Belief in conspiracy theories is typically considered irrational, and as a consequence of this, conspiracy theorists––those who dare believe some conspiracy theory––have been charged with a variety of epistemic or psychological failings. Yet recent philosophical work has challenged the view that belief in conspiracy theories should be considered as typically irrational. By performing an intra-group analysis of those people we call “conspiracy theorists”, we find that the problematic traits commonly ascribed to the general group of conspiracy theorists turn out to (...) be merely a set of stereotypical behaviours and thought patterns associated with a purported subset of that group. If we understand that the supposed prob- lem of belief in conspiracy theories is centred on the beliefs of this purported sub- set––the conspiracists––then we can reconcile the recent philosophical contribu- tions to the wider academic debate on the rationality of belief in conspiracy theories. (shrink)
Conspiracy theories are typically thought to be examples of irrational beliefs, and thus unlikely to be warranted. However, recent work in Philosophy has challenged the claim that belief in conspiracy theories is irrational, showing that in a range of cases, belief in conspiracy theories is warranted. However, it is still often said that conspiracy theories are unlikely relative to non-conspiratorial explanations which account for the same phenomena. However, such arguments turn out to rest upon how we define what gets counted (...) both as a ‘conspiracy’ and a ‘conspiracy theory’, and such arguments rest upon shaky assumptions. It turns out that it is not clear that conspiracy theories are prima facie unlikely, and so the claim that such theories do not typically appear in our accounts of the best explanations for particular kinds of events needs to be reevaluated. (shrink)
In the literature on conspiracy theories, the least contentious part of the academic discourse would appear to be what we mean by a “conspiracy”: a secretive plot between two or more people toward some end. Yet what, exactly, is the connection between something being a conspiracy and it being secret? Is it possible to conspire without also engaging in secretive behavior? To dissect the role of secrecy in con- spiracies – and thus contribute to the larger debate on the epistemology (...) of conspir- acy theories – we dene the concepts of “conspiracy,” “conspirator,” and “secret,” and argue that while conspirators might typically be thought to commit to keeping secrets once their conspiracy is underway, the idea that conspiracies are necessarily secretive to start with is not as obvious as previously thought. (shrink)
A reply to Patrick Stokes' 'Reluctance and Suspicion'—itself a reply to an early piece by myself replying to Stokes—in which I clarify what it is I intend when talking about how we should investigate conspiracy theories.
A reply to Gérald Bronner, Véronique Campion-Vincent, Sylvain Delouvée, Sebastian Dieguez, Nicolas Gauvrit, Anthony Lantian, and Pascal Wagner-Egger's piece, '“They” Respond: Comments on Basham et al.’s “Social Science’s Conspiracy-Theory Panic: Now They Want to Cure Everyone”.
Typical analyses of belief in conspiracy theories have it that identifying as a conspiracy theorist is irrational. However, given that we know conspiracies occur, and theories about said conspiracies can be warranted, should we really be scared of the locution 'I'm a conspiracy theorist...'?
