Following the initial dinner at the causal inference workshop, it is clear that there are both insights and mistakes flying around. Epidemiologists are way ahead of philosophers in some respects, especially in their appreciation for the varieties of causal situation that can arise, and in their treatment of general causation and especially quantitative treatments of it. On the other hand they make some persistent errors, some of which a philosophical training would prevent, and some arising from the intrinsic difficulty of the subject. The problem, and perhaps the place where philosophical input could be most useful, is that the issues aren’t clearly partitioned, and discussions roam from one point to another, with interlocutors not clearly recognizing the logical links, or lack of them, and thus ultimately not able to separate their errors from their insights. Perhaps what I have just described sounds like many philosophical discussions too, but philosophers do characteristically–to a fault, perhaps–distinguish issues. “Ah, but that’s a different question,” is a common retort.
In the present debate, a framework within which certain issues could be separated from others, some parked and some revved up, would be very helpful. I’m not sure how to achieve it, without a huge synthesic survey of everything that has been written. Perhaps that is the only way.