Frequency and Propensity: The Interpretation of Probability in Causal Models for Medicine

Authored by: Donald Gillies

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138846791
eBook ISBN: 9781315720739
Adobe ISBN: 9781317519850


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The title of this chapter involves the terms “interpretation of probability” and “causal model,” which will not be familiar to many readers. However, the meaning of these expressions will be explained as we go along. To give these explanations, we must begin by making some general observations about the notion of causality. Causality is a key concept in medicine, but, to analyze this concept, it will be useful to begin by distinguishing between theoretical and clinical medicine. What could be called theoretical medicine consists of a body of laws and theories, many of them involving causality, which have been discovered and then confirmed by medical research. A typical accepted causal law is the following:

The varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox

(1) This kind of causal claim is described as generic, because it covers many cases.

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