PHI 1101 Lecture Notes - Lecture 10: John Stuart Mill, Ice Cream, Spinach
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2. Unusual factor: We often single out an unusual contributing factor as "the" cause of an
The explosion happened because of the accumulation of methane gas in the room.
When we are interested in control, prevention, etc., we may single out things that are
potentially under our control as causes.
1) The increased rate of obesity in Canadian children is due to increases in the amount of
calories consumed and a decrease in the level of activity.
2) The SARS outbreak was caused by inadequate sanitation procedures in hospitals and other
3) Smoking causes lung cancer.
4) Cholesterol causes heart disease.
This says that eating food with saturated fats increase the chances of developing heart
disease. And if we want to avoid heart diseases, we should avoid eating such foods.
Consider this example now:
5) Heredity causes heart disease.
This cannot be controlled.
Correlation and Causation
We speak of a positive correlation between two types of events A and B when the
presence of A makes the presence of B more likely (example: being pregnant, being
female; smoking, and getting lung cancer).
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And of a negative correlation when the presence of A makes the absence of B more
probable. (Being a professional football player, weighing less than 140 pounds; high
barometric pressure; rain).
There may also be no correlation between A and B, i.e. when the presence of A doesn’t
change the likelihood of B occurring. (having green eyes, enjoying reading)
(Post Hoc Fallacy)
Correlation does not prove causation
A correlation gives us some reason to look for a causal relationship, but there may well not
A and B can be correlated because:
1. A causes B
2. B causes A
3. Some third thing C causes both A and B.
4. They occur together by pure chance.
Some odd correlations
Shoe size is positively correlated with IQ.
Being left-handed is positively correlated with lower life expectancy.
Kitchener and Waterloo are right next to each other, and have equal populations.
Testing for Causes
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) devised some methods for evaluating causal arguments.
‘Mill’s Methods’ are really just common sense, and they are common in testing
1) Method of Agreement:
If two or more occurrences of some phenomenon have only one relevant factor in
common, that factor is likely the cause.
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