Argument Analysis; Circumstances vs. Causation


A friend of mine likes to contrive arguments that are usually innately invalid but skewed in such a way to make them seem logical so as to suit his needs. I can most always identify the core flaw of these arguments, though he refuses to acknowledge such, and I would like this time to see if I can get an answer from you guys as to how to break down this argument in a way to make it foolproof. The argument is such:

He and I were playing a game online against other players (specifically, a game called League of Legends). He is of a level much higher in me within the game, but since we were paired up, we faced people that were between our levels. These people (according to him) are more likely to report other players for using abusive language in-game. He used abusive language during one such match, and his account was suspended. His reasoning is that this is partially my fault because my lower level paired us with people that would perform poorly, spurring his abusive language, and that these same people (being of a lower level) reported him because of their lower level. Therefore, though the blame isn't fully mine according to him, I share it.

The way I see it, I am not to blame at all because the consequences were a result of his direct actions that he had full control of. My lower level did bring in people who would perform more poorly and "spur" abusive language, so to speak, but I have no hand in what language he chooses to utilize in a given situation. His analogy for this situation was, "In a game where I played against God or Hitler, I would say different things to God than to Hitler."


Posted 2013-09-05T06:31:12.327

Reputation: 143

You are fighting against an ego, I come across the same problems often: An ego always tries to find his way out when feeling forced by external actions (external from the person where the ego houses) by (even) delusional reasoning. Like the reasoning of your friend here. If he would accept the origin of the problem lays within himself (internally rather than externally) he could solve the issue.

– Mike de Klerk – 2013-09-05T09:38:52.553

So it would appear then that there is nothing that can be done outside of him realizing this at some point in his life. It is quite unfortunate and frustrating but I do take comfort in knowing that fundamentally my stance in this scenario is correct and his is flawed. – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T17:12:29.553

You are correct, there is nothing you can do to force him realize. You might be able to reason with him, but if you 'push' too far (although you are right, and your reasoning solely exists of logical arguments) his ego will stand up and you can no longer reach him. So its a carefully chosen battle of tactics to (try to) make him understand. The major issue is, he has to admit, to him self, and to you (as you engaged the reasoning), that he was wrong. – Mike de Klerk – 2013-09-06T04:45:18.473



Your friend is in danger of justifying that it is acceptable to drive while under the influence. Here is why:

  1. Your friend likes engaging in behavior which is sometimes considered unacceptable.
  2. For situations where this behavior is considered unacceptable, your friend could:
    a) maintain his [unacceptable] behavior, or
    b) modulate his behavior correctly, or
    c) avoid them, or
    d) never behave unacceptably so as to avoid the possibility of [e.g.] damage.
  3. Your friend has chosen 2.a) and blames others when such situations arise.

You can see how this would be utterly unacceptable if the 'unacceptable behavior' were drunk driving instead of being a potty mouth. Our societal conventions on that matter are clear: ignorance is not an excuse. So, your friend wants to use ignorance/inability as an excuse for his behavior in a situation with lower stakes. Is this valid? Is it valid because the stakes aren't as high, and nobody 'really got hurt'? You and he will have to decide what rules you choose to live by. My own $0.02 is that people are generally terrible at estimating how much harm their behaviors can inflict, but many people think that their estimation algorithms are just dandy—except when others hurt them, of course.

A shorter version of my answer is that you are to blame to the extent that your friend needs to be treated like a child. We often do say that parents are to some extent responsible for their children's actions.


Posted 2013-09-05T06:31:12.327

Reputation: 2 904


Fascinating discussion here! But it may have had participants worn thin by slipage across epistemic boundaries. Each of several epistemologies might have been useful to assess the situation, but frustration might have crept in because we didn't agree to one. The operating paradigm, or frame of reference for solving the problem, was a bit fluid. In this conversation, I can think of 4 distinct epistemic frames that could have helped:

Scientific Causality. No one picked up the empirical torch, and perhaps rightly so, because trying to reproduce numerous scenarios of low-level players and foul language and repeat suspensions would be tedious and unproductive. But causation appears in the question header. Could we produce a trend empirically? Perhaps. But could we prove cause and effect in this manner? Doubtful. As is the case in most soft sciences like psychology, there are too many variables at work (as mentioned, impact of repeat offenses, opinions and stress levels of game admins, behavioral quirks) to prove a result. More on behavior below.

Philosophic Logic. Lukas weighed in heavy on this front, and while I am not a student of logic, it seems the conclusion or C1 of suspension could be caused by P1+P2+P3 or by P3 alone. P1 and P3 are observable. P2 is an unsupported opinion. While it is possible that P1+P2+P3 caused C1, P3 operating independently at any time could also cause C1. Would "probable cause" in a court of law say Coltonoscopy was guilty? Only if prosecutors could prove P2, and disprove the possibility of P3 in isolation. The defense rests. On an interesting side note, when Labreuer raised the stakes via the DUI parallel, the analogy of an errant accomplice might hold up: that is, a well-meaning friend who bought the suspect one too many drinks. Would an ensuing DUI be his fault? Again, the drink may have increased the likelihood (and in the eyes of our society introduced some ethical culpability) but it would be difficult to prove cause or assign full blame. As framed in the original question, such factors are circumstantial, not causal.

