, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 145–161 | Cite as

Immunizing Strategies and Epistemic Defense Mechanisms

  • Maarten BoudryEmail author
  • Johan Braeckman


An immunizing strategy is an argument brought forward in support of a belief system, though independent from that belief system, which makes it more or less invulnerable to rational argumentation and/or empirical evidence. By contrast, an epistemic defense mechanism is defined as a structural feature of a belief system which has the same effect of deflecting arguments and evidence. We discuss the remarkable recurrence of certain patterns of immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms in pseudoscience and other belief systems. Five different types will be distinguished and analyzed, with examples drawn from widely different domains. The difference between immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms is analyzed, and their epistemological status is discussed. Our classification sheds new light on the various ways in which belief systems may achieve invulnerability against empirical evidence and rational criticism, and we propose our analysis as part of an explanation of these belief systems’ enduring appeal and tenacity.


Immunizing strategies Epistemic defense mechanisms Pseudoscience Belief systems 



The authors would like to thank Stefaan Blancke, Filip Buekens and Massimo Pigliucci for stimulating discussions and comments, and the anonymous referees of Philosophia for valuable suggestions. This paper was presented at the Fourth Conference of the Dutch-Flemish Association for Analytic Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven (2010).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy & Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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