The False Cause fallacy, also known by its Latin name “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc” (which translates to “after this, therefore because of this”), is a logical fallacy where one incorrectly assumes that just because one event follows another, the first event caused the second. This is a mistake in causal reasoning, assuming a cause-and-effect relationship without sufficient evidence to justify that conclusion.
In essence, it simplifies the complexity of cause and effect by presuming that temporal sequence equates to causation. That is, if ‘A’ happens before ‘B,’ then ‘A’ must have caused ‘B.’ While it might sometimes be the case that a preceding event does cause a subsequent event, this isn’t always true. Determining causality usually requires more evidence than a simple chronological sequence of events.
Let’s consider a real-world scenario that many might find relatable. Imagine someone starts taking a new herbal supplement and around the same time experiences an improvement in their chronic headaches. They then conclude that the herbal supplement must be the reason their headaches have improved.
While it’s tempting to make this association, concluding that the supplement caused the headache improvement solely because the improvement happened after taking the supplement would be an example of the False Cause fallacy. It disregards other potential factors that could explain the improvement, such as lifestyle changes, reduced stress, or even the placebo effect. It also doesn’t account for the possibility that the improvement in headaches might simply be coincidental.
For a robust understanding of cause and effect, scientific methods often include controls, randomization, and peer review to separate genuine causes from mere coincidences. Jumping to a cause-and-effect conclusion based solely on the sequence of events is not only logically flawed but can also lead to incorrect and potentially harmful decisions.
So, the next time you find yourself tempted to infer causality from a sequence of events, it would be prudent to step back and consider whether the evidence truly supports such a conclusion or if you’re falling prey to the False Cause fallacy.