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Is it rational to believe in witchcraft and magic

Social Anthropology seeks to gauge an understanding of cultures and practices whether they are foreign or native. This is achieved through the studying of language, education, customs, marriage, kinship, hierarchy and of course belief and value systems. Rationality is a key concept in this process as it affects the anthropologist’s interpretation of the studied group’s way of life: what s/he deems as rational or plausible practice. Witchcraft and magic pose problems for many anthropologists, as its supernatural nature is perhaps conflicting to the common Western notions of rationality, mainly deemed superior. In this essay I will be exploring the relationship between rationality and witchcraft and magic, and will further explore rationality as a factor of knowledge.

Rationality from the Latin ‘rationari’ meaning to ‘think’ or ‘calculate’ is a significant concept in Western philosophy born out of the Enlightenment. During the 17th and 18th centuries many philosophers began to emphasise the use of reason as the best method of learning objective truth. Pioneers in this field include Descartes and Locke. This was also a time when science came to the forefront of Western thought, seen as the embodiment of rationality. It was believed that the ability to reason is the very thing that separates man from other animals. It is what makes us human, and therefore it is our job to utilise this benefit at all times. As rationality grew in importance its contrasts such as ignorance and superstition were seen to have no place in a rational Western society. Things that were unexplainable through rational means were invalid. These are terms that can and are applied to practices such as witchcraft and magic.

Witchcraft and magic are practices that call upon supernatural, unseen forces. Witchcraft is the use of these forces for negative ends, to extort evil, and magic asks for positive ends. ...

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Bibliography Descartes, R. Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings (Penguin, 1998) Evans-Pritchard, E. E. Witchcraft Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (Oxford University Press, 1976) Lehmann A. C. & Myers J. E. Magic, Witchcraft and Religion – An anthropological Study of the Supernatural (Fourth Edition) (Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997) Miner, H. Body Ritual Among the Nacirema American Anthropologist 58 (1956) Tambiah, S. J. Magic, Science, Religion and the scope of Rationality (Cambridge University Press, 1990) Taylor, C. Rationality in Martin Hollis and Steven Lukes editors Rationality and Relativism (Cambridge Press, 1982) Turner V. W. International Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences David L. Sills editor (Crowell Collier and Macmillan, 1972) Wittgenstein L. On Certainty G. E. M. Anscombe and Denis Paul editors (Oxford Blackwell, 1969)

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