A conspiracy theory is an explanatory hypothesis that suggests that two or more persons, a group, or an organization of having caused or covered up, through secret planning and deliberate action, an event or situation which is typically taken to be illegal or harmful. Although the existence of a proven conspiracy involving United States President Richard Nixon and his aides in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s has been claimed as validation of conspiracy theories in general, the term “conspiracy theory” has acquired a derogatory meaning and is often used to dismiss or ridicule beliefs in conspiracies.
Some scholars suggest that people formulate conspiracy theories to explain, for example, power relations in social groups and the perceived existence of evil forces. It has been suggested by some thinkers that conspiracy theories have chiefly psychological or socio-political origins. Proposed psychological origins include projection; the personal need to explain “a significant event [with] a significant cause;” and the product of various kinds and stages of thought disorder, such as paranoid disposition, ranging in severity to diagnosable mental illnesses. Some people prefer socio-political explanations over the insecurity of encountering random, unpredictable, or otherwise inexplicable events. Some philosophers have argued that belief in conspiracy theories can be rational.