Ethics of Conspiracy Theorizing

Topics: September 11 attacks, Conspiracy theory, Watergate scandal Pages: 8 (2783 words) Published: July 2, 2013
Conspiracies are sometimes morally permissible. But usually they are the result of nefarious motivations on the part of the conspirators. Is conspiracy theorizing similar in this respect? Is it usually morally wrong to engage in conspiracy theorizing? Justify your answer.

In the context of this essay conspiracies will be defined where a proposed explanation E is a conspiracy theory if and only if E is a proposed causal explanation of an event (or set of events) which postulates secret plans and actions on the part of the group and E conflicts with the official story (or stories) of the same historical events. In this instance the official story will be defined where an explanation of an event E is an official story if and only if the explanation is a theory endorsed in a conventionally recognized way by an individual or institution that bears the relevant legal responsibility for events of type E, and for providing information to the public about them. In some cases conspiracies are morally permissible however usually they are the result of nefarious motivations on the part of the conspirators. In this essay I will use the examples of the Watergate scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks to explain how in this respect conspiracy theorizing is more often morally permissible due to the just motivations of the conspiracy theorizers and the benefits conspiracy theorizing lends to our society.

It is common knowledge that governments and political bodies around the world have engaged in conspiracies. A well known example of this is the Watergate scandal which occurred during the presidency of Richard Nixon. The Watergate scandal took place in the Watergate complex in Washington DC on the 17th of July 1972. The complex was the site of the Democratic National Committee headquarters where five men were found breaking and entering. All the men were connected to President Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President. This prompted an investigation which discovered many more illegal activities connected to President Nixon's staff including campaign fraud, political espionage and sabotage, illegal break-ins, improper tax audits, illegal wiretapping, and a "laundered" slush fund used to pay those who conducted these operations. In this case the conspiracy was indeed the result of nefarious motivations on the part of President Nixon and his staff. While many and possibly most conspiracies are the result of similar motivations not all conspiracies are malevolent. For instance a conspiracy may (though perhaps not legally) be benevolent when the conspirators are acting in a way to protect the interests of the people. Reasons for this could be to prevent a counterproductive panic caused by revealing their plans before they are ready. Another conspiracy that would be both benevolent and responsible on behalf of the government would be conspiring to keep their nation ignorant of particular military actions in order to protect both the soldiers and the population that they govern. This would be the most responsible action on behalf of the government as it is their role to protect the people as best they can, in this case by way of a conspiracy. Although it is conceivable that there are some benevolent conspiracies where conspirators are trying to benefit society I think it holds true that the majority of conspiracies are caused by conspirators with nefarious intentions.

It is obvious from conspiracies and cover ups like the Watergate scandal that conspiracies do take place (if not commonly) and so it follows that logically the existence of conspiracies altogether cannot be denied and furthermore it is irrational to disbelieve the existence of conspiracy theories. With this in mind it seems both reasonable and logical to conclude that conspiracy theorizing is a rational and possibly beneficial part of society. Steve Clarke supports this in “Conspiracy Theories and Conspiracy Theorizing (2002)” by proposing that ‘‘the conspiracy...

References: Räikkä, J. (2009). The ethics of conspiracy theorizing. Journal of Value Inquiry, 43(4), 457-468.
Clarke, S. (2002). Conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorizing. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 32(2), 131-150.
Fenster, M. (2008). Conspiracy theories: Secrecy and power in american culture. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Watergate: The scandal that brought down richard nixon. (n.d.). Retrieved from
9/11 attacks. (n.d.). Retrieved from
The 11 most compelling 9/11 conspiracy theories. (11, September 2012). Retrieved from
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