctions or adverbs:

Since, because …; as soon as …; so … ; when; if … then …

All these terms and constructions might point to some kind of causal relation, and can therefore be considered as causal indicators of a sort, being kept in mind that they can also express other functional relations.

Like analogy relationships, causal relations can dispense with causal indicators. A spontaneous “causal impulse” always suggests a causal relation behind a purely temporal succession, or concomitance (see infra).

Practically, it would be difficult, and is not necessary, to identify and reconstruct all of the multi-level, potential causal relations in a text. Relevant and indisputable causal argumentative causal relations are explicit, in the foreground of the discussion, articulated and thematized in the argumentative lines developed by the participants in the discussion.

2. Time, causal, logical series

Let us consider the causal, logical and temporal series. In the physical world, the cause precedes its consequence (this is not, however, always straightforward). In the logical world the antecedent is to the left of the logical connective ‘’ and the consequent is to its right; in the world at large, events simply follow one another.

Causal series cause effect, consequence
Logical series antecedent consequent, consequence
Time series prior, previous, before
posterior, later, after

The time series includes three terms:

before… / during… / after…
prior, anterior, previous… / simultaneous… / posterior, later, subsequent…

The word consequence is thus used to designate the effect, linked to its physical cause, or the consequent, linked to its logical antecedent. In general, logical relations develop the consequences of hypotheses or postulates. If the length of the side of the square is doubled, its surface is multiplied by four: this result is a consequence, linked to a cause which is a mathematical reason.

Mind your words, you speak of the birth of the gods, so you suggest that at one time, the gods did not exist?

This is not a causal, but a semantic consequence, based on the linguistic meaning of the word “birth”.

3. Argumentations appealing to causes, mobiles…
and effects, consequences…

The terminology of argumentation involving a causal relation might be confusing. We will distinguish between, on the one hand, argumentation establishing a causal relationship, and, on the other, argumentation exploiting a previously established causal relationship.

(i) The cause — effect argumentation establishes a causal relationship between two facts and eliminates “false causes”.

(ii) Several kinds of arguments exploit a pre-established causal relationship. In this second case, we will distinguish between:

— Cause to effect argumentation, going forward from the cause to the effect. A fact-argument considered to be a cause, is claimed to have such effect.

 Effect to cause argumentation, goes in the opposite direction, from the effect to cause. A fact-argument to which a status of effect is attributed, is claimed to have such cause.

Pragmatic argumentation develops first from cause to effect, before returning to the cause. In order to make a decision about a practical measure (assimilated to a cause), one develops its possible positive or negative effects, before arguing back to the cause.

— Argumentations based on motives align the cause-effect relation with the relation from a motive to do something to the corresponding action.

— A priori and a posteriori arguments, propter quid and quia, exploits causal and logical links.