Tag Archives | Epistemology

Conspiracy Theory and the Failure of Certainty


In the culture wars that are being waged to define our communal values, the rhetorical arms race has generated a healthy stockpile of words and phrases that are often deployed in linguistic combat. Amongst this arsenal, few terms weave together so many cultural threads as “Conspiracy Theory.”

From such seemingly disparate threads as the philosophy of language, epistemology, political philosophy, history, journalism, psychology, and sociology, a Gordian tangle emerges that tie all of these subjects together.

This writing will endeavor to briefly:

  • contextualize the epistemological difficulties of attaining certainty
  • examine the tenuous nature of news and history with a focus on its manipulation
  • enumerate a truncated list of historical conspiracies with the purpose of underscoring their unexceptional nature
  • examine the historical and contemporary usage of the term “conspiracy theory”
  • leave the reader with a general approach to sidestepping the pitfalls of rhetorical obfuscation and semantic misunderstanding

I: “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position.

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Epistemology, Communication and Divine Command Theory

This essay originally appeared on Philosophical Disquisitions

I have written about the epistemological objection to divine command theory (DCT) on a previous occasion. It goes a little something like this: According to proponents of the DCT, at least some moral statuses (like the fact that X is forbidden, or that X is bad) depend for their existence on God’s commands. In other words, without God’s commands those moral statuses would not exist. It would seem to follow that in order for anyone to know whether X is forbidden/bad (or whatever), they would need to have epistemic access to God’s commands. That is to say, they would need to know that God has commanded X to be forbidden/bad. The problem is that there is a certain class of non-believers — so-called ‘reasonable non-believers’ — who don’t violate any epistemic duties in their non-belief. Consequently, they lack epistemic access to God’s commands without being blameworthy for lacking this access.… Read the rest

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Considering ‘The Philosophy Of The Web’


Steve Jurvetson (CC BY 2.0)


Tania Lombrozo via Public Radio East:

We associate technology with the shiny and new. But humans have been using technology to change the environment and themselves since at least the lower Paleolithic period, when our ancestors were making stone tools.

Is the technology of today fundamentally different? In particular, does it change the way we think of ourselves or our relationships to each other and the environment? Does it change the way we think about what exists (metaphysics), about what and how we can know about it (epistemology), or about how we ought to live (ethics)?

These are traditionally philosophical questions, but they’re questions that some have been revisiting in light of one of today’s most pervasive developments: the rise of the Web.

A few weeks ago, two of us at 13.7 (Alva Noë and myself) participated in a workshop at the Googleplex on the “Philosophy of the Web.” The workshop was organized by Harry Halpin, a research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab who has been at the forefront of this emerging area of philosophy.

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The Natural History of the Incorporeal Garage Dragon

dragonSkeptics, believers. Lay down your shotguns and knives. Take a moment to bandage and reload, and I will explain to you why an incorporeal garage dragon means that you should not be fighting. As much.

This strange beast, and its fantastical properties, are described in The Demon Haunted World, by Carl Sagan.

“A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage,” he begins, “…Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.”

You do, but you can’t. The dragon is invisible. You could spread flour on the floor to capture its footprints, but, alas, it also floats. You offer to fetch your infrared camera, but, sadly, its fire is heatless. Perhaps a can of spray paint, then, to make the dragon visible? Oh, right. Incorporeal.

You see where he’s going: “Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless,” he writes, “the only sensible approach is to tentatively reject the dragon hypothesis, [but] to be open to future data…”

The garage dragon is a straightforward parable about the scientific value of a non-falsifiable hypothesis, but it contains an important nuance.… Read the rest

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