I think it’s ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ that contains the love song devoted to Dr. Henry Kissinger, the subject of many a conspiracy himself. I have to admit that I was surprised when he ‘reappeared’ at the start of George W. Bush, Jnr. run at the presidency; I thought he had died or something equally as fatal.Still, I’m not here to shed light on the conspiracies that argue that he was engaged in the blood sacrifices of children or that he is a shape-shifting alien vampire. I’m not even going to discuss my disgust at some of the things he has done that are on public record. No, today it’s his classic 1977 line ‘Even a paranoid can have enemies.’Brian Keeley fills in the details:â€˜As Henry Kissinger famously observed, â€œEven a paranoid can have enemies.â€ No, the problem with the accusation of paranoia is that it begs the question. What makes a given paranoid â€œparanoidâ€ is the â€œunreasonablenessâ€ of her beliefs. This is exactly what is at question here. The diagnosis of paranoia and the rejection of the alleged paranoidâ€™s conspiracy theory are both justified (or undermined) by the same thing: an evaluation of the evidence in favor of the theory. To label a conspiracy theory â€œparanoidâ€ is merely to restate the claim that it is unwarranted; it is not evidence for rejecting it.â€™(Brian L. Keeley, Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!: More Thoughts on Conspiracy Theory in Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 34 No. 1, Spring 2003, p. 107)Conspiracy Theories are explanations; they explain the occurrence (or lack thereof) of an event by way of the actions (or inactions) of a secret cabal. Traditionally (and tradition is a vague word here) explanations are a form of argument. To tell whether an argument is any good you need to examine its structure. Do the premises of the argument give support to the conclusion? Are the premises plausible? If the answer to both of those questions is ‘Yes’ then it seems you have grounds to believe the argument.It is surprising just how many people don’t know this. For some the issue is that if they disagree with the conclusion then the argument in support of that conclusion must be wrong (it’s a sad fact but this seems to be a fairly major issue for some people of the Libertarian persuasion). It seems, in these cases, that the argument’s structure is ignored and the plausibility of the premises not exactly questioned but rather discounted. For others (and this list could go on all day and night) the ability to judge argument structure is the issue; some arguments (especially those with statements of the form ‘If X, then Y’) can look ‘good’ without ever being so.(One day I might prepare a post/page which is my elementary guide to Fallacies (those bad yet persuasive arguments we use in everyday life).If Conspiracy Theories are arguments then we have to evaluate them as arguments before we can say whether they are good or bad. Structurally most Conspiracy Theories have the right form; they give a whole host of statements presented as facts and then a whole host of lawlike statements that link the facts together, all of which lead to the conclusion (or explanandum, as we call the conclusion of explanations). Conspiracy Theories tend to reach their explanandums in various ways so that even if one branch of the argument is structurally suspicious (or simply not very strong in its support) then the other branches are there to salvage the situation.Argument form (more properly understood as logical form) is important, but even if the structure is good the premises (or explanans, as we call premises in an explanation) need to be plausible. Philosophers often try to avoid discussion of premise truth in reference to arguments because if the purpose of an argument is to persuade the listener then whether or not the premise is true is irrelevant; if the premise seems true (which is usually to say that people would agree with it when stated) then that is good enough (for the task of persuading; explanations are different, but there’s a whole host of issues around the notion of explanans truth when it comes to lawlike statements; I’ll leave that for another time).Premise/explanans truth is often where Conspiracy Theories fall down; the explanans can be implausible. Often the issue isn’t the evidence per se but the claims that link the evidence to the cover-up-cum-conspiracy. Many (probably all) Conspiracy Theories link the material evidence to the conspiracy by way of lawlike statements of human behaviour, and these often quite questionable. On one level it is because the lawlike statements look incredibly specialised to the explanation under consideration; we often wouldn’t expect the cited law to work in any other situation, and thus the law looks like to was made to fit this explanation and this explanation alone. Hardly a convincing move. On another level we might well simply be suspicious of laws of human behaviour. Do people really act in consistent ways ala some Stage I University Psychology student might believe they do? More importantly, for Conspiracy Theories, some of those explanans may look implausible because we can replace them with far more plausible (i.e. more agreed upon) statements that will not support the Conspiracy Theory but rather offer more mundane explanations for the events under consideration.The list could go on.Plausibilty of the explanans seems to be the crunch issue; we shouldn’t just dismiss Conspiracy Theories because they are Conspiracy Theories. That is bad work on our part. No, what we should do is look at the structure of the argument and ask how much support it gives to the conclusion/explanandum. Then, if the Conspiracy Theory passes that test, the we can analyse the premises/explanans.At which point in our analysis we’ll know that if the Conspiracy Theory is implausible then we’ll also know why specifically.Which makes for a far more interesting discussion all around.