J Epidemiol Community Health 59:512-516 doi:10.1136/jech.2004.027524
  • Theory and methods

A philosophical analysis of the Hill criteria

  1. Lau Caspar Thygesen1,
  2. Gregers Stig Andersen1,
  3. Hanne Andersen2
  1. 1Centre for Alcohol Research, National Institute of Public Health, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2Department of Medical Philosophy and Clinical Theory, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr L C Thygesen
 Centre for Alcohol Research, National Institute of Public Health, Øster Farimagsgade 5, DK-1399 Copenhagen K, Denmark;
  • Accepted 5 January 2005


The epidemiological literature contains an ongoing and diversified discussion of the Hill criteria. This article offers a philosophical analysis of the criteria, showing that the criteria are related to two different views of causality. The authors argue that the criteria of strength, specificity, consistency, experiment, and biological gradient are related to a probabilistic regularity view of causality, whereas the criteria of coherence, plausibility, and analogy are related to a generative view of causality. The criterion of temporality is not related to either view, but may in contrast be central in inferring direction from cause to effect. The authors illuminate the aim and limitations of the various criteria that need to be included when discussing them.


  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.