Philosophic Ethics. Coltonoscopy, you were laser focused on the ethical question of whether the bad-mouthed friend had a right to blame you for actions that he himself had taken. This is an accountability question, which is difficult to counter. I for one would agree, the bad-mouthed friend was behaving inappropriately to both the gamers (foul language) and to you (projecting blame for his own actions). Perhaps time for a new friend? Your frustration, I think, may have been because you intuitively (and perhaps deeply) sensed that the blame wasn't fair. Wouldn't that be like Descartes, using rational thinking to get to the answer that seemed right to him, given the situation?

Complexity. Another applicable frame (my favorite) was also not invoked, but its one that matters greatly in soft sciences (like psychology and sociology) and it applies here for the very reason called out by Mike early on: "dealing with an ego." In this case, we are dealing with complex behaviors that are not governed by strict linear causality. Humans typically adapt their behavior in social settings to get what they want. If we grant Lukas the veracity of P2 (not that I have, mind you!), we would say that Coltonoscopy may have created an initial condition that could potentially increase the chances of C1 (suspension), but in no way could we say that he caused it. A complexity frame would never assign such an outcome a cause, owing to the emergent and adaptive behaviors of the many interdependent agents in such systems. People are unpredictable. Especially dysfunctional ones, who blame their friends for their own misgivings.

My understanding of causality follows a thread from Bacon/Newton to Hume to Kant and I can't say I have it completely figured out. Complexity perhaps could get us to an answer the fastest. But I think choosing any of the frames above would eventually release Coltonoscopy from blame.

Great question!

The takeaway? For me, it's that we can reduce churn in our critical thinking (arguments, discussions, philosophical debates) when we put thought to which epistemology best fits the situation at hand. We're effectively deciding which rule set is most likely to get us to a useful answer for that problem domain .. quickly. Perhaps most of all, we need to pick one, declare it, and stay with it.

Is any one method right or wrong? That sounds like another metaphysical question .. for another day.


Posted 2013-09-05T06:31:12.327

Reputation: 333


The argument:

P1 Playing with you causes the matchmaking to include people of lower levels in the opposed team

P2 Low-Level player are more likely to report abusive language

P3 He uses abusive language

Conclusion: By 1-3, he got reported.

First it is to note that some reports do not suffice to suspend an account. He has to have behaved often so bad that others reported him.

Second, the argument is valid (I'd say), but it is not based more on P1 than on P3. So it is true. If he hadn't played with you, he would not have been reported. But at the same time if he hadn't used abusive language, he would not have been reported.

Also you could question that it is true that low-level players are more likely to report abusive language.


Posted 2013-09-05T06:31:12.327

Reputation: 3 051

The argument itself I suppose is valid, but fundamentally I don't feel like it is my fault given that he has the choice whether to use abusive language or not. Since he knows that he will get reported by said players, as he is the one to claim these players do the more frequent reporting, he has the capability to refrain from using such language, right? So though on paper the argument itself may be valid, isn't the claim that I am partially to blame for his account being suspended a flawed claim? – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T17:24:25.677

An argument with false premisses and a false conclusion can still be valid. Having said that, as i wrote in my answer both things are equally true: (i) that you caused the matchmaking to include lower level player, and (ii) that he used abusive language. Of course it is reasonable to say that he could have avoided abusive language. – Lukas – 2013-09-05T17:43:53.270

Okay, the argument is valid, I understand that. However, I am not to blame for his actions, for they are his alone, so him claiming that his account being suspended is partially my fault still feels like an untrue statement. – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T17:59:18.880

As you can see above, you playing with him is part of the argument, which leads to the conclusion that he got banned. As the argument, as it stands there, does not work without P1, of course you are partially relevant for the conclusion. – Lukas – 2013-09-05T18:11:42.797

So if I were hanging out with my friend who likes to murder young children (unbeknownst to me) and I suggested we go to a park to hang out, where there happened to also be young children, am I partially responsible for the murder that would subsequently take place? – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T18:15:52.217, please reread my last comment, as the argument is written down, P1 is partially relevant for the conclusion. No weird examples will change that. Now either you believe me, or explain to me where i went wrong, by staying on topic. – Lukas – 2013-09-05T18:19:56.830

I've acknowledged already that the logic is valid:

"Okay, the argument is valid, I understand that. However, I am not to blame for his actions, for they are his alone, so him claiming that his account being suspended is partially my fault still feels like an untrue statement."

What I'm trying to say is he shouldn't be able to allocate blame to me for his own actions regardless of context, which is what I was trying to illustrate with my example; I am not to blame for a murder I did not foresee, nor am I to blame for his account being suspended for actions he chose to take I did not foresee. – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T18:25:28.317

Validity is not the point here and neither are your feelings. You need to see that P1 is relevant for the conclusion, or point out why it is not. And as I stated in the answer, there are still other ways to avoid him blaming you. But as long as the argument is as it is in my answer, everything I said applies. – Lukas – 2013-09-05T18:54:29.423

P1 is relevant to the conclusion, yes, which is what makes the argument valid. I just don't see how he can exact blame on someone else when he is in full control of his own decision-making where his decision-making is the factor that got his account suspended, ultimately. If his claim was, "We were matched up with inferior players and lost our game as a result," that would make more sense to me because it is beyond our control and a direct result of my presence. – coltonoscopy – 2013-09-05T19:09:25.187