Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2022
Philosophers of biology generally agree that causal specificity tracks biological importance: more specific causes are more important. I argue that this correlation does not hold in much research aimed at biomedical intervention. Applying James Woodward’s analysis of causal specificity to the development and design of HIV treatments, I show that drugs that are less causally specific produce better therapeutic outcomes and are more highly valued. Thus, I conclude that the importance of biological causes does not track their specificity but instead varies depending on the biological practice we consider and the goals of that practice.
I would like to thank Jim Woodward, Mike Dietrich, Ken Schaffner, and David Colaço as well as the audience at PSA 2018 for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.