Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style: Do Conspiracy Theories Posit Implausibly Vast and Evil Conspiracies?

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

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.

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 93,745

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Suspicious conspiracy theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-14.
Critical Citizens or Paranoid Nutcases: On the Epistemology of Conspiracy Theories.Daniel Cohnitz - 2017 - Utrecht: Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen.
Conspiracy Theories and Evidential Self-Insulation.M. Giulia Napolitano - 2021 - In Sven Bernecker, Amy K. Flowerree & Thomas Grundmann (eds.), The Epistemology of Fake News. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 82-105.
Climate Change Conspiracy Theories.Juha Räikkä - 2023 - In Pellegrino Gianfranco & Marcello Di Paola (eds.), Handbook of Philosophy of Climate Change. Springer Nature. pp. 1161-1177.
Taking conspiracy theories seriously and investigating them.M. R. X. Dentith - 2018 - In Matthew R. X. Dentith (ed.), Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously. Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 217-225.
Popper revisited, or what is wrong with conspiracy theories?Charles Pigden - 1995 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 25 (1):3-34.
The Ideological Components of Populism and Conspiracy Theories.Levon Babajanyan - 2021 - Bulletin of Yerevan University. Philosophy, Psychology 35 (2):31-43.
Should Academics Debunk Conspiracy Theories?Kurtis Hagen - 2020 - Social Epistemology 34 (5):423-439.

Analytics

Added to PP
2017-08-23

Downloads
141 (#31,504)

6 months
38 (#406,104)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Kurtis Hagen
University of Hawaii (PhD)

References found in this work

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

View all 7 references / Add more references