Minds and Machines

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 61–78

Explaining Disease: Correlations, Causes, and Mechanisms

  • Paul Thagard

DOI: 10.1023/A:1008286314688

Cite this article as:
Thagard, P. Minds and Machines (1998) 8: 61. doi:10.1023/A:1008286314688


Why do people get sick? I argue that a disease explanation is best thought of as causal network instantiation, where a causal network describes the interrelations among multiple factors, and instantiation consists of observational or hypothetical assignment of factors to the patient whose disease is being explained. This paper first discusses inference from correlation to causation, integrating recent psychological discussions of causal reasoning with epidemiological approaches to understanding disease causation, particularly concerning ulcers and lung cancer. It then shows how causal mechanisms represented by causal networks can contribute to reasoning involving correlation and causation. The understanding of causation and causal mechanisms provides the basis for a presentation of the causal network instantiation model of medical explanation.

explanationdiseasemedicinecausalitymechanismcausal network

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Thagard
    • 1
  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of Waterloo, Waterloo, OntarioCanada (e-mail