Jahoda Psychology of Superstition – Final thoughts

Posted on August 1, 2007


I have thoroughly enjoyed Jahoda’s book and have definitely found it very valuable. It manages to cast light on the broader discussion even while it develops Jahoda’s own ideas. Interestingly, even though it was written fourty years ago, much of what it says remains relevant (with the possible exception of the sections on Freud and Jung). The one thing that I really did find missing from his book is a more appreciation of the evolutionary background for superstition, although his outlook is very much in line with that background. I expect to be going back to the book numerous times for further insights. I think Jahoda and I are in general agreement about superstition. I particularly like the way he closes his book:

The burden of the thesis developed here is that superstition, far from being old and abnormal as it is often thought to be, is in fact intimately bound up with our fundamental modes of thinking, feeling and generally responding to our environment. The current ‘enlightened’ attitude to superstition which purports to discern its imminent demise, aided by education, has its roots in the intellectualist optimism of the nineteenth century.

[The failure of the overly optimistic view] does not imply that we must resing ourselves to passivity. Just as doctors are not dettered from the fight against disease by the knowledge that there can be no ultimate victory, so educators need not be discouraged from the efforts to wean men away from harmful or even useless superstitions. But as David Hume said long ago, the propensity can never be eradicated because, paradoxically, it is an integral part of the adaptive mechanisms without which humanity would not be able to survive.

The thing being to spell out in which way this propensity is integral to these mechanisms.