More on that Palmerston North paper…

The AAP paper is motivated by three questions we can ask about rival explanations when it comes to Conspiracy and non-Conspiracy Theories:

1. To what extent is the explanation conspiratorial?
2. What are the explanation’s epistemic credentials?
3. What is the explanation’s institutional status?

I’m trying to give an argument as to why the average 1930s Moscovite should have (or had good reason to have) believed the official stories1 of the Moscow Show Trials and Lysenkoism.

One way to argue that is with reference to how we construe a legitimate Appeal to Authority; academic theories, for example, are usually only endorsed if they have the right credentials, but we don’t necessarily think that is the case with political theories. Sometimes, as we both know, politicians endorse theories because the populace wants them to, or they are mistaken, misguided et cetera.

My two examples, however, are clear cases of duplicitous political endorsement, so, really, what I need (and I think this is a clever bit) a fourth question:

Was the explanation postulated sincerely?

Now, because we think that insincere endorsements of unwarranted theories are rare, we have a prima facie case for thinking that we should, at least on first glance, accept the Official Story when it is up against a Conspiracy Theory.

It gets more complex than that, of course, in the six thousand words, but I think this, as the gist, kind of works


  1. This is no longer my terminology in the paper, but that’s probably another post.

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.