What Does It Mean for a Conspiracy Theory to Be a ‘Theory’?

Social Epistemology:1-16 (2023)
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Abstract

The pejorative connotation often associated with the ordinary language meaning of “conspiracy theory” does not only stem from a conspiracy theory’s being about a conspiracy, but also from a conspiracy theory’s being regarded as a particular kind of theory. I propose to understand conspiracy theory-induced polarization in terms of disagreement about the correct epistemic evaluation of ‘theory’ in ‘conspiracy theory’. By framing the positions typical in conspiracy theory-induced polarization in this way, I aim to show that pejorative conceptions of ‘conspiracy theory’ are problematic for research open to the possibility of finding depolarization strategies. That is, because they preclude constructive engagement with the epistemic norms governing (the rationales foundational of) belief in conspiracy theories.

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Julia Duetz
VU University Amsterdam

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