The contributors to this volume argue that whilst there is a commonplace superstition conspiracy theories are examples of bad beliefs (and that the kind of people who believe conspiracy theories are typically irrational), many conspiracy theories are rational to believe: the members of the Dewey Commission were right to say that the Moscow Trials of the 1930s were a sham; Woodward and Bernstein were correct to think that Nixon was complicit in the conspiracy to deny any wrongdoing in the Watergate (...) Hotel break in; and if we either accept the terrorist events of 9/11 were committed by Al-Qaeda, or that the Bush Administration was responsible, then it seems we are endorsing some theory about a conspiracy to commit an act of terror on American soil. As such, there is no reason to reject conspiracy theories sui generis. This volume challenges the prima facie that conspiracy theories are irrational beliefs, arguing that we should treat conspiracy theories and the phenomena of conspiracy theories seriously. It presents fresh perspectives from the wider philosophical, sociological and psychological community on what is becoming an issue of increasing relevance in our time. (shrink)
Looking at the recent spate of claims about “fake news” which appear to be a new feature of political discourse, I argue that fake news presents an interesting problem in epistemology. Te phenomena of fake news trades upon tolerating a certain indiference towards truth, which is sometimes expressed insincerely by political actors. Tis indiference and insincerity, I argue, has been allowed to fourish due to the way in which we have set the terms of the “public” epistemology that maintains what (...) is considered “rational” public discourse. I argue one potential salve to the problem of fake news is to challenge this public epistemology by injecting a certain ethical consideration back into the discourse. (shrink)
Orr and Dentith argue that a recurrent problem in much of the wider academic literature on conspiracy theories is either conceptual confusion or a refusal to put theory before practice. Orr and Dentith show that a naive empiricism pervades much of the social science literature when it comes to these things called ‘conspiracy theories’ which not only runs at odds with the philosophical literature but also the general tenor of the social sciences over the latter part of the (...) 20th Century and beyond. Orr and Dentith argue that central to these confusions or refusals is not just a lack of philosophical rigour when it comes to defining and presenting views, but an active disinterest in such conceptual work. (shrink)
Judging the warrant of conspiracy theories can be difficult, and often we rely upon what the experts tell us when it comes to assessing whether particular conspiracy theories ought to be believed. However, whereas there are recognised experts in the sciences, I argue that only are is no such associated expertise when it comes to the things we call `conspiracy theories,' but that the conspiracy theorist has good reason to be suspicious of the role of expert endorsements when it comes (...) to conspiracy theories and their rivals. The kind of expertise, then, we might associate with conspiracy theories is largely improvised—in that it lacks institutional features—and, I argue, ideally the product of a community of inquiry. (shrink)
In this concluding chapter Dentith presents a synthesis of the views on offer, arguing that the various philosophical, sociological and psychology theses defended in this section point towards a necessary reorientation of the literature, one which requires we purge public discourse of the pejorative aspects of the terms ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorist’ and, rather, engage with conspiracy theories as theories (like we do with theories in the Sciences and the Social Sciences) appraising them on their particular merits. Not (...) just that, but there is even room in our discourse to celebrate and promote conspiracy theorising (as we do theorising in other domains) given the need to be ever vigilant with respect to the existence of conspiracies in our polities. Sometimes, Dentith argues, that even requires that we treat some on-the-face-of-it ridiculous conspiracy theories seriously and ask how and who should investigate them. (shrink)
Basham and Dentith argue that the danger of condemning both conspiracy theorists and their conspiracy theories in a democracy has grave consequences. They argue that we should encourage research into public concerns about influential institutions, especially in cases where a conspiracy has been alleged. Rather than dismiss conspiracy theorising, we should, encourage the politically crucial, historically proven gift of watchfulness in the citizen, and its sometimes necessary, proper and correct expression, conspiracy theory.
An introduction to section one, introducing the various arguments in the section, and the common features of the critique of Dentith’s paper, When inferring to a conspiracy theory might be the best explanation.
