Acta Analytica

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 265–292 | Cite as

On Anti Humeanism and Medical Singular Causation



In this paper I offer an anti-Humean interpretation of the causal interactions in somatic medicine. I focus on life-threatening pathological states and show how Nancy Cartwright’s capacities can offer a plausible epistemology for medical processes and the singular causal claims advanced in medical diagnoses. I argue that the capacities manifested in the emergence of symptoms and signs could be tracked down if healthy organisms are construed as nomological machines and suggest that the causal reasoning from current medical practice bears a tacit adherence to anti-Humean assumptions.


Causation Medical causes Anti-Humeanism Capacity Nomological machine Cartwright 


  1. Armstrong, D. (1997). The world as a state of affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong, D., & Heathcote, A. (1991). Causes and Laws. Nous, 15(1), 63–74.Google Scholar
  3. Arnold, M. (2010). Heart failure. In The Merk manual for healthcare professionals. Available via # Cited 29 October 2011.
  4. Ashcroft, R. (2004). Current epistemological problems in evidence based medicine. Journal of Medical Ethics, 30, 131–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bird, A. (1998). Dispositions and antidotes. Philosophical Quarterly, 48, 227–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bird, A. (2004). Antidotes all the way down? Theoria, 19, 259–269.Google Scholar
  7. Bird, A. (2005). Laws and essences. Ratio, 18(4), 437–461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bird, A. (2007). Nature's metaphysics: Dispositions, laws, and properties. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Cartwright, N., & Dupre, J. (1988). Probability and causality: Why hume and indeterminism don‘t mix. Nous, 22, 521–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cartwright, N. (1989). Nature's capacities and their measurement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Cartwright, N. (1999). The dappled word. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cartwright, N. (2002a). In favour of laws that are not ceteris paribus after all. Erkenntnis, 57, 425–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cartwright, N. (2002b). ‘Introduction’ and ‘Reply’. Philosophical Books, 43, 241-244–271-279.Google Scholar
  14. Cartwright, N. (2005). How can we know what made the ratman sick? Singular causes and population probabilities. In Aleksandar Jokić (Ed.) Philosophy of Religion, Physics, and Psychology: Essays in Honor of Adolf Grünbaum. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books. Available via Cited 29 October 2011
  15. Cartwright, N. (2007a). Causal powers. Monograph LSE. Available via Cited 29 October 2011.
  16. Cartwright, N. (2007b). Hunting causes and using them. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cartwright, N. (2010). What are randomised controlled trials good for? Philosophical Studies, 147(1), 59–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chabner, B., & Chabner-Thompson, E. (2008). Paraneoplastic Syndromes. In The Merk Manual for Healthcare Professionals. Available via Cited 29 October 2011.
  19. Canguilhem, G. (1991) [1966]. The Normal and the Pathological. Carolyn R. Fawcett & Robert S. Cohen (Transl.). New-York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  20. Dragulinescu, S. (2010). Diseases as natural kinds. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 31(5), 347–369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dragulinescu, S. (2011) On ‘Stabilising’ medical mechanisms, truth-makers and epistemic causality: a critique to Williamson and Russo’s approach. Synthese, online first 15 Sept. 2011, available via Cited 29 October 2011.
  22. Ellis, B. (2000). Causal laws and singular causation. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 61(2), 329–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fernet, M., et al. (1987). A case of ectopic right renal artery: a radiologic-anatomic variant. Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy, 9(4), 319–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gillard, J. H., et al. (1998). Riedel’s lobe of the liver: fact or fiction? Clinical Anatomy, 11, 47–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hempel, C. (1966). Philosophy of natural science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  26. Horton, R. (1995). Georges Canguilhem: philosopher of disease. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 88(6), 316–319.Google Scholar
  27. Lagiou, P., Adam, H.-O., & Trichopoulos, D. (2005). Causality in cancer epidemiology. European Journal of Epidemiology, 20, 565–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lewis, D. (1973). Counterfactuals. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lewis, D. (1986). Causal Explanation. In Philosophical Papers, Volume II (pp. 214–240). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Lipton, R., & Ødegaard, T. (2005). Causal thinking and causal language in epidemiology: it’s in the details. Epidemiologic Perspectives & Innovations, 2, 8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lote, C. J. (2000). Principles of renal physiology. Amsterdam: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lowe, J. (1989). Kinds of being. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Menzies, P. (2002). Capacities, natures and pluralism: a new metaphysics for science. Philosophical Books, 43, 261–270.Google Scholar
  34. Mumford, S. (1998). Dispositions. Oxford: Claredon.Google Scholar
  35. Mumford, S. (2004). Laws in Nature. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Nagel, E. (1961). The structure of science: Problems in the logic of scientific explanation. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Papineau, D. (1991). Review: correlations and causes. The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 42(3), 397–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Parascandola, M., & Weed, D. (2001). Causation in epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 55, 905–912.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Paul, L. A. (2002). Limited realism: Cartwright on natures and laws. Philosophical Books, 43, 244–253.Google Scholar
  40. Psillos, S. (2007). Philosophy of science A–Z. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Psillos, S. (2008). Cartwright’s realist toil. In C. Hoefer, L. Bovens (Eds.) Cartwright’s philosophy of science, Stephan Hartman, (pp. 167-194). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Psillos, S. (2009). Causation and Regularity. In H. Beebee, P. Menzies, & C. Hitchcock (Eds.), Oxford handbook of causation (pp. 131–157). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Russo, F., & Williamson, J. (2007). Interpreting causality in the health sciences. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 21(2), 157-170. Available via Cited 29 October 2011
  44. Schaffer, J. (2008). Causation and Laws of Nature: Reductionism. In Theodore Sider, John Hawthorne & Dean W. Zimmerman (Eds.), Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics (pp. 82-107). Oxford: Blackwell. Available via Cited 29 October 2011
  45. Schrenk, M. (2006) A theory for special science laws. In , H. Bohse & S. Walter (Eds.), Selected papers contributed to the sections of GAP.6. Berlin: Mentis. Available via Cited 29 October 2011
  46. Sharpe, N., & Swedberg, K. (1996). The value of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors for the treatment of patients with left ventricular dysfunction, heart failure or after acute myocardial infarction. European Heart Journal, 17, 1306–1311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Spohn, W. (1983). Probabilistic causality: from Hume via Suppes to Granger. In Causalita e Modelli Probabilistici, M. Galvotti and G. Gambetta, (Eds.), pp. 69-87. Bologna: Clueb. Available via Cited 29 October 2011
  48. Suppes, P. (1970). A probabilistic theory of causality. Amsterdam: North Holland.Google Scholar
  49. Steel, D. (2008). Across the boundaries: Extrapolation in biology and social science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Tanser, P. (2007). Aortic Regurgitation. In The Merk manual for healthcare professionals. Available via Cited 29 October 2011.
  51. van Fraassen, B. (1980). The scientific image. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Willenheimer, R., Dahlöf, B., Rydberg, E., & Erhardt, L. (1999). AT1-receptor blockers in hypertension and heart failure: clinical experience and future directions. European Heart Journal, 20, 997–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Wilson, J. (2006). Causality. In S. Sarkar & J. Pfeifer (Eds.), The philosophy of science: An encyclopedia (pp. 90–100). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Whitbeck, C. (1977). Causation in medicine: the disease entity model. Philosophy of Science, 44(4), 619–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BucharestRomania
  2. 2.Philosophy DepartmentLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

Personalised recommendations