What is this thing called superstition?

Posted on September 25, 2007


I am currently working on a paper in which I try to provide a paradigmatic characterisation of superstition. Rather than trying to provide a definition of superstition, the aim is to give a characterisation of those things that are the most clear-cut cases of superstition and to then work from them to see what else is also superstition. I am using the various definitions that have been proposed previously and trying to combine them in a reasonable way. The current working version of the paradigmatic characterisation is, as might be expected for a result of combining various definitions, fairly complex:

A superstition is an action which is ineffective and distinct from normal practice, combined with the belief that the action will have a practical, future effect thanks to a causal connection – to be explained in supernatural terms – between the action and the effect; where that belief is false, unjustified and inconsistent with scientific results, as well as being not associated with religious beliefs

I am not completely happy with it for a number of reasons but I think that I will not change it too much. The thing is that there is always going to be little points that can be raised by those who’ve done a first year analytical philosophy course in thinking up counterexamples and misconstruing what someone else has written. The most important thing is whether the characterisation manages to cover all of the vital points that have been previously brought up by researchers.

The next step is to consider whether the exclusion of religious beliefs is justifiable or necessary, as well as what the significance of the supernatural explanation is. Both are highly controversial topics, of course.