Social Epistemology 32 (1):24-40 (2018)

Abstract
In the social science literature, conspiracy theories are commonly characterized as theories positing a vast network of evil and preternaturally effective conspirators, and they are often treated, either explicitly or implicitly, as dubious on this basis. This characterization is based on Richard Hofstadter’s famous account of ‘the paranoid style’. However, many significant conspiracy theories do not have any of the relevant qualities. Thus, the social science literature provides a distorted account of the general category ‘conspiracy theory’, conflating it with a subset of that category that encourages unfairly negative evaluations of conspiracy theories. Generally, when evaluating theories, one should focus on the most plausible versions; the merit of a theory is independent of the existence of less plausible versions of it. By ignoring this and glossing over important distinctions, many academics, especially in the social sciences, have misclassified many conspiracy theories and in doing so have contributed to an epistemically unfair depiction of them. Further, even theories that genuinely fit the description of ‘the paranoid style’ cannot be completely dismissed on that basis. All conspiracy theories ought to be judged on the totality of their individual merits.
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DOI 10.1080/02691728.2017.1352625
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References found in this work BETA

The Problem of Conspiracism.Matthew R. X. Dentith - 2018 - Argumenta 3 (2):327-343.
Conspiracy Theories and Fortuitous Data.J. Buenting & J. Taylor - 2010 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 40 (4):567-578.
Complots of Mischief.Charles Pigden - 2006 - In David Coady (ed.), Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate. Ashgate. pp. 139-166.
Are Conspiracy Theorists Irrational?David Coady - 2007 - Episteme 4 (2):193-204.

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Citations of this work BETA

Dealing with Conspiracy Theory Attributions.Brian Martin - 2020 - Social Epistemology 34 (5):409-422.
Should Academics Debunk Conspiracy Theories?Kurtis Hagen - 2020 - Social Epistemology 34 (5):423-439.
Three Duties of Epistemic Diligence.Tim Hayward - 2019 - Journal of Social Philosophy 50 (4):536-561.
Medical Conspiracy Theories: Cognitive Science and Implications for Ethics.Gabriel Andrade - 2020 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 23 (3):505-518.

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