Is there a term for this kind of logical fallacy? Example:

Q: Why does it rain?
A: Because plants get thirsty and need water.

The beneficiary of the effect is mistaken as the cause of the event.

I'm thinking of appeal to consequences and attribution bias, but they don't seem to fit exactly...

  • 1
    In religious arguments, presuming design, this is not a fallacy. Nor is it one when discussing species evolution, behavioral adaptation or human social construction, unless it goes way too far. Teleological cause is often applicable in those contexts because the agents involved have goals. It has a long history of productive use in argumentation. Applying teleologic cause to systems without intelligence is a problem... So if anything, the basic fallacy here is anthropomorphism.
    – user9166
    Jun 16, 2016 at 16:31
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    Interesting question! I don't know of a name for this but the answers down below which speak of this having a teleological nature are correct. I would also agree with jobermark that these kinds of arguments are very reminiscent of arguments we hear from religious people who believe in design.
    – MM8
    Jun 17, 2016 at 13:30
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    I'd go for something related to correlation is not causation. The plant gets thirsty and rain just happens to quench that thirst. That would imply that rain was "invented" in order to provide water for plants. One could find a counter-argument to the effect that this is not the cause of rain like stating that rain forms when evaporated water starts to condense around small particles.
    – James P.
    Aug 3, 2016 at 6:44

5 Answers 5


I would leave aside whether it is a fallacy and observe that what you have there is a teleological explanation. These are explanations that appeal to some end in order to account for why something happens, and are one of Aristotle's 'four causes'. Where a reasoning agent is involved, such explanations are perfectly acceptable. For example, if asked, "Why do the hands on this clock go round?" it is quite satisfactory to respond, "In order to tell the time." Of course, the questioner may have wanted to know the efficient cause: what we might today call the mechanism. But the teleological answer is also correct, because a clock is a human artifact and was constructed with an end in mind.

But your example is biological in nature: plants are not artifacts constructed with an end in mind. Because of this, teleological explanations are deprecated within biology. We still sometimes use teleological explanations when talking about biology, but it is understood that this is just a loose way of speaking and that we could rephrase it as an adaptation. For example, if asked, "Why does this bird have this shape of bill?" one might give the answer, "To enable it to catch fish." This appears to be a teleological explanation, but it is really just a loose way of saying that this shape of bill is an adaptation developed by this species of bird that has been positively selected for by its success in catching fish.

To return to your example, "Because plants need water," is not a good answer to "Why does it rain?" because rain is not an adaptation. If anything the reverse is true: plant species adapt themselves to the amount of rainfall in their local climate. So I would say the defect in the answer is that it is attempting a teleological explanation where no adaptation or other plausible account is available to provide an understanding of it.


Here's the argument:

  1. Plants exist.
  2. Plants need water to exist.
  3. The only way to get sufficient water is rain.
  4. Therefore, it rains.

One can posit that there are other ways to get water than via rain, negating 3., and thereby undermining the conclusion. You're looking for something where one "unduly restricts the possible causes of X", e.g. argument from ignorance. I'm assuming here that you grant that plants do indeed exist.

  • So it's essentially the anthropic principle: It rains because if it didn't rain we wouldn't be here, so there would be nobody to wonder about why it rains (or not). Oct 5, 2020 at 15:04

I believe it is post hoc fallacy.

"Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X."



I don't know what the fallacy is named, but you can often see it happen within marketing departments of failing companies. "Customers will do X, because we benefit if they do X". Excellent logic, except that customers don't follow the logic. "If I do X, that will be good for the company, but not for me. Therefore, I won't do X".


"Circular cause and consequence".

The Wikipedia entry redirects to "Correlation does not imply causation", but has its own entry in the List of Fallacies.

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