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06 January 2015

Participating in Superstitious Rituals: Philosophy in Action Podcast

By Diana Hsieh

On Sunday's episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I answered a question on participating in superstitious rituals. The question was:

Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously? If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called "good-luck cats." A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor's offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn't literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be "social proof" that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hotlines?

My Answer, In Brief: Belief in horoscopes, superstitions, and the like is irrational and destructive. If you're tempted by that kind of thinking, perform some scientific experiments. If you live in a community where it's taken seriously, don't encourage it by seeming to endorse it.

Download or Listen to My Full Answer:

Tags: Business, Communication, Ethics, Holidays, Humor, Rationality, Religion, Sanction, Science, Superstition

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.

A podcast of the full episode – where I answered questions on participating in superstitious rituals, punishing yourself, and more – is available here: Episode of 4 January 2015.

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