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I was kind of wondering this. A lot of people seem to appeal to some kind of conspiracy to support their views.

I can think of numerous examples:

Anti-Vaccine people claim conspiracy by 'Big Pharma'. Extreme leftists often claim 'corporate media' conspire to ignore them. Extreme conservatives accuse the 'liberal media' of the same thing. Global-warming deniers claim some kind of 'eco-conspiracy' to make us all drive evil electric cars or some such nonsense. Neo-nazis claim the world is controlled by a vast 'jewish conspiracy'.

I understand that the conspiracy theories themselves are propped up by fallacies, but is there such a fallacy as appeal to conspiracy?

  • not that i know of - it doesn't make for a good explanation tho – user6917 Aug 24 '14 at 11:39
  • What's makes you assume that all conspiracies are mythical or fallacious? Their veracity depends of evidence. There can be no pre-detrimined judgement before cross-examination of each case. – infatuated Sep 21 '14 at 6:22
  • Question. Was Julius Caesar killed by a lone knifeman? – user4894 Jun 25 '17 at 3:26
  • I down voted your question because it stereotypes all conspiracy theory as irrational. Your statement that "conspiracy theories are propped up by fallacies" is incorrect. That might apply to SOME conspiracy theories, but certainly not to all. – David Blomstrom Jul 31 '17 at 3:42
  • Yeah you're probably right. I think now, that what I was really referring to, was the 'Begging the Question' fallacy. Where the arguer assumes their premise is correct, and bases an argument on that. Sometimes this premise is a claim of conspiracy (media, industry, aliens, whatever), but it still falls into this category. – Scuba Steve Jul 31 '17 at 19:38
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I should start by saying that I think it is a bad idea to discuss issues in terms of fallacies. A person can make a true point that is mixed up with some bad arguments. I have not come across any book or article by any person or any political, moral or scientific persuasion that doesn't have some bad arguments in it. Also, just saying "X is a fallacy" without an explanation of how it applies in that specific case may not be helpful.

There is a general category of conspiracy theories that are bad explanations:

A conspiracy theory is an explanation of observed events in current affairs and history … which alleges that those events were planned and caused in secret by powerful (or allegedly powerful) conspirators, who thereby… benefit at the expense of others, and who therefore… lie, and suppress evidence, about their secret actions, and… lie about the motives for their public actions.

This kind of explanation doesn't make sense for a variety of reasons: I will give one example. Suppose that the conspirators say they hold idea X but are actually trying to implement idea Y. The conspiracy claims that the conspirators will always act on X in public, so all of their public actions can be explained by X. So the alleged conspiracy plays no role in explaining anything they do.

It is important to be careful when applying this criticism. Some of the examples you give are conspiracy theories in the above sense, such as Nazis claiming that Jews rule the world in secret.

Other examples may have variants that are not conspiracy theories. For example, some people described as global warming deniers think that people advocating cutting fossil fuels do so because they have a political bias in favour of tighter government control of the economy. Such a bias can arise by purely non-conspiratorial processes. For example, a person who does not think the government is good at solving problems may be less inclined to go into government funded scientific research organisations. So then many of the people at such organisations may be in favour of government intervention in the economy for any reason they can come up with. And they may be more inclined to positively review research that claims there is a problem that requires government intervention, such as the alleged necessity for governments to do stuff about global warming. For an example of such an argument see Judith Curry's blog post:

http://judithcurry.com/2014/08/06/importance-of-intellectual-and-political-diversity-in-science/.

  • I do have to agree, there is a point where the naming of fallacies is itself an 'ad hominem' argument, attacking the carefulness of the speaker's reasoning, rather than the content of his belief. And that point comes really, really early. – jobermark Sep 21 '14 at 17:43
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To me, it is simply an appeal to reputation, which I see as the flip side of ad hominem -- having invested degradation in a target ad hominem, you preserve it by reference.

It asserts "You cannot possibly agree with that person. He is such scum."

The case where 'he' is a group, or a social institution, or a cultural tradition, or a criminal faction is no more logical.

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Pointing out to a logical fallacy is not an ad hominem attack, it simply states that the said argument cannot be accepted not that the conclusion is erroneous. It points out to the ignorance/connivance of the person using fallacies but does not suggest that the arguer is incapable of using rational arguments, where as the ad hominem implicitly suggest that the opponent cannot be taken seriously, a strategy to avoid having to refute the opponents arguments. Pointing out to a logical fallacy refutes the argument only not its conclusion.

