Engaging with “Fringe” Beliefs: Why, When, and How




I argue that in many cases, there are good reasons to engage with people who hold fringe beliefs such as debunked conspiracy theories. I (1) discuss reasons for engaging with fringe beliefs; (2) discuss the conditions that need to be met for engagement to be worthwhile; (3) consider the question of how to engage with such beliefs, and defend what Jeremy Fantl has called “closed-minded engagement” and (4) address worries that such closed-minded engagement involves problematic deception or manipulation. Thinking about how we engage with irrational emotions offers a way of responding to these concerns. Reflection on engagement with fringe beliefs has wider implications for two distinct philosophical discussions. First, it can help illuminate the nature of beliefs, lending support to the view that not all states which are deeply resistant to evidence thereby fail to be beliefs. Second, an implication of the view I put forth is that it need not constitute a lack of respect to adopt what Peter Strawson called “the objective stance” in relationships.

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