The modern society is is based on many kinds of divisions of labor. One essential part of this is the cognitive aspect: we know many things only because others know many things. We depend on others to provide us with reliable information and we have various epistemic authorities that we depend on for producing knowledge. Though modern technology brings an abundance of information to everyone’s grasp, we must still rely on various sources to explain, make sense, and verify that information. If we want to know more about the events of World War II, the theory of relativity, the distribution of wealth, or the spread of Ebola virus, the mere availability of information does not make us able to understand those phenomena: we still need experts, various official sources of information, and institutions that monitor those experts and official sources of information. Despite social media, we still need conventional media, local and state agencies, and research institutions. But their existence is not sufficient: we also need to be able to trust them. We need to feel that these epistemic authorities are interested in truth, justice, and our well-being for them to be of value to us.
Conspiracy theories are social explanations that challenge the credibility of the very institutions we depend on for our livelihood. And though some would like to brush conspiracy theories off with a laugh, we also know that powerful agents have conspired to promote ends that conflict with public morality. Governments and big companies have promoted their perceived interest with ruthless measures. We also know that sometimes experts bend their views to meet the interest of those that fund them, and experts are not free from the distorting effects of biases. But the easy availability of information has not removed our dependence on these authorities as the modern complex society seems to require ever increasing understanding of its mechanisms. Many us would like to be able to examine the evidence for various claims by ourselves, but the fact of the matter is that it is not easy. Our ability to monitor those very sources of information are limited. So, the development and upkeep of trust is essential.
Conspiracy theories, then, present us with very serious epistemic, ethical and pragmatic questions. This project examines these questions through philosophical analysis. Its research material consists of literature in Philosophy, History, Political Sciences, and Social Psychology. It is conducted at the Department of Philosophy, Contemporary History, and Political Science.