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Cause And Effect

( Originally Published 1912 )



FINAL cause is never known, since no matter how far back we wished to go the mind would seek to inquire further. The very elusiveness of the search is a source of never-ending pleasure to the truth-seeker. The idea of cause and effect arises in the mind as naturally as any other law. We see a certain thing invariably lead to a certain result, we call one the cause and the other the effect. The idea is pertinently put by Dr. Martineau when he asks : "If it takes mind to construe the world, how can it require the negation of mind to constitute it ?"

The study of cause and effect clearly shows the existence of immutable laws in the ordering of the world. It would be difficult to think of the world as otherwise. Henry Drummond speaks somewhere of a child's book called "The Chance World," where everything happened by chance. The sun might rise, or it might not; a person who jumped up in the air might not come down again. With cause and effect gone, and law annihilated, such a world would be a lunatic asylum with lunatics as inmates. Causation may be considered under three heads:

1. Practical causation, as applied to everyday occurrences as we see them. For example, one man shoots another, and we say the man killed the other. This is sufficient to serve our ordinary purposes in stating the cause.

2. Scientific causation, which takes into consideration all the antecedent circumstances. For example, to describe the cause of a flower would embrace many considerations besides the germ itself, such as air, sun, light and heat.

3. Causation of force or energy, or the "Conservation of Energy," by which force and what becomes of it are fully explained.

The student of argumentation should cultivate an inquiring mind that will carry him back of symbols, properties and conditions, to the things or causes themselves. This habit of closely analyzing a subject was conspicuous in Lincoln, whose mind, it is said, "ran back behind facts, principles and all things, to their origin and first cause-to that point where forces act at once as effect and cause. He would stop in the street and, analyze a machine. He would whittle a thing to a point. He was remorseless in his analysis of facts and principles."

In this study of cause and effect it is easy to fall into error. For example, Mill says: "When a man is shot through the heart, it is by induction that we know it was the gun-shot which .killed him, for he was in the fulness of life immediately before, all circumstances being the, same, except the wound." Whereupon Jevons says Mill overlooks the "multiplicity of circumstances, and that a cause is usually, if not always, the conjunction of many circumstances." Then he proceeds to ask whether, because one man pricks his finger and dies, all men who prick their fingers diet or because one man goes to sea and suffers from nausea, all men who go to sea must necessarily suffer from nausea?

A blow on a man's head, if the blow be severe enough, will cause death, but a blow on the head does not always cause death. Whether the obscurity that arises from a plurality of causes is a -defect of our own minds need not be entered upon here, but what has been said will, be sufficient to start the student thinking on his own account and to exercise discretion in forming his conclusions.

Many years ago Watts wrote his excellent treatise on "The Improvement of the Mind. His valuable suggestions for studying pause and effect are quoted here for the student's benefit:

"When we are inquiring into the causes of any particular effect or appearance, either in the world of nature, or in the civil or moral concerns of men, we may follow this method:

"1. Consider what effects or appearances you have known of a kindred nature, and what have been the certain and real causes of them. For like effects have generally like causes, especially when they are found in the same sort of subjects.

"2. Consider what are the several possible causes which may produce such an effect, and find out, by some circumstances, how many of those possible causes are excluded in this particular cause. Thence proceed by degrees to the probable causes till a more close attention and inspection shall exclude some of them also, and lead you gradually to the real and certain cause.

"3. Consider what things preceded such an event or appearances, which might have any influence upon it ; and tho we can not certainly determine the cause of anything merely from its going before the effect, yet among the many forerunners we may probably light upon the true cause, by further and more particular inquiry.

"4. Consider whether one cause be sufficient to produce the effect, or whether it does not require a concurrence of several causes; and then endeavor, as far as possible, to adjust the degrees of influence-that each cause might have in producing the effect, and the proper agency and influence of each."

When we are inquiring into the effects of any particular cause or causes, we may follow this method:

"1. Consider diligently the nature of every cause apart, and observe what effect every part or property of it will tend to produce.

"2. Consider the causes united together in their several natures and ways of operation; inquire how far the powers or properties of one will hinder or promote the effects of the other, and wisely balance the proportions of the influence.

"3. Consider what the subject is, upon which the cause is to operate; for the same cause on different subjects will often produce different effects, as the sun, which softens wax, will harden clay.

"4. Be frequent and diligent in making all proper experiments, in setting such causes at work, whose effects you desire to know, and putting together, in an orderly manner, such things as are most likely to produce some useful effects, according to the best survey you can take of all the concurring causes and circumstances.

"5. Observe carefully all the events which happen either by an occasional concurrence of various causes, or by the industrious application of knowing men; and when you see any happy effect certainly produced and often repeated, treasure it up, together with its known causes, among your improvements.

"6 To take a survey of all the circumstances which attend the operation of any cause, or causes, whereby any special effect is produced, and find out, as far as possible, how far any of those circumstances have a tendency either to obstruct, or promote, or change those operations, and consequently how far the effect might be influenced by them."



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