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Knowledge in a Conspiratorial World

Do conspiracy theories merit belief? Of course not, or so a nascent consensus of political commentators tells us. But conspiracies do happen -- think Watergate -- so an outright dismissal of theories that do not fit with a given consensus might risk overlooking important facts. In his recent book 'The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories' (2014), philosopher Matthew Dentith -- a self-professed 'conspiracy theory theorist', i.e. someone who researches belief in conspiracy theories (rather than proposing conspiracy theories himself) -- tackles the thorny epistemological questions that emerge from the nexus of secrecy, ideology, and the social world. As BRB reviewer Ori Freiman summarizes the gist of Dentith's argument, while some (or perhaps most) conspiracy theories are irrational, some conspiracies are rational, and we must therefore not dismiss a theory *only* because it invokes, or asserts, the existence of a conspiracy. Once we acknowledge that a belief in conspiracy theories can be rational, we can further investigate the existence of a conspiracy and the evidence the theory cites. If we succeed in making a tight connection between the conspirators and the events in question, we can consider the conspiracy theory in relation to other possible explanations. Dentith's book, Freiman concludes, is a thoughtful exploration of the world of conspiracy theories, based on vivid examples from history and fantasy, and rigorously argued.

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The Berlin Review of Books aims to publish high-quality reviews of, and insightful essays based on, important recent books published in any language, with a focus on non-fiction. While it will often approach contemporary debates from a European perspective, it is open to intelligent contributions from around the globe. Our goal is to promote honest and knowledgeable debate of issues of real significance; for this reason, we are committed to financial and editorial independence. The Berlin Review of Books does not normally publish fiction or poetry, except by invitation.

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