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Durham University

The Department of Philosophy


Publication details for Professor Nancy Cartwright

Cartwright, N. (2015). Single Case Causes: What is Evidence and Why. CHESS Working Paper 2015-02.

Author(s) from Durham


How do we establish singular causal claims? It seems we do this all the time, from courtrooms
to cloud chambers. Nevertheless, there is a strong lobby in the evidence-based medicine
and policy movements that argues that we cannot make reliable causal judgments about
single cases in these areas. So we cannot tell whether a policy or treatment ‘worked’ for any
specific individual. The reason often seems rooted in the idea that a singular causal claim, if
not equivalent to, at least implies, a counterfactual claim: c caused e  e would not have occurred
had c not occurred. Couple this with the idea that we cannot have compelling evidence
about what would have happened in any actual case had things been different and you
end up with serious doubts about the possibility of warranting singular causal claims.