So I’m doing a little logic homework, and I encounter the following argument: The concept of probability is wholly antithetical to the concept of causality.

Is it? Why?

Why can’t causality be probabilistic? So the bowling bowl only falls 99.9 to the 9th power times a gazillion when I drop it; I know that my action causes the the ball to drop, at a very high probability. Action A causes event B to happen almost always . . . this is not causation? Why is there an antithetical split here, and not a continuum of degree between the two concepts. I smell the stench of Plato: happiness is the opposite of sadness type of stink.

In the realm of pure logic, I can understand the distinction.
Logic, as a study or class, needs to show how different forms of logic interact, and as such needs to establish differences in even the slightest manner between variations of logic.

In practical application causality and probability are used together constantly by many fields, but in study, it’s not a bad idea to point out that the base concept of each are nearly opposites of each other.

Causality states that logically, C is derived directly from premise A and B, and that only C is caused by A and B occurrences.

Probability, in logic, is a far different beast.
It is a less formed conclusion suggesting that it is only possible, but not directly causal, that C could come from A and B occurrences.

Think of it like Law.

We walked into the house and saw the following:
Mr. Johnson shot at Mr. Harold (A)
Mr. Harold stabbed Mr. Johnson (B)
Therefore, Mr. Harold stabbed Mr. Johnson after Mr. Johnson shot at Mr. Harold (C)

That is causality.

We walked into the house and saw the following:
Mr. Harold, who was holding a knife, standing over a bleeding Mr. Johnson, who had a gun nearby. (A)
Mr. Johnson yelling, “It was self defense! He shot at me!”. (B)
Therefore, it is possible that Mr. Johnson did stab Mr. Harold in self defense.(C)

That is probability.

They are absolute opposites of each other in the study of logic or critical thought because there is a need to recognize the differences between the two.

After you’re done learning about the differences and all of that jazz, then you’ll mix them up wildly as most fields and professions do.

Probability is nonsense because one would need to know of all possibilities in order to make any assertion of probability. This would require living forever, everywhere. All assertions of probability are merely that - assertions.

Causality is nonsense because one would need to know of all other possible causes of an event and eliminate them before asserting a specific cause as the known one. This would not require living forever everywhere, but like assertions of probability, assertions of causality are merely that - assertions.

So, there isn’t much difference, both are nonsense because they require one to know things not in evidence at the time of making the assertions of cause or probability.


I’m not asking about probability and causality in logic. I am asking about the specific assertion: The concept of probability is wholly antithetical to the concept of causality.

If I can add anything to your post, I’d like to point out how you qualified your statement: “[…] it’s not a bad idea to point out that the base concept of each are nearly opposites of each other.” We’re talking degrees here, even if they’re insanely big ones.


Take poker as an example. We can know every possible outcome when I hold a pair of Aces pre-flop and you hold a pair of sixes. It’s simple mathematical calculation at this point . . . something like 90% for the aces to hold up after all the cards are dealt. So we don’t need to live forever, just need a fast computer.

No, because we can run empirical experiments, isolating causal factors; replicating results. There is probably an even better answer to this than this one (but that’s just a hunch).

You assume that in your game of poker the only significant possibilities are to do with cards.

Poker is about far more than cards. And people cheat.

I hope there is an ‘even’ better answer because this is terrible. It completely fails to answer the criticism I posed. Merely because we convince ourselves we can and have isolated specific causes doesn’t mean we’ve got it right. It means we’ve convinced ourselves we’ve got it right, which is a very different proposition.

Poker is about more than cards, but putting people on hand ranges, and comparing that to your hand to calculate your odds is the basis a good poker player can’t do without. Unknow factors introduced by the “human” element are also included in the equation in precentages. It’s never exact but works consistently in the long term.

But maybe poker can’t just be compared to all else because it’s a partly a closed system.

Oh and to nitpick, aces are a 85% favourite to win against a random hand preflop.

Carry on.

Tell me, have any poker players ignored probabilities and still won? Has anyone tested this strategy at professional tournaments?

The claim that something ‘works consistently in the long term’ is often in the absence of something else working to do the same thing.

Well, there are players who are said to just get it, without much studying, and just playing. They can’t really explain why they do something. Phil Hellmuth comes to mind, he’s one of the most succesful players, but his book is bad. And he’s a player relying more on his “gut/intuition” and the psychological aspect of the game. But i’m sure by now, he’s been at it for a while, he also thinks in probabilities.

And when you ask succesfull professional player most’ll tell you probability is very important. You can check it for yourself if you read the posts of the professional regulars at, say, the two plus two poker forum.

I also belief “gut/intuïtion” is rooted in probability, a feel we build up and refine through experience, it’s just not on the surface of consciousness. The right option just surfaces, my guess is after less probably options are eliminated.

So in short, no i don’t think you can ignore probabities. An inexperience player, who hasn’t studied the game, will have very little chance to win at the game over a longer period, eventhough it’s still for the most part a game of chance.

Now I’m confused; you started off with saying:

So, I answered the question, “the concept of probability is wholly antithetical to the concept of causality”, within the framework that it had been handed to you.

