I have been told that X is a sufficient cause of Y if every time X happens, Y happens, too. However, isn't it the same as 'correlation'? For instance, if I say that global temperature is correlated with human average height, is it valid to say that a rise in global temperature is a sufficient cause of an increase in human average height?

  • Welcome to the philosophy SE. Your question is an interesting one, but has already been answered. You can search the exchange for previous questions related to your topic. Mar 17, 2016 at 5:05
  • Okay, thanks a lot. I'll take a look at the other threads.
    – numberfive
    Mar 17, 2016 at 14:51

1 Answer 1


If X is a sufficient cause of Y, then X will show a correlation with Y. However, the opposite is not always true. A correlation can be a general trend with a few exceptions, but a sufficient cause must be true in all cases. Your example demonstrates why.

  • Thanks, Cort. But I still have the question. As I understand causation, it is a result of induction, which is by definition probabilistic. So maybe if my universe is 100 instances, and I find correlation in 99 of them, is it valid to say that this correlation is also sufficient causation? Let's say that being shot is correlated with being killed in 90% of the cases; so, we could say that being shot is a sufficient cause of being killed? (I'm not a philosopher, so please forgive my ignorance.)
    – numberfive
    Mar 17, 2016 at 3:39
  • @NormanSimon I think you may have found a atypical definition of causation. Most likely you have come across the scientific concept of "causation" which has to be justified by probability because science starts from assumptions that permit that. Other branches of philosophy will accept axioms from which one can draw causation relationships differently.
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 17, 2016 at 4:24
  • Also, while I can't claim XKCD to be a definitive source on philosophical topics, I find xkcd.com/552 to be one of the more clever explanations of the differences between correlation and causation.
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 17, 2016 at 5:26
  • Okay, thanks again, Cort. Also, I'll re-read the thread on correlation/causation. Take care.
    – numberfive
    Mar 17, 2016 at 14:50

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