Conspiracytheories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic ‘oughts’ that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. I argue that the policy of systematically doubting or disbelieving conspiracytheories would be both a political disaster and the epistemic (...) equivalent of self-mutilation, since it leads to the conclusion that history is bunk and the nightly news unbelievable. In fact (of course) the policy is not employed systematically but is only wheeled on to do down theories that the speaker happens to dislike. I develop a deductive argument from hard-to-deny premises that if you are not a ‘conspiracy theorist’ in my anodyne sense of the word then you are an ‘idiot’ in the Greek sense of the word, that is, someone so politically purblind as to have no opinions about either history or public affairs. The conventional wisdom can only be saved (if at all) if ‘conspiracy theory’ is given a slanted definition. I discuss some slanted definitions apparently presupposed by proponents of the conventional wisdom (including, amongst others, Tony Blair) and conclude that even with these definitions the conventional wisdom comes out as deeply unwise. I finish up with a little harmless fun at the expense of David Aaronvitch whose abilities as a rhetorician and a popular historian are not perhaps matched by a corresponding capacity for logical thought. (shrink)
Conpiracy theories are widely deemed to be superstitious. Yet history appears to be littered with conspiracies successful and otherwise. (For this reason, "cock-up" theories cannot in general replace conspiracytheories, since in many cases the cock-ups are simply failed conspiracies.) Why then is it silly to suppose that historical events are sometimes due to conspiracy? The only argument available to this author is drawn from the work of the late Sir Karl Popper, who criticizes what (...) he calls "the conspiracy theory of society" in The Open Society and elsewhere. His critique of the conspiracy theory is indeed sound, but it is a theory no sane person maintains. Moreover, its falsehood is compatible with the prevalence of conspiracies. Nor do his arguments create any presumption against conspiracytheories of this or that. Thus the belief that it is superstitious to posit conspiracies is itself a superstition. The article concludes with some speculations as to why this superstition is so widely believed. (shrink)
Abstract Conspiracytheories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic “oughts” that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. But the beliefforming strategy of not believing conspiracytheories would be a political disaster and the epistemic equivalent of selfmutilation. (...) I discuss several variations of this strategy, interpreting “conspiracy theory” in different ways but conclude that on all these readings, the conventional wisdom is deeply unwise. (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 conspiracytheories.
Recent philosophical treatment of conspiracytheories supposes them all to be explanatory, thus overlooking those conspiracytheories whose major purpose is the assertion of ‘hidden facts’ rather than explanation of accepted facts. I call this variety of non-explanatory conspiracytheories “counterfact theories”. In this paper, through the use of examples, including the Obama birth certificate conspiracy theory, I uncover the distinctive reasoning pattern and dialectical strategy of counterfact theories, highlighting their epistemic (...) flaws. (shrink)
Conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories, The Philosophy of ConspiracyTheories looks at whether the assumption that belief in conspiracytheories is typically irrational is well founded.
Conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories, ‘The Philosophy of ConspiracyTheories’ looks at whether the assumption that belief in conspiracytheories is typically irrational is well founded. -/- ‘The Philosophy of ConspiracyTheories’ is aimed at both the philosopher and the non-philosopher. It is a qualified defence (...) of belief in conspiracytheories: belief in conspiracytheories can be rational in some circumstances. It covers issues like: who might be consider as qualified conspiracy theorist;, how do we analyse claims of disinformation; is our reliance on official theories a good reason to be suspicious of rival conspiracytheories; and what we should do when official theories and conspiracytheories are in conflict? (shrink)
The purpose of this doctoral project is to explore the epistemic issues surrounding the concept of the conspiracy theory and to advance the analysis and evaluation of the conspiracy theory as a mode of explanation. The candidate is interested in the circumstances under which inferring to the truth or likeliness of a given conspiracy theory is, or is not, warranted.
