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Why We Should Be Suspicious of Conspiracy Theories. A Novel Demarcation Problem

Boudry, Maarten (2020) Why We Should Be Suspicious of Conspiracy Theories. A Novel Demarcation Problem. [Preprint]

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Abstract

What, if anything, is wrong with conspiracy theories (CTs)? A conspiracy refers to a group of people acting in secret to achieve some nefarious goal. But given that the pages of history are full of such plots, why are CTs regarded with suspicion? Just like with the traditional demarcation problem (between science and pseudoscience), philosophers disagree about whether there are general ways to distinguish legitimate hypotheses about conspiracies from unfounded ‘conspiracy theories’. According to particularism, the currently dominant view among philosophers, there is no such demarcation line to be drawn. Each CT should be evaluated on its own merits, and the bad reputation of CTs as a class is undeserved. In this paper, I present a new defense of generalism, the view that there is indeed something prima facie suspicious about CTs. To demarcate legitimate theorizing about real-life conspiracies from “mere conspiracy theories” (in the pejorative sense), I draw on the principle of asymmetry between causes and effects, and show how it sheds light on classical problems of missing evidence and adhocness. Because of their extreme resilience to counterevidence, CTs can be seen as the epistemological equivalent of black holes, in which unwary truth-seekers are drawn, never to escape again. Finally, by presenting a general ‘recipe’ for generating novel CTs around any given event, regardless of the circumstances and the available evidence, I rescue the (generalist) intuition behind colloquial phrases like “That’s just a conspiracy theory”.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Boudry, Maartenmaartenboudry@gmail.com
Keywords: conspiracy theories; epistemology; demarcation problem; falsifiability; generalism; particularism
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Mathematics > Epistemology
Depositing User: Maarten Maarten Boudry
Date Deposited: 27 Feb 2021 18:40
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2021 18:40
Item ID: 18761
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Mathematics > Epistemology
Date: June 2020
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/18761

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