To provide a causal explanation of some outcome is often said to involve citing its
causes, but there is a sense in which any outcome has an ``enormous’’ or ``infinite”
number of causally relevant factors (Lewis 1986, 214). We often distinguish some
of these factors from others, selecting some as the ``true” causes of the outcome,
while viewing the rest as mere background conditions. A longstanding consensus in
the philosophical literature views this distinction–often referred to as causal selection–as
lacking any objective rationale and as guided by considerations that are arbitrary,
pragmatic, and subjective. Ross argues against this position in the context of biomedicine
by providing an analysis of the objective rationale that guides causal selection for
disease traits. Ross suggests that this rationale also involves pragmatic considerations,
which have been overlooked in the literature. This work clarifies how the causal
complexity of the systems investigated creates challenges for the construction of
explanations and that strategies of causal selection are attempts to respond to this.
Lewis, D. (1986). Causal Explanation. In Philosophical Papers. Oxford
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