In What particularism about conspiracy theories entails Dentith responds to their critics and examines the case for a refined and revised thesis of Particularism, the argument that we should appraise individual and particular conspiracy theories rather than appraise them in light of our views of the class of conspiracy theories generally. Recent work in the Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories has presented challenges to Particularism simpliciter (or Naive Particularism). Dentith argues that by facing these challenges Particularism presents an even (...) stronger case for rejecting a generalist conception of what belief in conspiracy theories entails. (shrink)
Conspiracies are, by definition, a group activity; to conspire requires two or more people working together towards some end, typically in secret. -/- Conspirators have intentions; this is borne out by the fact they want some end and are willing to engage in action to achieve. Of course, what these intentions are can be hard to fathom: historians have written a lot about the intentions of the assassins of Julius Caesar, for example; did they want to restore the Republic; was (...) Marcus Brutus lusting after power; was it an attempt to curb the ambitions of the plebeian class, who saw in Caesar someone not unlike themselves? -/- If intentions can be hard to infer, who is a knowing conspirator and who is a dupe is almost as tricky to parse. Not all purported members of a conspiracy are conspirators, even if they aid and abet the conspiracy. Take, for example, the notorious lax engineer who the conspirators know will sign off on substandard building compliance measures, making it all the easier for them to plant their controlled demolitions. On some account of causal or even moral responsibility the lax engineer would then be responsible for the subsequent event, the one the conspirators desired. Yet it also seems clear that even if she is responsible in some sense for the culminating event of the conspiracy, it is clear that they did not conspire. Or, at least, we would like to think so, although should the authorities find out about the lax engineer’s involvement, they may well be considered part of the conspiracy, especially if the conspirators do their best to hide their own involvement or identities. (shrink)
In this paper I interrogate the notion of `debunking conspiracy theories’, arguing that the term `debunk’ carries with it pejorative implications, given that the verb `to debunk’ is commonly understood as `to show the wrongness of a thing or concept’. As such, the notion of `debunking conspiracy theories’ builds in the notion that such theories are not just wrong but ought to be shown as being wrong. I argue that we should avoid the term `debunk’ and focus on investigating conspiracy (...) theories. Looking at recent research work in epistemology on conspiracy theory, I argue that the best way to avoid talk of `debunking’ conspiracy theories is by working with a non-pejorative definition of `conspiracy theory’, and forming communities of inquiry which allow us to investigate the warrant of such theories without the prejudice associated with working with a pejorative definition. (shrink)
In this paper I both summarise the recent volume "Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018) and argue as to why we should investigate conspiracy theories rather than assume they are false or irrational by definition.
An analysis of the recent efforts to define what counts as a "conspiracy theory", in which I argue that the philosophical and non-pejorative definition best captures the phenomenon researchers of conspiracy theory wish to interrogate.
Talk of fake news is rife in contemporary politics, but what is fake news, and how, if anything, does it differ from news which is fake? I argue that in order to make sense of the phenomenon of fake news, it is necessary to first define it and then show what does and does not fall under the rubric of ‘fake news’. I then go on to argue that fake news is not a new problem. Rather, if there is problem (...) with fake news it is its centrality in contemporary public debate. (shrink)
Previous findings indicate that negative arousal enhances bottom-up attention biases favouring perceptual salient stimuli over less salient stimuli. The current study tests whether those effects were driven by emotional arousal or by negative valence by comparing how well participants could identify visually presented letters after hearing either a negative arousing, positive arousing or neutral sound. On each trial, some letters were presented in a high contrast font and some in a low contrast font, creating a set of targets that differed (...) in perceptual salience. Sounds rated as more emotionally arousing led to more identification of highly salient letters but not of less salient letters, whereas sounds’ valence ratings did not impact salience biases. Thus, arousal, rather than valence, is a key factor enhancing visual processing of perceptually salient targets. (shrink)
Various authors have argued that progress in the neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric sciences might threaten the commonsense understanding of how the mind generates behavior, and, as a consequence, it might also threaten the commonsense ways of attributing moral responsibility, if not the very notion of moral responsibility. In the case of actions that result in undesirable outcomes, the commonsense conception—which is reflected in sophisticated ways in the legal conception—tells us that there are circumstances in which the agent is entirely and fully (...) responsible for the bad outcome and circumstances in which the agent is not at all responsible for the bad outcome. (shrink)
Conspiracy theories are often portrayed as unwarranted beliefs, typically supported by suspicious kinds of evidence. Yet contemporary work in Philosophy argues provisional belief in conspiracy theories is at the very least understandable---because conspiracies occur---and that if we take an evidential approach, judging individual conspiracy theories on their particular merits, belief in such theories turns out to be warranted in a range of cases. -/- Drawing on this work, I examine the kinds of evidence typically associated with conspiracy theories, and show (...) how the so-called evidential problems with conspiracy theories are also problems for the kinds of evidence put forward in support of other theories. As such, if there is a problem with the conspiracy theorist's use of evidence, it is one of principle: is the principle which guides the conspiracy theorist's use of evidence somehow in error? I argue that whatever we might think about conspiracy theories generally, there is no prima facie case for a scepticism of conspiracy theories based purely on their use of evidence. (shrink)
Conspiracy theories are a popular topic of conversation in everyday life but are often frowned upon in academic discussions. Looking at the recent spate of philosophical interest in conspiracy theories, The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories looks at whether the assumption that belief in conspiracy theories is typically irrational is well founded.
