Volume 17, Issue 2, Fall 2003
Conspiracy Theories and Official Stories
Conspiracy theories have a bad reputation. This is especially true in the academy and in the media. Within these institutions, to describe someone as a conspiracy theorist is often to imply that his or her views should not be taken seriously. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that philosophers have tended to ignore the topic, despite the enduring appeal of conspiracy theories in popular culture. Recently, however, some philosophers have at least treated conspiracy theorists respectfully enough to try to articulate where they go wrong.
I begin this paper by clarifying the nature of conspiracy theories. I then argue against some recent critiques of conspiracy theories. Many criticisms of conspiracy theories are unfounded. I also argue that unwillingness to entertain conspiracy theories is an intellectual and moral failing. I end by suggesting an Aristotelian approach to the issue, according to which the intellectual virtue of realism is a golden mean between the intellectual vices of paranoia and naivety.