Deception Through Abuse of the Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy
Be cautious of social skeptics who over use, misapply or otherwise abuse the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The string of Latin words may make it appear that the social skeptic is the smartest person in the room (their real goal); however, many times its employment as a claim to fallacy, constitutes a fallacy in and of itself. It behooves the ethical skeptic to both understand when a post hoc fallacy citation is warranted, and when and how to spot ignoratio elenchi applications which abuse the principle.
Wikipedia defines the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in this partially suitable fashion:¹
(Latin: “after this, therefore because of this”) is a logical fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.” It is often shortened to simply post hoc fallacy. It is subtly different from the fallacy cum hoc ergo propter hoc (“with this, therefore because of this”), in which two things or events occur simultaneously or the chronological ordering is insignificant or unknown. Post hoc is a particularly tempting error because temporal sequence appears to be integral to causality. The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion based solely on the order of events, rather than taking into account other factors that might rule out the connection.
However, the ethical philosopher or skeptic will find that such a definition is wholly inadequate when applied to variations on truth in the real world. Instances where one must hold a person in a lab or political sphere accountable. Such reality introduces the necessity to break the post hoc fallacy into application based species.
post hoc ergo propter hoc
A. Given X, then Y ∴ X caused Y
B. Given X, then Y ∴ X has contributed to the existence of Y
cum hoc ergo propter hoc
C. Given X, and Y ∴ X caused Y
D. Given X, and Y ∴ X has contributed to the existence of Y
propter hoc ergo hoc
E. Given X causes Y, and Given Y’ ∴ X caused Y’
F. Given X has contributed to the existence of Y, and Given Y’ ∴ X caused Y’
G. Given X bears a risk exposure of Y, and Given Y’ ∴ X caused Y’
plausible propter hoc ergo hoc solus (Plausible Deniability)
H. Given X, and Given X can cause, contribute to or bear risk exposure of Y, and Given Y’ ∴ X, and only X, caused Y’
provisional propter hoc ergo hoc (Provisional Knowledge or House-of-Cards Knowledge)
I. Given provisionally known X, and Given X provisionally causes, contributes to or bears risk exposure of Y, and Given Y’ ∴ X, and provisionally for future consideration X, caused Y’
This, therefore allows the ethical philosopher or skeptic to then develop case studies for spotting specific circumstances where these species are intermixed, abrogated or conflated in order to introduce deception inside a counter argument to a set of observations. Circumstances wherein the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy claim is being abused to block science in the name of fake skepticism, or in order to reduce man’s knowledge around a subject for political, oligarchy or social ends. Principally this abuse centers around the broad employment of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy: meaning in the Latin, a ‘failure to grasp or address the true logical calculus’ involved. The logical form of this fallacy and it speciated variants are listed below:
/philosophy : logic : fallacy/ : a misdirection in argumentation rather than a weak inference. A misrepresentation of the logical calculus or evidence for an opponent’s claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light. Both straw man and scarecrow arguments are types of ignoratio elenchi fallacy.²
Bifurcation Proof – when one makes up or spins an overly negative representation of another person’s position or a set of ideas/observations, and contends that this condemnation, and an implied sleight-of-hand bifurcation, therefore proves their own position or stands as scientific proof of their own idea.
Appeal to Ridicule – an argument is made by presenting the opponent’s argument in a way that makes it appear ridiculous.
Chewbacca Defense – a tactic in which the aim of the argument seems to be to deliberately confuse rather than actually refute the case of the other side.
Red Herring – presentation of an argument that may or may not be logically valid on its own, but distracts the discussion away from a failing argument, as well as failing nonetheless to address the context of the issue in question or address its logical validity.
Ingens Vanitatum Argument – citing a great deal of expert irrelevance. A posing of ‘fact’ or ‘evidence’ framed inside an appeal to expertise, which is correct and relevant information at face value; however which serves to dis-inform as to the nature of the argument being vetted or the critical evidence or question being asked.
Straw Man Fallacy – misrepresentation of either an ally or opponent’s position, argument or fabrication of such in absence of any stated opinion. Exists in several forms:
Straw Man Argument – crating of or logical calculus under, an argument which either does not exist, is irrelevant or is manipulated and twisted into a different form by a proponent.
