Earlier this year Quassim Cassam (a philosopher at Warwick) wrote a piece at Aeon which claims that we can explain the badness of belief in conspiracy theories by reference to conspiracy theorists being gullible. A bunch of us philosophers who have been working in the Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories formed a secret group to discuss and dissect Cassam’s thesis, and that lead to Lee Basham and myself writing the following reply, which has been published over at 3 Quarks Daily:
Cassam wants us to accept the common wisdom that belief in conspiracy theories is problematic. Like Richard Hofstadter and Karl Popper before him, Cassam takes it that the problem with conspiracy theories lies not so much to do with the theories themselves but, rather, in the intellectual character of those who would believe them. Which is to say that rather than judging conspiracy theories on the evidence, our suspicion of them comes out of worries about the kind of people who turn out to be conspiracy theorists. After all, most of us have been in a situation where, when presented with a long list of reasons to believe some conspiracy theory, our immediate response has been to focus our attention on the character of our conspiratorial companion. However, Cassam’s argument for why this is the right move for us to make doesn’t just mistake political piety for intellectual virtue, but treats a willingness to challenge political beliefs as mere gullibility.
Read the rest of it here.