When talking about conspiracies, you often hear things like

group X benefited from event Y

therefore group X must have caused event Y

I'm sure everyone knows lots of examples: 9-11, ISIS, tsunamis, etc.

Is there a name for this specific fallacy?

It's not the same as the common wisdom of "follow the money", which can be a useful starting point for eg. a criminal investigation; I'm talking about the case where this reasoning is used as a definitive proof, or hard evidence.

  • 5
    It is a form of "post hoc ergo propter hoc". The benefit was a result, so (pursuit of) it must have been the cause.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 13:34
  • @jobermark Beat me to it. :)
    – Roger
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 13:55
  • 3
    On the other hand, the similar statement: "Group X benefited from event Y, therefore they're at the top of the suspect list" is perfectly logical. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 14:46
  • 1
    ...As Roel points out, there are people who will say all kinds of ridiculuous things in casual conversation -- but I doubt throwing post hoc, ergo propter hoc will make a difference to that. If it did, most of them probably have an elaborate causal narrative about exactly how the engineering was done (so no longer post hoc...). But fair enough: I admit there are surely points in time where this is a legit fallacy. Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 20:46
  • 1
    People seldom use it alone. In isolation it is pretty clear. They use it to poison the well, and then before it is fully digested, they follow up with a genetic fallacy to discount other things the group is saying (like "discrimination against us actually exists"). Look at the Romney quote about the 47% of the population that is 'takers'. It tails quickly into pity for the 'actual producers' in society, and it really is claiming that Democrats engineered a culture of dependency for their own political benefit. That was only sort of public, but it was a fund-raiser, not a private spat.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 20:56

1 Answer 1


It is a form of "post hoc ergo propter hoc". The benefit was a result, so (pursuit of) it must have been the cause.

It often occurs as "poisoning the well" immediately before a planned "genetic fallacy" which effectively "begs the question".

Look at the situation Mitt Romney was caught in during the 2012 election cycle, where he pointed out that Democrats had created a situation where 47% of the population effectively pays no taxes, and that is not fair to those who do.

He is implying that Democrats purposefully created a culture of dependency to further their own political ambitions. Because it benefitted them, they let the poor make unreasonable demands on the rich. In fact, I doubt there is such a plot. But this is not his main point, his main point is that this makes them untrustworthy and hostile to 'real taxpayers'. But you can only believe this deduction if you accept the conspiracy theory behind the original statement. And we have come full circle -- these folks were not doing the public's (possibly misguided) bidding, they were plotting their own ascent to power.

The Left is just as deep in this boat with attacks on "Big Pharma", "Big Oil", etc. The implication is that these are not mere beneficiaries of a (possibly biased) system we all agreed to, but plotting conspirators. Despite the fact that those making the decisions are obligated by the law -- the contract of fiduciary responsibility to stockholders -- to always act to maximize profit (within the law, reason, and applicable stated charters), we are expected to see their doing so as underhanded gaming.

(The same steps: They won too big => they must have rigged the game [PHEPH]. Just like THEM to do that [poison the well]. Most of what they do is evil, and so is this game rigging [genetic attack]. Therefore hate them for rigging the game [begging the question].)

  • +1 for the political example - an a good answer, of course. I'll have to remember that when my sister launches into one of her rants.
    – nwr
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 21:11
  • @NickR I added an offsetting, less specific, example so as not to seem biased.
    – user9166
    Commented Oct 16, 2014 at 21:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .