Pejorative [Updated]

[Just an update to say that the Dentith Files has been postponed a week due to illness, chiefly mine but I’m willing to let the World in on grounds of Climate Change.]

Over at George Washington’s blog (no, really) the author asks why the term Conspiracy Theory is a dirty label. He then goes on to point out that if you do a search of the term Conspiracy in legal judgements the system can’t properly display the results; that’s just how often the term comes up (and this is in respect to convictions upheld on appeal).

So why is it we’re sceptical of Conspiracy Theories.

I’ve covered this recently. One answer is that the past incidence level of Conspiracies may not tell us much about the contemporary, let alone future, incidence level of such things. Induction isn’t much help to us in matters like this (where ‘matters like this’ is really hand-waving in regards to notions of regularities in the Social).

Another answer is that criminal and civil conspiracies might well be different compared to Political Conspiracies.

It fascinates me that the Epistemology of Conspiracy Theories is still largely about Political Conspiracy Theories. I seem to be alone (in respect to my field) in the thought that surprise birthday parties are of interest to people waxing philosophical about Conspiracy Theories.

Yet I can see why. Firstly, people accept that corporations conspire against consumers, people accept that people conspire, in criminal activities, to hide the fact of their actions. Criminal and civil conspiracies are not all that interesting to the public. Political conspiracies are.

In part it is because political conspiracies are relatively rare compared to civil and criminal instances. Thus when they occur people are outraged, fascinated and confused. Add to this the large number of false allegations of political conspiring and you can see why people treat the term Conspiracy Theory as a pejorative. The mistake a lot of people make, on the side of Conspiracy Theorists, is to appreciate that people don’t mean Conspiracy Theory, as a pejorative, in a general sense of applying to Criminal, Civil and Political Conspiracy Theories; the lay public know that civil and criminal cases of conspiracy happen all the time. They just don’t expect people to use the term Conspiracy Theory in relation to it (perhaps the lay public expect you to use ‘allegation of conspiracy’ in situations where you mean a civil or criminal instance).

At least, that’s my view (at this time). Check back with me in a year.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

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