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Causation, models of disease and epidemiology

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In the nineteenth century, many cases of disease previously thought to have diverse causes began to be explained by the action of a single kind of cause, e.g. a certain parasitic infestation. Some have argued that this conceptual shift was key to the advancement of medicine through the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The focus of much recent epidemiology, however, is on chronic non-communicable diseases, which frequently do not seem to be attributable to any single causal factor. This paper is an effort to resolve the resulting tension. I propose a ‘contrastive’ multifactorial model, on the grounds that it links the notions of disease and of general explanation, while avoiding the philosophical naiveties and practical difficulties of the monocausal model.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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