The Conspiracy Fallacy

by David Paxton

Writing refutations to the arguments of conspiracy theorists seems as difficult and brave as clubbing seals. But anyone who has ever publicly expressed even moderate support for military intervention has inevitably encountered various leaps of logic from the keyboards of conspiracy theorists.  Their personal imperviousness to sensible debate and their theory’s superbug-like inability to die off suggests there is something to be said for trying to understand their process, if it can be called such. Besides, I like clubbing seals.

Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

This is advice conspiracy theorists simply cannot take.  Everything is deliberate.

Cui bono: “as a benefit to whom?”

This is the logic that says umbrella salesmen make the rain. A conspiracy theorist’s favourite.

Furtive fallacy: Significant facts of history are necessarily sinister

This is a form of paranoia, it’s not the acceptance of conspiracy theories as much as feeling the necessity for them to exist.

The denial of the first example, the overuse of the second and the possible affliction of the third are all common features in conspiracy theory argument. I think another one is also often evident and although related to ‘cui bono’, constitutes a distinct fallacy. This is to be called the factum ut faciat or the made to make fallacy. (I’ve added Latin for extra pretension) It is defined below:

“Faciens hoc ergo factum ut faciat hoc” (“made this, therefore made to make this”) is an informal fallacy (of the questionable cause variety) that states “Since event x caused event y, event x must have been instigated to bring about event y.” The fallacy lies in coming to a conclusion of causality based solely on the outcome of events, rather than taking into account other factors that suggest the outcome is incidental or requiring evidence to demonstrate intention.

The following is a simple example: The chip pan fire caused the house to burn down, therefore the chip pan fire was started with the intention of burning the house down.

A prime example of contemporary usage would be: “America couldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 without the public anger from 9-11. Therefore 9-11 was an inside job undertaken to enable the war in Iraq”

So, when you hear something along the lines of  ‘Obama withdrew troops from Iraq and created ISIS deliberately to create the chaos to er…. put them back in’, asserted without evidence, know that this is the factum ut faciat fallacy.

H/T  @jonathanMetzer  for the Latin

PS: If you think one of the many existing informal fallacies would already include this, please let me know.


8 thoughts on “The Conspiracy Fallacy

    • Similar but actually the opposite. The former says because it happened after it happened because. This says, because it happened before, it was motivated to cause what happened after. Key distinction.


      • That’s a nice line of pretentiousness but I don’t believe it’s a logical fallacy.

        Conspiracy theories, written as logic, are always of the following form

        A caused B
        C may/may not have instigated A to cause B
        Therefore, C may/may not have instigated A to cause B.

        That’s logically sound. In order for there to be a fallacy, you’d need to remove the “may/may not” clause on which all conspiracy theories are based.

        For example, (9/11 (A)) caused (the US to go to war in the middle east.(B))
        The (Bush Admin (C)) may/may not have instigated (the attacks of 9/11 (A)) so they could go to (war (B))
        Therefore, the (Bush Admin (C)) may/may not have instigated (the attacks of 9/11 (A)) so they could go to (war (B)).

        You can’t say it’s a fallacy just because you disagree with the premise, the logic itself is sound. The theory can only become illogical if you change the “may/may not” bit to a definite term.


  1. A conspiracy theorist is like an illiterate who rebuilds a disassembled car engine.

    The parts may all fit together, but it won’t fit under the bonnet, let alone work.


  2. Pingback: The Conspiracy Fallacy | Canyouflybobby

  3. Knee jerk rejection is also a fallacy. And often quite stupid, lacking evidence and purely based upon bias that there are no conspiracies. The fact that there are numerous conspiracies seems to have eluded quite a few people. Put that through your latin generator, and learn some real history.


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