Monday, March 11, 2013

[PHI 3000] Do conspiracy theories track truth?

According to Robert Nozick's tracking theory of knowing, S knows that p if and only if:
  • p is true
  • S believes that p
  • If p weren't true, S wouldn't believe that p
  • If p were true, S would believe that p
Suppose that Nozick's tracking theory accurately captures the conditions for knowing that p. In that case, can conspiracy theories count as knowledge, even if true?

Take, for example, the recent meteorite impact in Russia.

Suppose that Vladimir Zhirinovsky is right, i.e., the meteorite impact was not a meteor at all but rather the Americans testing a new weapon. Presumably, even if the impact was not a weapon, but rather a meteor, Zhirinovsky would still believe that it was a weapon. If so, does that mean that Zhirinovsky's belief does not track truth, and thus can never amount to knowledge? Is this true of conspiracy theories in general?


  1. Conspiracy theories often put emphasis on what is not known for sure. Because of this, it is difficult for them to amount to knowledge. They do not follow a specific format like Nozick's theory. Although they may be true, there may not be the confirmation necessary to become knowledge.

  2. The fact that Zhirinovsky's belief that the supposed meteorite impact was not a meteorite but Americans testing a new weapon may not track truth in the literal sense (as in it may very well be false) but it, like all conspiracy theories, is based in sociocultural factors that usually reflect itself through the history of that particular community. For example, the conspiracy theory often held in the African American community is that HIV, guns, and drugs are mechanisms created by the government to control specific populations (particularly the black community). While this theory may very well be false, it is based in the true history of mistrust against the government that stems from a long history of systemic injustices by the government against the black community. Because of this basis of truth or true historical context, conspiracy theories can indeed be seen as knowledge.

  3. For a belief to track truth is for that belief to be subjunctively connected to the facts. That is, if p were true, one would believe it, and if p weren’t true, one wouldn’t believe it. So, to figure out if beliefs in conspiracy theories, like Zhirinovsky’s belief that the meteorite impact in Russia was not a meteor at all but rather the Americans testing a new weapon, can track truth, we need to ask the following questions:

    If the meteorite impact in Russia was an American weapon, not a meteor, would Zhirinovsky believe that it was an American weapon and not a meteor?

    If the meteorite impact in Russia was a meteor, not an American weapon, would Zhirinovsky believe that it was a meteor and not an American weapon?


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