Straw Man Conformance – the idea that since a person or group believes or considers subject A to be a potentiality, then an opponent insists that they therefore have endorsed extreme misrepresentations of subject A as well.
Straw Man Profiling – profiling of an individual based on an extreme or misrepresented version of their position. Any man can be made to appear irrational and vile, if his opponents only are allowed to speak on his behalf.
Scare Crow Fabrication – crafting of a position or stance on an issue which an opponent has never tendered, implied or stated. An argument fabricated from complete fiction and used to dissuade persons from viewing that opponent in a positive light.
“If I Only Had a Brain” Straw Man – an argument which would have constituted a straw man argument had the claimant understood it to begin with, however appears only to stem from the arguer’s inability to grasp the issue or logical calculus under discussion or contention.
These abuses of the post hoc ergo propter hoc principle are all therefore forms of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy.
Misapplication Abuses (ignoratio elenchi fallacy)
Post hoc solum fallacy
/philosophy : logic : fallacy : abuse/ : the incorrect categorization of an ergo propter hoc examination as constituting the only evidence of such a contended relationship or as being based solely upon order of events, when this is not indeed the contended case. This incorrect framing is a version of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy, a misrepresentation of the circumstances surrounding or evidence for an opponent’s claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light. If the ergo propter hoc relationship exists inside a fingerprint signal or supports a consilience of evidence, then the post hoc recitation is not employed in a fallacious context.
Example Claim: Industrial carbon emissions are not causing global warming, correlation does not prove causality (see Abuse of Correlation Causality Refutations).
Post hoc falsum fallacy
/philosophy : logic : fallacy : abuse/ : the incorrect categorization of an ergo propter hoc examination as being solely a correlation to causality leap, when indeed the post hoc observation has falsified an antithetical idea. This incorrect framing is a version of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy, a misrepresentation of the argument inside an opponent’s claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light. If the ergo propter hoc relationship acts as falsification of an antithetical idea, then the post hoc recitation is not employed in a fallacious context.
Example Claim: If I provide one validated instance of a medical procedure objectively causing an injury, I have falsified the claim that the medical procedure being linked to such injuries, is simply a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
Non Sequitur Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy
/philosophy : logic : fallacy : abuse/ : the incorrect framing of an ergo propter hoc examination in such a frame of reference or false analogy so as to make the primary ergo propter hoc relationship appear ludicrous. This incorrect framing is a version of a straw man fallacy, a misrepresentation of the principles represented inside an opponent’s claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light.
Example Claim: Just because my factory emits smoke, does not mean that I have caused the local ski resorts to lose money this year.
Cause versus contribution fallacy
/philosophy : logic : fallacy : abuse/ : Conflation of A and B : the incorrect categorization of an ergo propter hoc examination as constituting a claim to exclusive causal relationship, when no such claim to exclusivity is being made. An ergo propter hoc relationship may exist as a contributing factor, and not a solely causal influence. This incorrect framing of a proponent’s position as contending a causal or exclusively causal relationship is a version of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy, a misrepresentation of the circumstances surrounding or evidence for an opponent’s claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light.
Example: My factory cannot possibly be the cause of global warming.
Plausible Deniability: plausible propter hoc ergo hoc solus fallacy
/philosophy : logic : fallacy : abuse/ : X could have plausibly happened, and could have plausibly caused, contributed to or exposed a risk of Y. Further then, given that Y happened; therefore X, and nothing else, caused Y. This incorrect framing is a version of the ignoratio elenchi fallacy, a misrepresentation of the circumstances surrounding evidence for a claim, so as to frame the opponent’s contention in the poorest light.
Example Claim: An increase in solar irradience has been detected, rising over the last 20 years. Since solar irradience can cause the planet to heat up, and since it is possible that this trend in solar irradience has been going on for quite some time, therefore the simplest explanation is that it is solar irradience and not carbon emissions which are the cause of our observed climate change and global warming.
¹ Wikipedia: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc Fallacy; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc.
² Hansen, Hans, “Fallacies”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/fallacies/>.