Like I said; once beyond logic homework environments, they are used almost as part of the same logic, rather than separate and opposing logic.

Yes we are talking degrees; in logic study, but not in practical use.

and the magic of logic guarantees that the future will resemble the past…



I’m assuming the validity of mathematical theory. Now, okay, people cheat – good one. But all we need to do is eliminate that factor by qualifying the statement to: when poker isn’t rigged, over the course of, insert very big number, the computer calculates that pocket aces when they go up against pocket sixes of the same suit will win, sorry Diacon, 80.89% of the time and tie 0.44% of the time in a random environment; poker via the internet, to insure complete randomness. Yes, I do assume the software designer didn’t rig the system. If we can take these circumstances into account, as someone correctly pointed out, poker being a closed system, then we can achieve probabilities. We can even change it up and calculate that over the long term pocket aces may not win precisely 80.89% of the time, but they will win more than half of the time.

Your criticism of causality is a fair one. But can’t we say that about anything, can’t we say that about all knowledge? Isn’t it fair, and correct, to say that our knowledge of causality, as my OP argues, is extremely probable, though never to an absolute degree. Take geometry for example, it still functions on postulates, even though we’re fairly certain, convinced, that our postulates are correct.


Yeah, sorry about that. I thought that’s what confused you . . . that had nothing to do with the argument, I was just mentioning where I got the idea from. Hope we’re clear about it now. And please accept my apologies for the confusion.

I agree with your breakdown of probability and causality for deductive reasoning. But that’s not what I’m interested in, I’m talking about causality and probability as world phenomena; the debate between a deterministic universe and a partly random one – as quantum theory, if correct, would postulate.

I don’t understand what you mean.

Hey Hume,

What about the magic of probability?

Okay, if you acknowledge the assumption let’s move on. Does your calculation say anything about what will actually happen? Or is it just another prediction?

To argue something is extremely probable one needs more information than one could ever have. One can say it is compelling, convincing, persuasive, ‘feels true’ and so on, but don’t kid yourself, likelihood is nothing more than a best guess based on slippery assumptions.

oh yes, the magic of mathematical probability guarantees the future will resemble the past…

“scientific” hubris is beyond logic


Then, like I said, there is no effective difference in how they are used as they are used intermixed with each other constantly as if they are the same and used to support the other.

no, but experience leads to a general inferred consensus that the future will resemble the past

and no, nothing guarantees anything - but that’s an easy and mostly trivial criticism to make - we can still know things because practicality teaches us how things work, and they often work the same for everbody

yes we see things only the way we want to, but not insofar as our beliefs are influenced by circumstance

there are no guarantees, only guesses - but that doesn’t change the fact that some guesses are better than others in terms of accurate correspondence with eventual and actual contingencies

We cannot necessarily account for the influence our expectations will have on outcomes, no. But for practical purposes, we can safely ignore that (safety being relative to danger) and simply focus on desired outcomes. This after all is what makes technology possible despite the demonstrated logical ultimacy of uncertainty. As you well know history repeats, in spite of your overused ironic assertion that it “never” does

IFF causality holds absolutely and IFF we know everything, then probability doesn’t enter into it. It can’t.

But if causality is contingent upon our own limited knowledge set then probability is the best manner in which we can describe it.

It’s Hume’s fork and the difference between completely self-contained systems of logic and the real world. Given a choice between the two, I’d opt for the real world every time. Unlike some other crazies :slight_smile:

Thanks for the great replies fellas.

Is there anything wrong with the following strong inductive statement: It is the law that action A causes event B to occur almost always? I don’t think so, but I concede 'C’ausality taken as an absolute law will rule out probability.

In informal logic, I just noticed, there is still a place for the fusion of causality and probability, such as in our Justice system which often employs the term: probable cause.

As for the question raised in our discussion of having any knowledge whatsoever, with the logical skeptics here, this question is easily refuted by pointing toward cases of strong induction for ’ open ’ systems, and deductive reasoning which guarantees that if the premises are true and the conclusion is valid, that the conclusion is also true. To propose a valid argument, even using informal logic, against the possibility of inductive inference is an impossible and futile task – the individual would have to use valid and sound reasoning to disprove valid/sound reasoning. The moment you succeed, you fail.

One interesting point was raised about the difference between closed systems of logic and the ’ world, ’ implying that the two are distinct categories outside of one another. I disagree. I do not see how the two can be conceptually separated, for I do not see how any knowledge of ’ world ’ can be had without the utilization of conceptual reason, or even more base than that, without the schematic structuring of the individual experience and relationship with the world: Whether it is the individual structuring the categories (Kant), or the world structuring the individual’s perception and understanding (Husserl), there is always an inseparable relationship between the two. Moreover, conceptual thinking – logical thinking, mathematical thinking – is a part of Being . . . a subset category of ’ world. ’ To make the statement that logic is outside of world, strikes me as a transcendent metaphysical claim.

But that isn’t an argument. It is a statement. An argument has to be given to support the statement. But, as you think, the statement is false. Some have thought that causality was a kind of necessary relation between the cause and the effect. But that is just wrong. Besides, there are probabilistic theories of causality, particularly in quantum mechanics.

Aren’t you a practising scientist?