post hoc, ergo propter hoc

Blog Post
Magical Thinking: Just because you have a circulating fan 
blowing in the room, doesn’t mean that it will take the spots 
off the Dalmatian, despite your fondest wishes.

Logic always floats on a sliding scale when we are speaking of humanity and the human condition. This is your Sunday Sermonette.

Logic is differentially applied by men and women. Having written this, there is the matter of magical thinking that both men and women use. It’s usually applied to prove an unprovable point or to justify one’s actions. Since I’ve run into it lately, I thought that I’d comment simply for the sake of the blog and general discussion.

post hoc, ergo propter hoc is Latin phrase that, being translated, means, “after this, therefore, because of this.” The term refers to a rhetorical fallacy that because two events occurred in succession, the former event caused the latter event.

X happened before Y -> therefore X caused Y
Trivial examples
1.  The rooster crows before sunrise, therefore the crowing rooster causes the sun to rise. 
2.  A drunk scientist conducts an experiment to see why he gets hangovers. He decides to keep a diary. Monday night, scotch and soda; Tuesday morning, hangover. Tuesday night, gin and soda; Wednesday morning, hangover. Wednesday night: vodka and soda; Thursday morning, hangover. Thursday night, rum and soda; Friday morning, hangover. On Friday night before going out for a drink, the drunk scientist has an epiphany. “Aha!” he says to himself, “I’ve got it! Soda causes hangovers!” (WoFat will agree…) 
3.  My mother (who is getting up in years) often says things like, “God led me to the grocery store today where I found that oranges were on sale. Because God knows that I like oranges and that I’m on a budget. God reduced the price of oranges for my specific benefit.”
These arguments are particularly useful when you need to justify what you did. Having a noble cause in your pocket inevitably helps. The more noble the cause, the more justifiable the act.  post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

John Locke said, “One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.” Disagree if it makes you feel more magical and less comfortable. If something happens (something can be anything) and you say, “God intended that to happen” (that being the price of oranges, finding a penny on the sidewalk or a brief rain squall that caught you without an umbrella) — you need to at least consider post hoc, ergo proper hoc. Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s a penny on the sidewalk.

Magical Thinking: Fine if you’re imagining it, but
dangerous if you plan to try this at home. 

** Caveat: If we’re speaking of quantum mechanics, there is very little difference between pancake syrup and a metal plate…but that’s not what I’m addressing here.

14 thoughts on “post hoc, ergo propter hoc

  1. Ah yes, and if you REALLY want to twist their tales (or tails as the case may be), direct the discussion onto First Principles and watch them go into a high hover… ;-D

  2. I never understood the God did it thing, but then I do believe in a certain magic dragon that lives by the sea…
    Oh, I had a sunset rooster once, who went to dinner, and never was heard again…

  3. I'm not taking a shot across the bow at faith. I suggest that "everything" from a cloudy day to a lawn that needs to be cut isn't necessarily God's specific curse or blessing on "you" (not meaning Brighid – but you get my point).

  4. Love number 2! I shall never drink soda again.

    I think it's just a penny on the sidewalk.

  5. Soda isn't actually distilled nor will it disinfect => less pure.

    I'm not saying that God doesn't want you to have a penny that you find on a sidewalk. I only suggest that there are random things in life that can not fairly be laid at the feet of the Allmighty.

  6. When you refer to God, LL, you do mean the Great O, leader of the magical Unicorn Herd? Right?

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