Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Belief in conspiracy theories is typically considered irrational, and as a consequence of this, conspiracy theorists––those who dare believe some conspiracy theory––have been charged with a variety of epistemic or psychological failings. Yet recent philosophical work has challenged the view that belief in conspiracy theories should be considered as typically irrational. By performing an intra-group analysis of those people we call “conspiracy theorists”, we find that the problematic traits commonly ascribed to the general group of conspiracy theorists turn out to be merely a set of stereotypical behaviours and thought patterns associated with a purported subset of that group. If we understand that the supposed problem of belief in conspiracy theories is centred on the beliefs of this purported subset––the conspiracists––then we can reconcile the recent philosophical contributions to the wider academic debate on the rationality of belief in conspiracy theories.

When is a conspiracy theorist not a conspiracy theorist? When she is a government minister! Or, if that punchline does not work for you, how about: When she is a respected member of the press! Or: When she is an academic who writes on conspiracy theories! Typically, when we think of conspiracy theorists we do not think of people who theorised about the existence of some particular conspiracy––and went on to support that theory with evidence––like John Dewey (who helped expose the conspiracy behind the Moscow Trials of the 1930s), or Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (who uncovered the conspiracy behind who broke in to the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in the 1970s).


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