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Retrogressive Causation

Description: Invoking the cause to eliminate the effect, or calling on the source to relieve the effect of the source.

Logical Form:

X causes/is the source of Y.

In order to eliminate or relieve Y, do more of X.

Example #1:

Jen: Don’t you realize that all this drinking you are doing is making your family miserable?

Bridget: Yes, I do.

Jen: Then what are you doing about it?

Bridget: Drinking to forget.

Explanation: Bridget has a drinking problem that she is dealing with by drinking some more -- because the effects of drinking make her (temporarily) forget/not worry about the greater scale effects of her drinking.  Her reasoning that this is a good idea is fallacious.

Example #2:

David: Why do you always feel so guilty all the time -- about pretty much everything?

Pete: Because I am Catholic.  But no worries, I will just go to confession on Sunday.

Explanation: The Catholic guilt is a result of holding Catholic beliefs.  Confession is a process which, while “clearing your conscience”, reinforces your Catholic beliefs, justifying the guilt you felt in the first place.

Exception: In some cases, like example #2, one may not be trying to break the cycle, but rather continue the cycle for some higher purpose.  In example #2, one might take pleasure in the constant “spiritual cleansing” ritual, thus either consciously or subconsciously looking for more to be guilty of, so the cleansing can be more meaningful.  While this might seem like irrational thinking to some, it would not fit under this fallacy.


This a logical fallacy frequently used on the Internet. No academic sources could be found.

Registered User Comments

Krista Neckles
Saturday, June 16, 2018 - 11:01:52 AM
Hello Sir,

Is the following a good example of the retrogressive causation fallacy: if prisoners undergo poor conditions for years in jail without learning any skills or receiving any kind of rehabilitation, when they are released they will commit crime again because they will agin be exposed to what caused them to commit crime in the first place.

Thank you Sir.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, June 16, 2018 - 12:04:54 PM
No, it doesn't follow the pattern of this fallacy.

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Krista Neckles
Sunday, June 17, 2018 - 01:38:36 PM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Alright Sir. Could you explain why?

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