Abstract Causal claims in biomedical contexts are ubiquitous albeit that they are not always made explicit. This paper addresses the question of what causal claims mean in the context of disease. It is argued that in medical contexts causality ought to be interpreted according to the epistemic theory. The epistemic theory offers an alternative to traditional accounts that cash out causation either in terms of ‘difference-making ’ relations or in terms of mechanisms. According to the epistemic approach, causal claims tell us about which inferences (e.g., diagnoses and prognoses) are appropriate, rather than about the presence of some physical causal relation analogous to distance or gravitational attraction. It is shown that the epistemic theory has important consequences for medical practice, in particular with regard to the evidencebased causal assessment.
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