Philosophy 2006 Lecture Notes - Rationality, Werewolf, Circular Definition

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15 Apr 2012
Unit V Lecture II March 27, 2012
SidkyHallucinogenic Drugs & Witches
Questions About Belief & Rationality
We have various reasons for believing things testimony, authority, empirical evidence,
personal whim, gut feelings, etc.
Beliefs all seem to be assertions about whether something is true or not, or about whether
something is true of something else or not.
We say a belief is rational if arrived at through a correct process of reasoning, but this is a
circular definition.
Sidky: Witchcraft, Lycanthropy, Drugs, & Disease
Sidky’s Critique:
o Historians spend too much time trying to understand how witch hunters thought
o Historians need to figure out what they did that resulted in the testimony we
Sidky’s Solution:
o Give a scientific treatment of the witch hunts
o Focus on what “really” happened
What Really Happened?
Assume witch hunting literature is essentially accurate
Find physical phenomena that correspond to witchcraft beliefs
o Drugs, disease, torture, etc.
Sidky’s stated assumption physical causes are real, psychological/cultural ones are not
Why would people believe in the possibility of preternatural transport across great
o At the time, it was supported by Biblical authority
But why did people think they were actually being transported?
o Sidky’s answer hallucinogenic compounds
Testimony about use of salves and ointments
Salves and ointments contained herbs with known hallucinogenic properties
Witch hunt adversaries knew the witches were only hallucinating
What Sidky is NOT Claiming:
That witches’ salves were solely the fabrication of demonologists
That there were “drug-using sects” whose members were persecuted because of their
dreams or hallucinations
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