Health professionals are involved in humanitarian assistance and development work in many regions of the world. They participate in primary health care, immunization campaigns, clinic- and hospital-based care, rehabilitation and feeding programs. In the course of this work, clinicians are frequently exposed to complex ethical issues. This paper examines how health workers experience ethics in the course of humanitarian assistance and development work. A qualitative study was conducted to consider this question. Five core themes emerged from the data, including: tension (...) between respecting local customs and imposing values; obstacles to providing adequate care; differing understandings of health and illness; questions of identity for health workers; and issues of trust and distrust. Recommendations are made for organizational strategies that could help aid agencies support and equip their staff as they respond to ethical issues. (shrink)
This article poses a challenge to the assumption that all conceptions of the imago Dei are practical, meaning that they can coherently provide a guide for human action. The article identifies three criteria for practicality and applies them to two accounts of the imago, one in the thought of the twentieth-century theologian Helmut Thielicke, the other in the Roman Catholic tradition. It argues that Thielicke’s account of the imago, which forms the basis for what he calls ‘alien dignity’, fails to (...) meet the criteria of practicality, and thus cannot serve as an adequate guide for action. In contrast, the account of the imago and human dignity in the Roman Catholic tradition does meet the criteria. This comparison, the article concludes, ultimately helps provide a means of assessing diverse theological interpretations of the imago and their value for supporting a morally useful conception of human worth. (shrink)
From the early modern period, Western epistemologists have often been concerned with a rigorous notion of epistemic justification, epitomized in the work of Descartes: properly held beliefs require insulation from extreme skepticism. To the degree that veridical cognitive states may be indistinguishable from non-veridical states, apparently veridical states cannot enjoy high-grade positive epistemic status. Therefore, a good believer begins from what are taken to be neutral, subjective experiences and reasons outward—hopefully identifying the kinds of appearances that properly link up to (...) the world and those that do not. Good beliefs, beliefs that are justified (warranted, etc.), are those that a believer has .. (shrink)
Much of classical Hindu thought has centered on the question of self: what is it, how does it relate to various features of the world, and how may we benefit by realizing its depths? Attempting to gain a conceptual foothold on selfhood, Hindu thinkers commonly suggest that its distinctive feature is consciousness (caitanya). Well-worn metaphors compare the self to light as its awareness illumines the world of knowable objects. Consciousness becomes a touchstone to recognize the presence of a self. A (...) rock is insentient, void of consciousness, and purely an object. Selves, however, are loci of awareness and thus subjects. Some schools, most notably classical Sāṁkhya and Advaita Vedānta, take this approach to its furthest conclusion: consciousness is not only unique to the self, but is the fundamental feature of selfhood. Other putative features of the self—feelings, memories, moral responsibility, and importantly, agency (kartṛtva)—are taken to be the impositions of insentient matter (prakṛti) or symptoms of primordial illusion (avidyā). Against this position, Nyāya defends a more robust notion of selfhood, placing qualities like desire, aversion, volition, and moral responsibility alongside cognition as the self’s distinctive qualities. These various aspects of selfhood come together neatly when we consider agency. An agent performs intentional actions under her volition, which is triggered by her own cognitive and affective states. Her volitional acts further generate moral consequences which she must bear, and which are, in the Indian context, embodied in the form of karmic merit and demerit. For Nyāya, agency is, therefore, a special expression of the self’s different capacities and potentialities, which coherently binds them together. Nyāya’s view is an important contribution to Indian theories of self as it is a counterpoint to what we may call exclusively cognitive accounts of selfhood in other influential Hindu schools, as noted above. The first half of this paper will consider Nyāya’s conception of agency in relation to selfhood. The second half will discuss Nyāya’s arguments with other Hindu schools—specifically Sāṁkhya—in support of the thesis that the self must be an agent as well as a knower. (shrink)