Conspiracy theorists often claim that a lack of evidence for the alleged conspiracy only goes to show just how powerful the conspiracy really is because it can suppress the evidence. Is this an argument from silence, or an appeal to ignorance?

In one sense, it feels like an appeal to ignorance, because the claim of an undetectable conspiracy is unfalsifiable. But in another sense, the precise lack of evidence is being used as an argument, so it feels like an argument from silence.

  • sounds like argument from silence to me. It might be both, however. Sep 20, 2013 at 15:01
  • note that the argumentum ad silentium is a good working and often used method in history.
    – Lukas
    Sep 20, 2013 at 17:20
  • A conspiracy is by definition any action taken collectively by more than one person. The government's 9/11 theory that 19 Arabs hijacked airplanes because they "hate our freedoms" is a conspiracy theory. The US government actually brought conspiracy charges against the Lincoln assassins and hanged four of them. Since this is a philosophy website, is it too pedantic to ask that people use words precisely? Sep 20, 2013 at 17:51
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    @JanetWilliams: In general, no, but I don't think my question was any less precise than it needed to be. It's irrelevant whether the conspiracy theories I was referring to are musings from the lunatic fringe, or highly probable scenarios from reasonable people: either way, the argument described is still a fallacy, which is the only thing that was relevant to my question. Sep 20, 2013 at 19:17
  • Bayesian epistemology: P(no evidence | no conspiracy)=1, P(no evidence | effective conspiracy) =1. Absence of evidence does not distinguish between these hypotheses (though it tends to dis-favor hypotheses where the conspiracy leaks information)
    – Dave
    Mar 16, 2017 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


Neither. The fallacy you're looking for is begging the question. If the conspiracy theory is true, then the lack of evidence for the theory would indicate the power and reach of the conspiracy used to hide it. But the lack of evidence for the conspiracy can not reasonably be seen as a valid argument supporting the truth of the conspiracy theory. Those who strongly believe in something often have a hard time doubting it, which is what is required in order to persuade a skeptic. This is where a lot of question begging comes from, in form. If you already believe something is true, you don't generally look for evidence to convince yourself that it is true, and you may not even know how to "think like a skeptic." But of course the first thought a skeptic would have is, "Suppose the proposition is false, would anything appear different?"

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