A Logical fallacy called: the ''fallacy's fallacy'', is a fallacious reasoning that states that a particular conclusion must be false on the basis that its argument contains a logical fallacy.

A logical fallacy implies that an argument may not be accepted, not that its conclusion is false. Meaning a person's conclusion may still be right even tho they use a fallacious reasoning to demonstrate the validity of said conclusion. For example: ''We all know the earth is round.'' is the appeal to popularity, however fallacious, the truth value of its conclusion remains unchanged.

An appeal to conspiracy (argumentum ad conspiratio) would be an argument that states a conclusion ''X'' must be either true or false because there is a conspiracy surrounding it. If it states a conclusion X must be true because it is somehow related to a conspiracy or a conspiracy theory, then this argument would be a special case of appeal to authority, where a conspiracy theorist would be the only authority capable of rationality on the matter. Not to be confused with pointing out a cognitive bias where an arguer sees that his opponent does not skillfully assess his arguments. The opposite; where it states a conclusion X must be false because it is somehow related to a conspiracy or a conspiracy theory, would be a special case of appeal to ridicule, where a suggestion of conspiracy is enough to render an opponent's argument invalid. The problem is that the ridiculousness of said premises or conclusion does not render the argument invalid. Counter arguments pointing out to evidences of a conspiracy do not imply a logical fallacy as long as the conclusion is not dependant upon the premise that a conspiracy is involved, the truth value of the premises have to be analysed individually since people acting in harmony toward a common end is an actual thing in politics.

2

Some conspiracy theories are fallacious and some are valid.

Such arguments are fallacious when they claim that a statement is right or wrong because a certain person said it. In these examples the conspiracy claim is just a big ad hominem argument: a specific policy is bad because a certain group of people want it.

That said, there are real conspiracies. Watergate is one. The conspiracy argument becomes valid when the agreement of two or more people is needed to explain what happened. Even in these examples, however, the object of the conspiracy is good or bad not because of the identity of the people who are acting together, but because of some standard larger than the actors. In the case of Watergate, the standard was the federal Constitution and laws.

  • The first sentence of Mark Andrews' answer says it all. Anyone who doesn't believe in conspiracy, or who thinks all conspiracy theories are bogus, is either a fool or a propagandist. – David Blomstrom Aug 14 '17 at 3:28
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Just my opinion, but people predisposed to attribute events or activities to conspiracies often do so to bolster a sense of self worth, as in 'I'm important enough, or my cause is important enough, to merit an entire conspiracy by a group to oppose it'.

This can also arise from the tendency lately to characterize anyone who has an opposing view as 'evil'. I mean, we couldn't possibly be wrong, so anyone who disagrees with us must be a bad person. That goes hand in hand with the tendency these days to eschew self examination.

A good example of conspiracy fallacy was alternate energy vehicles. For decades, we have heard that the lack of non fossil fuel vehicles was the result of a conspiracy between the oil companies and the car companies. The few alternate energy vehicles such as all electric, were fairly pitiful, exhibiting the concept that one has to suffer to be green.

Then, along came Elon Musk, who built an all electric vehicle that people actually want to own, not because it's green, but because it's a very good car. After Tesla, the traditional car companies have done much better with alternate energy vehicles... now that they see the size of the market.

And so we learn the truth: it wasn't a conspiracy, it was lethargy and disinterest on the part of the traditional auto makers. That is an industry run by clods.

On the other hand, it was Henry Kissinger who once said - even paranoids have enemies.

  • Well pursuant to your example, it was also the evolution of battery technology that made electric cars viable (my background applied science, so I can say that with confidence). Your point about lethargy isn't wrong - the big car companies certainly weren't keeping with the times - but this happens in business all the time. New technology comes along and disrupts a sector, and the old dinosaurs falter because they're running based off old ideas. But yes, your example is sound, I'd agree. – Scuba Steve Jun 25 '17 at 19:06
  • I have also worked with li-ion technology in the automotive field, and if the latest development in the tech can make it to production, we can expect to see all electric cars with a 400-500 mile range, for < $30k. My experience working in the auto industry convinced me they are opportunistic clods - the VW diesel scandal isn't the exception, it's the rule. It took an outsider to prove them wrong. – tj1000 Jun 26 '17 at 2:13

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