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The Logic of Conspiracy Theories V: Best Explanation-Assessment

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In the previous essay in this series I presented the argument by elimination and ended with a promise to address how to assess the competition between explanations. The overall method of elimination in this context can be presented in the following form: Premise 1: There are X (some number) explanations for Y (some phenomenon). Premise 2: E (an explanation) is the best of the X explanations. Conclusion: E is (probably) correct. Sorting out the second premise involves “scoring” each explanation and then comparing these scores to see which one does the best. As noted in the previous essay, to the degree that there are reasonable doubts that all plausible explanations have been considered, there are reasonable doubts that the correct explanation has been found. But the focus of this essay is on the competition. While the scoring metaphor is a useful one, the scoring of explanations is not an exact science and admits of a degree of subjectivity. As such, reasonable people can reasonably disagree about the relative ranking of explanations. That said, there are objective standards that are used in assessing explanations. Conspiracy theorists do often make use of this method and argue that their theory best explains the facts. However, problems often arise when all the standards for assessing explanations are given due considerations. There are some fairly obvious defects that any explanation needs to avoid to be considered a good explanation. At a minimum, an explanation needs to avoid being too vague (lacking adequate precision), ambiguous (having two or more meanings when it is not clear what is intended), and circularity (merely restating what is to be explained). These are minimal standards because an explanation that cannot even meet them would not be worth considering. For example, if an explanation is too vague, one does not even know what it is saying. There are other standards as well. One standard is that an explanation needs to. . .

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