Rethinking conspiracy theories

Synthese 200 (4):1-29 (2022)
  Copy   BIBTEX


I argue that that an influential strategy for understanding conspiracy theories stands in need of radical revision. According to this approach, called ‘generalism’, conspiracy theories are epistemically defective by their very nature. Generalists are typically opposed by particularists, who argue that conspiracy theories should be judged case-by-case, rather than definitionally indicted. Here I take a novel approach to criticizing generalism. I introduce a distinction between ‘Dominant Institution Conspiracy Theories and Theorists’ and ‘Non-Dominant Institution Conspiracy Theories and Theorists’. Generalists uncritically center the latter in their analysis, but I show why the former must be centered by generalists’ own lights: they are the clearest representatives of their views, and they are by far the most harmful. Once we make this change in paradigm cases, however, various typical generalist theses turn out to be false or in need of radical revision. Conspiracy theories are not primarily produced by extremist ideologies, as generalists typically claim, since mainstream, purportedly non-extremist political ideologies turn out to be just as, if not more responsible for such theories. Conspiracy theories are also, we find, not the province of amateurs: they are often created and pushed by individuals widely viewed as experts, who have the backing of our most prestigious intellectual institutions. While generalists may be able to take this novel distinction and shift in paradigm cases on board, this remains to be seen. Subsequent generalist accounts that do absorb this distinction and shift will look radically different from previous incarnations of the view.

Similar books and articles

The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories.Matthew Dentith - 2014 - London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
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.
Suspicious conspiracy theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2022 - Synthese 200 (3):1-14.
Expertise and Conspiracy Theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2018 - Social Epistemology 32 (3):196-208.
What particularism about conspiracy theories entails.M. R. X. Dentith - 2018 - In Matthew R. X. Dentith (ed.), Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously. Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 59-69.
Counterfact Conspiracy Theories.Susan Feldman - 2011 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 25 (1):15-24.
Conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorizing.Steve Clarke - 2002 - Philosophy of the Social Sciences 32 (2):131-150.
Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously.Matthew R. X. Dentith (ed.) - 2018 - Rowman & Littlefield International.
The Psychologists’ Conspiracy Panic: They Seek to Cure Everyone.M. R. X. Dentith & Dr Dr Lee Basham - 2018 - In Matthew R. X. Dentith (ed.), Taking Conspiracy Theories Seriously. Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 79-93.
Conspiracy Theories and Official Stories.David Coady - 2003 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (2):197-209.


Added to PP

819 (#17,632)

6 months
327 (#5,945)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Matthew Shields
Wake Forest University

Citations of this work

Some Conspiracy Theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2023 - Social Epistemology (4):522-534.
Avoiding the Stereotyping of the Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories: A Reply to Hill.M. R. X. Dentith - 2022 - Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 11 (8):41-49.
Hazards of Conceptual Engineering: Revisiting the Case of ‘Conspiracy Theory’.Matthew Shields - 2024 - Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 13 (2):74-90.
Genealogical Undermining for Conspiracy Theories.Alexios Stamatiadis-Bréhier - 2023 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy:1-23.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations