Green - Abersold- Intro to Causal Argument

How one event brings about another
Kathryn Green and Sarah Aebersold
A nice day for a trip….
Herald of Free Enterprise in Dover's Eastern Docks, 1984
So what happened?
MS Herald of Free Enterprise was a car and passenger ferry. She was one of the ships
operating on the Dover-to-Calais route across the English Channel. The ferry capsized
on the night of March 6, 1987, moments after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge,
killing 193 passengers and crew.
Probable causes….
tracing the events
Level of complexity makes it difficult to summarize in “because clauses.”
A bicyclist moves into the traffic lane
in order to pass a truck illegally
parked in the bike lane. The driver of
a car approaching from the rear slams
on her brakes in order to avoid hitting
the bicycle. A following car fails to
stop in time, and smashes into the
back of the first car. The insurance
companies disagree about who should
be held responsible, and they go to
court to decide who CAUSED the
What arguments are likely to be made in court?
The lawyer for the cyclist will
probably claim that the
illegally parked truck
CAUSED his client to swerve
into the lane of traffic.
The lawyer for the
driver of the first
car will probably
claim that the
cyclist’s actions
CAUSED his client
to slam on the
The lawyer for the
second driver will
probably claim
that the first car’s
sudden stop
client to smash
into the back of it.
This is all true.
How do you argue for your client successfully?
What type of causal relationship are you dealing with?
• Onetime Phenomenon (a car accident)
• Recurring Phenomenon (alcoholism)
• Puzzling Trend (decrease in ENGL101 enrollments)
Choose the method that best states your case.
1. Explain the causal mechanism directly
• Causal chain – A causes B
2. Infer causal links by inductive reasoning
• Infer general conclusion based on
a number of specific cases
Three ways of thinking “inductively”
1. Look for Common Element
Ex: in X cases, “this”
happened most of the time
2. Look for Single Difference
Ex: in X cases, “this” only
happened once – one event
stood out
3. Look for Correlations
Ex: in X cases, when “this”
occurs “that” is likely to
Meanwhile…. back in court….
• This is a one time phenomenon.
• The lawyer for the cyclist explains
the causal chain directly.
• Truck parked in bike lane
• Bike swerves into traffic to
avoid truck
• Car 1 slams on brakes so
doesn’t hit biker
• Car 2 slams on brakes so
doesn’t hit car 1
“The illegally parked truck
CAUSED her client to swerve
into the lane of traffic.”
…but, what if additional evidence is presented that shows the cyclist
has caused three other traffic accidents by swerving into traffic.
• Identify your audience - WA page 251
• Organize your argument in one of three
ways - WA pages 252-253
Plan 1: Explain links in causal chain
Plan 2: Argument proposing
multiple causes or
consequences of a
Plan 3: Argument proposing
surprising causes or
• Question and critique – WA page 251
Be a skeptic
The final verdict: What CAUSED the MS Herald of
Free Enterprise to sink?
A Critical Inquiry found that the sinking was CAUSED by three main
 The Assistant Boatswain’s failure to close the bow doors.
 The First Officer’s failure to make sure the bow doors were closed.
 The Captain’s decision to leave port without confirming that the bow
doors were closed.
The accident is considered the worst maritime disaster involving a British
registered ship in peacetime since the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

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