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What is the Law of Cause and Effect?

What is the Law of Cause and Effect?

What is the Law of Cause and Effect?

The law of cause and effect is: "Whenever two phenomena are present together, AND always absent together, AND vary proportionately together, then the two phenomena are almost certainly causally connected".

Let us discuss the law of cause and effect...

"Why things happen".

You have heard it said that "Everything happens for a reason". This statement is ambiguous, it has two possible meanings:

  1. Everything happens for a purpose (ie goals, aims) - this statement is false.
  2. Every event has causes (ie triggers, antecedents) - this statement is true.

1. NOT Everything happens for a purpose (ie goals, aims, objectives).

Most things that happen are NOT purposeful. If a volcano erupts, that has causes, but it has no purpose. If a child falls sick, that has causes, but it has no purpose.

Purpose is relevant in regard to action taken by living things. Living things act purposefully (ie intended to achieve a goal), inanimate matter does not.

2. Everything that happens has causes (ie triggers, antecedents, interrelated events).

On the other hand, everything is causal. Everything has a reason, in the sense of antecedent causes. A volcanic eruption has causes, a child's sickness has causes, an accident has causes; everything has causes.

How can we find the cause of any event?

It is not accurate to say, "every event has a (single) cause". Whenever we say, "a cause", we should say, "a set of causal conditions"; because every event has multiple causes.

For example, a fire has three causes; fuel, heat and oxygen. Whenever and wherever these three conditions exist at the same time, there is a fire. And if any one of these causes is removed, then the fire is extinguished.

In order to discover the cause (or set of causal conditions) of any event, remember this golden rule for causality:

The law of cause and effect states: "Whenever two phenomena are present together, AND absent together, AND proportionately vary together, then the two phenomena are causally connected".

For example:

  • If heat is applied to a metal, it expands.
  • If heat is removed from the metal, it contracts.
  • The degree of expansion of the metal is proportional to the heat applied.
  • Therefore, heat is the cause of the metal's expansion.

Whenever you are checking a claim about the apparent causes of some event, or thing, then ask the "counter case questions".

For example: Imagine you hear someone claim that "poverty causes crime".

  • Counter case for condition one: "Are there cases of people who are poor, ie they live in poverty and yet, are NOT criminals? Indeed, Yes.
  • Counter case for condition two: "Are there cases when people are rich, ie they don't live in poverty, and yet they still commit crimes? Indeed, Yes.
  • Is it true that the more a person falls into poverty the more criminal they become? and that the richer the person becomes, the less criminal they become? Definitely NO.
  • We can conclude then, that poverty does NOT cause crime - Keep looking!


The law of causality is: "Whenever two phenomena are present together, AND absent together, AND vary proportionately together, then the two phenomena are almost certainly causally connected".

When judging claims that "A" causes "B", ask the three "counter-case" questions:

  1. Are there ever instances of A, where no B occurs?
  2. Are there ever instances of B happening, in the absence of A?
  3. Does B vary with A in a proportionate way?

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Decision Making and Problem Solving

  • What is the Law of Cause and Effect?
    "Everything happens for a reason" is a commonly used expression, but not necessarily accurate. Everything that happens has a cause, or causes. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
    Read Article >
  • Unlocking the Power of First Principles
    When supporting our opinions, we often turn to facts or fundamental principles. However, one of these approaches emerges as significantly more impactful. We explore why this is important.
    Read Article >
  • The Law of Diminishing Returns
    More is not necessarily better. There is a point which is optimum. After this point comes diminishing returns, where additional amounts of time, money and effort are ineffective and may even be dangerous.
    Read Article >
  • 10 Steps to Solving Problems at Work
    Problem solving is an essential skill, not only at work, but in personal situations. Use these ten steps to improve your problem-solving skills. Learn how to identify the circumstances around the problem and the logical steps to take.
    Read Article >
  • How To Solve Problems
    The ability to solve problems in business are an essential still. Whether you need to solve a problem for yourself or for your employer, these tips will help you to identify and work out a solution to your problem.
    Read Article >

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