Conspiracytheories are often portrayed as unwarranted beliefs, typically supported by suspicious kinds of evidence. Yet contemporary work in Philosophy argues provisional belief in conspiracytheories is at the very least understandable---because conspiracies occur---and that if we take an evidential approach, judging individual conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories, and show how the so-called evidential problems with conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories generally, there is no prima facie case for a scepticism of conspiracytheories based purely on their use of evidence. (shrink)
The dismissive attitude of intellectuals toward conspiracy theorists is considered and given some justification. It is argued that intellectuals are entitled to an attitude of prima facie skepticism toward the theories propounded by conspiracy theorists, because conspiracy theorists have an irrational tendency to continue to believe in conspiracytheories, even when these take on the appearance of forming the core of degenerating research program. It is further argued that the pervasive effect of the "fundamental (...) attribution error" can explain the behavior of such conspiracy theorists. A rival approach due to Brian Keeley, which involves the criticism of a subclass of conspiracytheories on epistemic grounds, is considered and found to be inadequate. Key Words: conspiracy conspiracytheories conspiracy theorizing. (shrink)
As the end of the Millennium approaches, conspiracytheories are increasing in number and popularity. In this short essay, I offer an analysis of conspiracytheories inspired by Hume's discussion of miracles. My first conclusion is that whereas Hume can argue that miracles are, by definition, explanations we are not warranted in believing, there is nothing analytic that will allow us to distinguish good from bad conspiracytheories. There is no a priori method for (...) distinguishing warranted conspiracytheories (say, those explaining Watergate) from those which are unwarranted (say, theories about extraterrestrials abducting humans). Nonetheless, there is a cluster of characteristics often shared by unwarranted conspiracytheories. An analysis of the alleged explanatory virtues of unwarranted conspiracies suggests some reasons for their current popularity, while at the same time providing grounds for their rejection. Finally, I discuss how conspiracytheories embody an anachronistic world-view that places the contemporary zeitgeist in a clearer light. (shrink)
In the social science literature, conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories do not have any of the relevant qualities. Thus, the social science literature provides a distorted account of the general category ‘ (...) class='Hi'>conspiracy theory’, conflating it with a subset of that category that encourages unfairly negative evaluations of conspiracytheories. 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 conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories ought to be judged on the totality of their individual merits. (shrink)
Conspiracytheories have a bad reputation. This is especially true in the academy and in the media. Within these institutions, to describe someone as a conspiracy theorist is often to imply that his or her views should not be taken seriously. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that philosophers have tended to ignore the topic, despite the enduring appeal of conspiracytheories in popular culture. Recently, however, some philosophers have at least treated conspiracy theorists (...) respectfully enough to try to articulate where they go wrong.I begin this paper by clarifying the nature of conspiracytheories. I then argue against some recent critiques of conspiracytheories. Many criticisms of conspiracytheories are unfounded. I also argue that unwillingness to entertain conspiracytheories is an intellectual and moral failing. I end by suggesting an Aristotelian approach to the issue, according to which the intellectual virtue of realism is a golden mean between the intellectual vices of paranoia and naivety. (shrink)
We hypothesised that belief in conspiracytheories would be predicted by the general tendency to attribute agency and intentionality where it is unlikely to exist. We further hypothesised that this tendency would explain the relationship between education level and belief in conspiracytheories, where lower levels of education have been found to be associated with higher conspiracy belief. In Study 1 participants were more likely to agree with a range of conspiracytheories if (...) they also tended to attribute intentionality and agency to inanimate objects. As predicted, this relationship accounted for the link between education level and belief in conspiracytheories. We replicated this finding in Study 2, whilst taking into account beliefs in paranormal phenomena. These results suggest that education may undermine the reasoning processes and assumptions that are reflected in conspiracy belief. (shrink)
Political conspiracy theorists have done a lot of good in the past; undoubtedly they will do a lot of good in the future too. However, it is important to point out that conspiracytheories may have adverse consequences too. Political conspiracy theorizing, as a public activity, may lead to harmful scapegoating and its implications may be racist and fascist rather than democratic. Conspiracytheories may undermine trust in political institutions. Certain conspiracytheories (...) are kept artificially alive, because of their political effects; “conspiracy theorists” do not always believe in their theories, but repeat them in public because of politicalreasons. Conspiracytheories have close connections to populism, and when theories are accepted widely enough, they remind harmful rumors. Sometimes conspiracytheories are designed and disclosed to make political decision-making more difficult and to create an impression that certain questions are still “open”. Certain conspiracytheories are disguised libels: they place individual persons in a “false light” in the public eye. In my presentation, I aim to discuss the ethics of political conspiracy theorizing and conditions for ethically acceptable conspiracy theorizing. (shrink)
It has long been recognized that a local hidden variable theory of quantum mechanics can in principle be constructed, provided one is willing to countenance pre-measurement correlations between the properties of measured systems and measuring devices. However, this ‘conspiratorial’ approach is typically dismissed out of hand. In this article I examine the justification for dismissing conspiracytheories of quantum mechanics. I consider the existing arguments against such theories, and find them to be less than conclusive. I suggest (...) a more powerful argument against the leading strategy for constructing a conspiracy theory. Finally, I outline two alternative strategies for constructing conspiracytheories, both of which are immune to these arguments, but require one to either modify or reject the common cause principle. Introduction The incompleteness of quantum mechanics Hidden variables Hidden mechanism conspiracytheories Existing arguments against hidden mechanisms A new argument against hidden mechanisms Backwards-causal conspiracytheories Acausal conspiracytheories Conclusion. (shrink)
Abstract Following Clarke (2002), a Lakatosian approach is used to account for the epistemic development of conspiracytheories. It is then argued that the hypercritical atmosphere of the internet has slowed down the development of conspiracytheories, discouraging conspiracy theorists from articulating explicit versions of their favoured theories, which could form the hard core of Lakatosian research pro grammes. The argument is illustrated with a study of the “controlled demolition” theory of the collapse of (...) three towers at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (shrink)
We offer a particularist defense of conspiratorial thinking. We explore the possibility that the presence of a certain kind of evidence—what we call "fortuitous data"—lends rational credence to conspiratorial thinking. In developing our argument, we introduce conspiracytheories and motivate our particularist approach (§1). We then introduce and define fortuitous data (§2). Lastly, we locate an instance of fortuitous data in one real world conspiracy, the Watergate scandal (§3).
