Conspiracy theories and reasonable pluralism

European Journal of Political Theory 21 (3):445-465 (2022)
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The popularity of conspiracy theories poses a clear challenge for contemporary liberal democracies. Conspiracy theories undermine rational debate, spread dangerous falsehoods and threaten social cohesion. However, any possible public policy response, which would try to contain their spread, needs to respect the liberal commitment to protect pluralism and free speech. A successful justification of such a policy must therefore: 1) clearly identify the problematic class of conspiracy theories; and 2) clarify the grounds on which the state is justified in acting against them. This article argues that the prevailing epistemic approaches to conspiracy theorizing cannot fulfil these criteria. Defining conspiracy theories by their flaws in reasoning, questionable coherence or factual mistakes can neither sharply distinguish problematic conspiracy theories from other, non-problematic worldviews nor justify state action. Thus, we propose to understand conspiracy theories through their ethical unreasonableness. We hold that containment of conspiracy theories is justifiable insofar as they undermine the liberal-democratic ideals of mutual respect, freedom and equality. We then show that such ‘ethical’ criteria for conspiracy theories can be sufficiently robust and clear-cut so that they can serve as a useful guide for public policy.



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Matej Cibik
University of Pardubice

Citations of this work

Some Conspiracy Theories.M. R. X. Dentith - 2023 - Social Epistemology (4):522-534.
Conspiracy Theories and Democratic Legitimacy.Will Mittendorf - 2023 - Social Epistemology 37 (4):481-493.
The reasons of the unreasonable: Is political liberalism still an option?Benedetta Giovanola & Roberta Sala - 2021 - Sage Publications Ltd: Philosophy and Social Criticism 48 (9):1226-1246.

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References found in this work

Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Stop Talking about Fake News!Joshua Habgood-Coote - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (9-10):1033-1065.
On Bullshit.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1986 - Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Of conspiracy theories.Brian Keeley - 1999 - Journal of Philosophy 96 (3):109-126.
Perfectionist Liberalism and Political Liberalism.Martha C. Nussbaum - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (1):3-45.

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