Sufficient Conditions

Sometimes we call sufficient conditions causes. We say that short circuits cause fires because in many normal contexts, a short circuit is sufficient to cause a fire. Of course, short circuits are not necessary to cause a fire, because, in the same normal contexts, fires can be caused by a great many other things. With sufficient conditions, as with necessary conditions, we often draw a distinction between what we call the cause as opposed to what we call a causal factor, and we seem to draw it along similar lines. Speaking loosely, we might say that we sometimes call the key components of sufficient conditions causes. Then, holding background conditions fixed, we can use the SCT to evaluate such causal claims.

In sum, we can use the NCT to eliminate proposed necessary causal con- ditions. We can use the SCT to eliminate proposed sufficient causal condi- tions. Those candidates that survive these tests may be called causal conditions or causal factors if they fit in well with our system of other causal generalizations. Finally, some of these causal conditions or causal factors will be called causes if they play a key role in our causal investiga- tions. Typically, though not always, we call something the cause of an event if it is a prior event or change that stands out against the background of fixed conditions.

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Reread the passage on what killed the dinosaurs in the Discussion Question at the end of Chapter 1. Where do the authors use the NCT? Where do they use the SCT? Where do they rely on background assumptions?


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