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Risk, Chance, and CausationInvestigating the Origins and Treatment of Disease$
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Michael B. Bracken

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780300188844

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300188844.001.0001

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(p.239) Fifteen Causes
Risk, Chance, and Causation

Michael B. Bracken

Yale University Press

This chapter discusses the concept of causes through a study of William of Ockham's dictum, “plurality should not be assumed without necessity.” This dictum warns against accepting complex explanatory phenomena when simpler explanations exist. Ockham's dictum is a second principle still utilized by scientists as a guide in trying to understand causes. They might not be where the journey ends, but common and simple explanations should be the first ports of call in any voyage of causal discovery. In the case of diseases, Robert Koch, a researcher into the causes of anthrax and tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century, was the first to formally outline a set of criteria that would define a causal agent for a disease. His four criteria are enumerated and discussed in the sections that follow.

Keywords:   causes, William of Ockham, plurality, complex explanatory phenomena, simpler explanations, causal discovery, Robert Koch, causal agent

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