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Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them$
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Joseph E. Uscinski

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190844073

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190844073.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 12 April 2021

Conspiracy Theories and Philosophy

Conspiracy Theories and Philosophy

Bringing the Epistemology of a Freighted Term into the Social Sciences

(p.94) 6 Conspiracy Theories and Philosophy
Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them

M R. X. Dentith

Oxford University Press

There has been a recent spate of academic work concerning these things called conspiracy theories. Part of that debate concerns the apparent irrationality of belief in conspiracy theories. I argue that what is missing in the literature is a fulsome analysis of how we define what counts as a conspiracy theory. It turns out that many of our working definitions of conspiracy theory are at odds with one another. The consequence of this definitional diversity is unfortunate for the academic project at large, as—as I will demonstrate—not all definitions of conspiracy theory turn out to be equal. Looking at a broadly representative set of contemporary academic work on conspiracy theories, I argue that we scholars of conspiracy theory often skew the results of our research programs by working with problematic definitions. This can be demonstrated by showing how often the problems associated with belief in conspiracy theories are the result of scholars working with—wittingly or unwittingly—definitions of what counts as a conspiracy theory that presuppose their irrationality. As such, much work on belief in conspiracy theories begs the question. However, there is an easy solution to this endemic problem: we can choose to work with a simple, non-pejorative definition—one which happens to be championed in philosophy—which, in turn, allows us to get to the heart of the question of whether belief in conspiracy theories is, in some sense, problematic.

Keywords:   conspiracy theory, definitions, particularism, generalism, academic research

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