A piece of excised thesis: Popper and the conspiracy theory of ignorance

Karl Popper, in addition to his analysis of the conspiracy theory of society presents what I take to be a related worry, which is that the conspiracy theory of society entails the belief that we are being kept ignorant of what is happening behind the scenes of our political and social reality. He calls this concern the conspiracy theory of ignorance, which:

…interprets ignorance not as a mere lack of knowledge but as the work of some sinister power, the source of impure and evil influences which pervert and poison our minds and instil in us the habit of resistance to knowledge.” Conjectures and Refutations

He argues that the conspiracy theory of ignorance is a modern superstition analogous to belief in a deity/omnipotent and omniscient agent.

The conspiracy theory of society is just a version of this theism, of a belief in gods whose whims and wills rule everything. It comes from abandoning God and then asking: `Who is in his place?’ His place is filled by various powerful men and groups–sinister pressure groups, who are blamed for having planned the great depression and all the evils from which we suffer. Conjectures and Refutations

Such a belief, Popper argues, is held by a great many rationalists; he points toward Adolf Hitler as a rationalist who replaced a belief in a god that brought about Germany’s troubles with a belief in a Conspiracy by the Elders of Zion to destroy the German people and their way of life1.

Popper’s conspiracy theory of ignorance is about the consequences of belief in the conspiracy theory of society and whilst this is not strictly within the domain of this thesis, given that it seems more properly suited to a thesis in Psychology, I will touch upon this kind of issue from time to time2.

[I wrote a post about the conspiracy theory of ignorance in 2009; you can read it here.]


  1. Popper is quite damning in his condemnation of the beliefs of rationalists; I do wonder whether the Rationals and Humanists, who love Popper, have every actually read Conjectures and Refutations.
  2. Except I never did, which is why this section has been excised from the final draft of my dissertation.

About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.


  1. I must re-read my copy of ‘Conjectures and Refutations’.
    By the way, there is a stray fragment of a tag “em>” in the first para. And..have you thought of increasing the line spacing?
    Kind regards

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