The Logic of Dangerous Models

Epistemological Explanations for the Incomprehensible Existence of Conspiracy Theories
  • Selene ArfiniEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Studies in Applied Philosophy, Epistemology and Rational Ethics book series (SAPERE, volume 49)


In this paper I aim at examining the use of model-based reasoning for the evaluation of particular explanatory theories: Conspiracy Theories. In the first part of the paper I will take into account the epistemological relevance of Conspiracy Theories: I will discuss their explanatory reach and I will propose that they give their believers the illusion of understanding complex socio-political phenomena. In the second part of the paper I will examine two traditional questions regarding Conspiracy Theories brought forward by the epistemological literature: can Conspiracy Theories ever describe possible conspiracies? Are they in principle non-credible? I will argue that these questions bring forward an epistemic and ontological paradox: if a Malevolent Global Conspiracy (term coined by (Basham 2003)) actually existed, there would be no Conspiracy Theory about it, and if a Conspiracy Theory brings forward details about the existence of a Malevolent Global Conspiracy, there is probably no such conspiracy. I will also specifically address the epistemological issues of discussing the definition of Conspiracy Theories by considering them explanations that brings out the Illusion of Depth of Understanding (term coined by (Ylikosky 2009)) and, with this concept, I will also give reasons to justify their cognitive appeal in the eyes of the lay public.



I am grateful to Tommaso Bertolotti, Lorenzo Magnani, Matías Ostas Vélez, John Woods, and Paul Thagard’s valuable comments on the earlier draft. I also want to express my gratitude towards the two anonymous referees, for their crucial remarks and knowledgeable suggestions.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities - Philosophy SectionUniversity of PaviaPaviaItaly

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