Most conspiracytheories exist as part of “stigmatized knowledge” – that is, knowledge claims that have not been accepted by those institutions we rely upon for truth validation. Not uncommonly, believers in conspiracytheories also accept other forms of stigmatized knowledge, such as unorthodox forms of healing and beliefs about Atlantis and UFOs. Rejection by authorities is for them a sign that a belief must be true. However, the linkage of conspiracytheories with stigmatized (...) knowledge has been weakening, because stigmatized knowledge itself is growing more problematic. What was once clearly recognizable as “the fringe” is now beginning to merge with the mainstream. This process of “mainstreaming the fringe” is the result of numerous factors, including the ubiquity of the Internet, the growing suspicion of authority, and the spread of once esoteric themes in popular culture. Only a permeable membrane now separates the fringe from the mainstream. Thus conspiracism is no longer the province only of small... (shrink)
There has been a lively philosophical debate about the nature of conspiracytheories and their epistemic status going on for some years now. This debate has shed light, not only on conspiracytheories themselves, but also, in the process, on a variety of issues in social epistemology, political philosophy, and the philosophy of religion.
In an article published in the Journal of Political Philosophy, Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule argue that the government and its allies ought to activelyundermine groups that espouse conspiracytheories deemed “demonstrably false.” They propose infiltrating such groups in order to “cure” conspiracy theorists by treating their “crippled epistemology” with “cognitive diversity.” They base their proposal on an analysis of the “causes” of such conspiracytheories, which emphasizes informational and reputational cascades. Some may regard their (...) proposal as outrageous and anti-democratic. I agree. However, in this article I merely argue that their argument is flawed in at least the following ways: their account of the popularity of conspiracytheories is implausible, and their proposal relies on misleading “stylized facts,” including a caricature of those who doubt official narratives and a deceptive depiction of the relevant history. (shrink)
Abstract The typical explanation of an event or process which attracts the label ‘conspiracy theory’ is an explanation that conflicts with the account advanced by the relevant epistemic authorities. I argue that both for the layperson and for the intellectual, it is almost never rational to accept such a conspiracy theory. Knowledge is not merely shallowly social, in the manner recognized by social epistemology, it is also constitutively social: many kinds of knowledge only become accessible thanks to the (...) agent's embedding in an environment that includes other epistemic agents. Moreover, advances in knowledge typically require ongoing immersion in this social environment. But the intellectual who embraces a conspiracy theory risks cutting herself off from this environment, and therefore epistemically disabling herself. Embracing a conspiracy theory therefore places at risk the ability to engage in genuine enquiry, including the enquiry needed properly to evaluate the conspiracy theory. (shrink)
Unless we think, we aren't -- God told me to deny -- "The law is an ass" -- Thoroughly uncomplementary -- Puffing the product -- Paying with their lives -- The Antivaxers -- The AIDS "controversy" -- Selfish help -- Dissent about descent -- We're (badly) designed -- No safe classroom? -- Evilution -- Eugenically speaking -- Social Darwinism -- It's the ecology, stupid -- So, what was the weather like in 2010? -- Global weirding -- Marketing climate denialism -- (...) Climate denialism : dramatis personae. (shrink)
Conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories is irrational, showing that in a range of cases, belief in conspiracytheories is warranted. However, it is still often said that conspiracytheories 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 conspiracytheories 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 Part 1, I contend (using Coriolanus as my mouthpiece) that Keeley and Clarke have failed to show that there is anything intellectually suspect about conspiracytheories per se. Conspiracy theorists need not commit the ‘fundamental attribution error’ there is no reason to suppose that all or most conspiracytheories constitute the cores of degenerating research programs, nor does situationism - a dubious doctrine in itself - lend any support to a systematic skepticism about (...) class='Hi'>conspiracytheories. In Part 2. I argue (in propria persona) that the idea that there is something suspect about conspiracytheories is one of the most dangerous and idiotic superstitions to disgrace our political culture. (shrink)