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Do Conspiracies Tend to Fail? Philosophical Reflections on a Poorly Supported Academic Meme

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2022

Kurtis Hagen*
Independent scholar


Critics of conspiracy theories often charge that such theories are implausible because conspiracies of the kind they allege tend to fail. Thus, according to these critics, conspiracy theories that have been around for a while would have been, in all likelihood, already exposed if they had been real. So, they reason, they probably are not. In this article, I maintain that the arguments in support of this view are unconvincing. I do so by examining a list of four sources recently cited in support of the claim that conspiracies tend to fail. I pay special attention to two of these sources, an article by Brian Keeley, and, especially, an article by David Grimes, which is perhaps the single “best” article in support of the idea that conspiracies tend to fail. That is, it offers the most explicit and elaborate attempt to establish this view. Further, that article has garnered significant (uncritical) attention in the mainstream press. I argue that Grimes's argument does not succeed, that the common assertion that conspiracies tend to fail remains poorly supported, and that there are good reasons to think that at least some types of conspiracies do not tend to fail.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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