A (naive) view of conspiracy as collective action

Filosofia E Collettività 22:61-71 (2018)
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Conspiracies are, by definition, a group activity; to conspire requires two or more people working together towards some end, typically in secret. Conspirators have intentions; this is borne out by the fact they want some end and are willing to engage in action to achieve. Of course, what these intentions are can be hard to fathom: historians have written a lot about the intentions of the assassins of Julius Caesar, for example; did they want to restore the Republic; was Marcus Brutus lusting after power; was it an attempt to curb the ambitions of the plebeian class, who saw in Caesar someone not unlike themselves? If intentions can be hard to infer, who is a knowing conspirator and who is a dupe is almost as tricky to parse. Not all purported members of a conspiracy are conspirators, even if they aid and abet the conspiracy. Take, for example, the notorious lax engineer who the conspirators know will sign off on substandard building compliance measures, making it all the easier for them to plant their controlled demolitions. On some account of causal or even moral responsibility the lax engineer would then be responsible for the subsequent event, the one the conspirators desired. Yet it also seems clear that even if she is responsible in some sense for the culminating event of the conspiracy, it is clear that they did not conspire. Or, at least, we would like to think so, although should the authorities find out about the lax engineer’s involvement, they may well be considered part of the conspiracy, especially if the conspirators do their best to hide their own involvement or identities.

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M R. X. Dentith
Beijing Normal University


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