Genuine but insignificant cause

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A genuine but insignificant cause is an explanation of an incident that puts forth one factor — usually a minor one — out of several that contributed to the incident as its sole cause. Alternatively, this fallacy occurs when an explanation is requested, and the one that is given is not sufficient to entirely explain the incident.

The fallacy is a causation fallacy and an informal fallacy.

Alternate names[edit]

  • Causal oversimplification
  • Complex cause
  • Fallacy of the single cause
  • Reduction fallacy‎


An example of this would be if one person asked another why he was 45 minutes late to an appointment, and the other person responded by saying that he had to stop and fill up his gas tank. Since refuelling an average vehicle takes less than 15 minutes, the need to refuel is a genuine cause of his tardiness, but the majority of the cause of his tardiness lies elsewhere.

In this example, only general knowledge is required to determine that the stated cause is insufficient. Often, someone employing this form of fallacious reasoning will form his argument in a way that makes it difficult to determine that the explanation is an insufficient cause of the observed incident.

  • By leaving your oven on overnight! you are contributing to global warming. (True, but not as much as factory or farming emissions.)

Avoiding the fallacy[edit]

When giving a partial explanation, clearly indicate that the cause you provide is only one of several and that other factors are definitely involved. If possible, state all major causes when explaining a particular phenomenon in order to provide a strong base of support for your assertion.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]