When to Dismiss Conspiracy Theories Out of Hand

Synthese 202 (3):1-26 (2023)
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Given that conspiracies exist, can we be justified in dismissing conspiracy theories without concerning ourselves with specific details? I answer this question by focusing on contrarian conspiracy theories, theories about conspiracies that conflict with testimony from reliable sources of information. For example, theories that say the CIA masterminded the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 9/11 was an inside job, or the Freemasons are secretly running the world are contrarian conspiracy theories. When someone argues for a contrarian conspiracy theory, their options are to appeal to eyewitness testimony, incriminating documents, photographs, audio recordings, video recordings, allegedly scientific evidence, anomalies, or considerations of cui bono (who benefits). Most laypeople don’t know how to adequately respond to arguments for contrarian conspiracy theories, but this doesn’t mean that it’s dogmatic to reject them. I argue that many laypeople are defeasibly justified in rejecting a variety of contrarian conspiracy theories based on testimony and this justification is rarely defeated by arguments for contrarian conspiracy theories even if we don’t know how to respond to these arguments.

Author's Profile

Ryan Ross
Johns Hopkins University


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