Conspiracy theories should be neither believed nor investigated - that is the conventional wisdom. I argue that it is sometimes permissible both to investigate and to believe. Hence this is a dispute in the ethics of belief. I defend epistemic “oughts” that apply in the first instance to belief-forming strategies that are partly under our control. But the belief-forming strategy of not believing conspiracy theories would be a political disaster and the epistemic equivalent of self-mutilation. I discuss several variations of this strategy, interpreting “conspiracy theory” in different ways but conclude that on all these readings, the conventional wisdom is deeply unwise.
Charles Pigden teaches philosophy at the University of Otago, New Zealand and is the editor of Russell on Ethics. He has published on abstract objects, the analytic/synthetic distinction, negative facts, conspiracy theories, the Milgram experiments and the Is/Ought Problem, as well as articles on Moore, Geach, Russell, Hume, Nietzsche, Mackie, Anscombe, and Dostoevsky. If pressed, he will admit to being a meta-ethicist.