How Does Cause and Effect Work

Cause and effect is the process where something causing something else to happen. An example is when a person rubs lotion on their dry skin and the skin becomes moisturized. The cause is the application of lotion. The effect is smooth, less dry skin. Another example is a dehydrated person drinking water and becoming hydrated. The effect is hydration. The cause is drinking water. The concept can be applied to a wide range of things.

Cause and effect at work

Cause and effect offers more than just an observation on the relationship between two events; it is another way of looking at the ages old question, why. Why is a powerful question. It has led to most of the knowledge the human race has. 'Why did that happen?' is another way of saying, 'What was the cause?' In some cases, cause and effect also addresses the what question as in 'What happens if we do this?'

Aristotle introduced cause and effect as a philosophical concept. It is also a scientific concept with rules applied to it as any other concept or method used in science. David Hume came up with a list of eight rules that apply to cause and effect to show how it works and how it can be made to work for the observer. Among these rules is that 'the cause must be prior to the effect' and that the 'cause and effect must be contiguous in space and time.'

Cause and effect is also present in the field of logic. In logic, there are three types of cause: necessary, sufficient and contributory. One can use the three causes to determine the truth value of propositions and what those propositions imply.

What constitutes cause and effect?

In the strictest sense, there are two steps to cause and effect. An event occurs that causes another event to occur. Because the first event caused the second to occur, the second is the effect. There has to be a direct causal relationship between the first and second events for it to qualify as cause and effect. Two events that happen within a certain time frame are not necessarily related. A tree branch may falling seconds before an earthquake can appear to the untrained eye as caused by the quake even though it is not.

Cause and effect is not always as simple as two events. Oftentimes, when an event is investigated, investigators find more than one cause for the effect event. A drunk driver may hit a patch of ice and skid into a tree. Investigation may show the driver was on the wrong side of the road because he was drunk and hit ice he would not have otherwise hit. It is a chain of events. The drinking caused the driver to hit the ice, and the ice caused the driver to hit the tree.

Though there may be one cause to an effect, there can also be more than one effect from a cause or more than one cause. Using the earthquake example, a powerful enough one can cause hundreds or even thousands of things to happen at once: a mug shakes, a house collapses, a tree falls, and so on. These examples are all caused by an earthquake, which may have been caused by something else in turn.

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