Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Accompanying the accusation of malevolent political conspiracy is the accusation of cover-up of these conspiracies by leading institutions of public information; mass media and national law enforcement. A common response to this accusation is that these institutions of public information will reliably reveal such political conspiracies, not cover them up. Unfortunately, the best arguments for this hope are now widely recognized to fail. Further, cover-up does not require descending control of the media by conspirators. The problem is much more complex, one endemic to our information hierarchies. This includes the mechanisms generating the epistemic problem of toxic truths. “Toxicity” is the likelihood that some conspiratorial scenarios, even if well evidenced, are too “toxic” for our usual institutions of public information to disseminate to the public, or even investigate. Cover-up by intentional neglect, not descending control, is the easily predictable consequence. The threat this poses to a functioning democracy is significant.

What if our institutions of public information do not always have the ability to expose malevolent conspiracies, worming their way through our society with vast consequences? What if, worse, even given this ability, these institutions often have compelling, society-regarding reasons not to publicly reveal these conspiracies? The epistemology of these two problems is distinct but closely related: The first concerns certain common arguments for the claim we should be confident that institutions of public information can and will reliably reveal ambitious or “momentous” conspiracies; the public trust approach (PTA) and its supporting claims. The PTA asserts that in Western style democracies, for institutional motives of revelation, conspiracies seriously subversive of our democratic institutions will be reliably (not inevitably) exposed by the mainstream media and national law enforcement. The second concerns the unwillingness of these institutions to do so in certain society-destabilizing scenarios or worse, establish society-destabilizing patterns of revelation. In what follows, we will epistemically examine and relate both.


  Click here to download full article