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In the literature on conspiracy theories, the least contentious part of the academic discourse would appear to be what we mean by a “conspiracy”: a secretive plot between two or more people toward some end. Yet what, exactly, is the connection between something being a conspiracy and it being secret? Is it possible to conspire without also engaging in secretive behavior? To dissect the role of secrecy in conspiracies – and thus contribute to the larger debate on the epistemology of conspiracy theories – we define the concepts of “conspiracy,” “conspirator,” and “secret,” and argue that while conspirators might typically be thought to commit to keeping secrets once their conspiracy is underway, the idea that conspiracies are necessarily secretive to start with is not as obvious as previously thought.

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L. Basham 2003. ‘Malevolent Global Conspiracy.’ Journal of Social Philosophy, 34: 91103.

M. Blaauw 2013a. ‘Introduction: Privacy, Secrecy and Epistemology.’ Episteme, 10: 99.

M. Blaauw 2013b. ‘The Epistemic Account of Privacy.’ Episteme, 10: 167–77.

D. Boothroyd 2011. ‘Off the Record: Levinas, Derrida and the Secret of Responsibility.’ Theory, Culture and Society, 28: 4159.

J. de Ridder 2013. ‘Is there Epistemic Justification for Secrecy in Science?Episteme, 10: 101–16.

M. R. X. Dentith 2014. The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

M. R. X. Dentith 2016. ‘When Inferring to a Conspiracy Theory Might be the Best Explanation.’ Social Epistemology. doi: 10.1080/02691728.2016.1172362.

D. R. Grimes 2016. ‘On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs.’ PLoS ONE, 11: e0147905. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147905.

G. Husting and M. Orr 2007. ‘Dangerous Machinery: ‘Conspiracy Theorist’ as a Transpersonal Strategy of Exclusion.’ Symbolic Interaction, 30: 127–50.

B. L. Keeley 1999. ‘Of Conspiracy Theories.’ Journal of Philosophy, 96: 109–26.

B. L. Keeley 2007. ‘God as the Ultimate Conspiracy Theory.’ Episteme, 4: 135–49.

S. McMillan , R. Duska , R. Hamilton and D. Casey 2006. ‘The Ethical Dilemma of Research and Development Openness Versus Secrecy.’ Journal of Business Ethics, 65: 279–85.

C. Pigden 1995. ‘Popper Revisited, or What Is Wrong With Conspiracy Theories?Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 25: 334.

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  • ISSN: 1742-3600
  • EISSN: 1750-0117
  • URL: /core/journals/episteme
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