I am currently using what little spare time I have at the moment to work on the coursebooklet for the next Continuing Education lecture series. I have, thus, been ironing out a few of niggling bits of conceptual work, not just for my sake but also for that of my future students. Whilst I have a fairly clear idea of where the thesis is going, and how to pull bits out of it for public consumption, actually turning these ideas into cogent and coherent English sentences is another matter entirely. I mean, I can say such things like: ‘Basically, my PhD dissertation will advance a novel thesis that explains why we find contemporary Conspiracy Theories prima facie implausible (which is not to say that all Conspiracy Theories are implausible but that we can explain why our initial reaction to them is ‘Yeah, right…’) based somewhat around such theories being examples of the ‘Just So’ Fallacy.’
Now that is helpful and I could, therefore, produce a one page handout for the six lectures I will be taking. However, I suspect the students will consider that a little cheap. Anyway, the coursebooklet (is this compound word extant elsewhere?) gives me a chance to start writing up some of the ideas that have been fermenting in the old cranial glands. Such as the following:
It occurred to me (on Thursday) that an important sub-class of Conspiracy Theories are not complete explanations in their own right but rather partial explanations. I’ll let the first draft of the coursebooklet explain further.
One further reason why we might treat the concept â€˜Conspiracy Theoryâ€™ as perjorative term should also be touched upon. Some Conspiracy Theories focus not on the whole explanatory story of the event under consideration but rather on one particular part of it, a part, it is perceived, that the official explanation either does not account for or does not adequately properly explain. As an example, someone might question the official explanation of the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11th by arguing that one aspect of the explanation, the description of how the towers were felled, is implausible. Such an argument might not put forward the existence of a shadowy cabal masterminding the event but simply argue that the official explanation, as it stands, does not withstand scrutiny. These partial explanations are then usually meant to cast doubt on the official explanation as a whole. Of course, one reply to this would be to claim that we agree that in many cases the official explanation is not as complete as it could be but that it does not necessarily show that the official explanation is, in fact, wrong. It might just be inadequate. We might also want to claim that such partial explanations are not, in themselves, Conspiracy Theories because they do not (necessarily) imply the existence of a cabal working towards some goal. It does seem clear, however, that such partial explanations are important to Conspiracy Theorists, as has been seen in the literature dealing with the September 11th attacks and the so-called â€˜Magic Bullet Hypothesisâ€™ in respect to the assassination of JFK.
This is very much ‘new ground’ (in that I’m still working out what exactly I mean; others have surely touched on this before) but it certainly seems to be something that should be addressed in the course of the PhD. What role do these partial explanations play? Do they act as defeaters for what are otherwise considered to be justified beliefs? Surely some good critiques of official views are being lumped into the perjorative ‘Conspiracy Theory’ simply by Conspiracy Theorists making use of them.
And, perhaps most importantly, what colour are they?
Enquiring mind(s) want to know.