In the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittenstein says:

5.1361 The events of the future cannot be inferred from those of the present.

Superstition is the belief in the causal nexus.

I'm not quite sure what is meant by "superstition" in this case.

Does he mean that if something has happened in the past or in the now, that that is not good enough to assume it will happen again?

As I read it, he claimed that I would be superstitious to assume an apple is edible because of my past and present experiences with things that seem to be apples.

And while it could happen that somehow an apple turns toxic, I think the term "superstition" does not directly apply here. Although I have good reasons to assume so, yet I know I could be wrong.

And it seems to me that there is no alternative to being "superstitious" by this definition in order to cope with what one perceives to be reality. We humans must infer future events out of our past experiences.

It may also be that I am pondering too much on the term "superstition" because it has a bad connotation for me. It may be used differently than what one would normally call superstition.

I really would like some clarification.

  • 1
    Hume showed that cause was ungrounded rationally. This is why Wittgenstein says it is superstition. But Kant found reasons to rescue cause (he placed it in our sensibility); seeing that Wittgenstein had read Kant it doesn't quite follow that he stills call it superstition, unless of course he had his own doubts about Kants rescue, which I see now Bevilaqua outlines below. Mar 10, 2013 at 2:16

3 Answers 3


Hume challenged other philosophers to come up with a deductive reason for the inductive connection. If the justification of induction cannot be deductive, then it would beg the question. To Hume, induction itself, cannot explain the inductive connection.

Wittgenstein's early account of causation in TLP follows Hume in rejecting the idea of causal necessity. There is only one kind of necessity, namely logical necessity; 'outside logic everything is accidental.' This means that there is 'no causal nexus' to justify an inference from the existence of one situation to that of another. Hence, too, there is no 'compulsion' that one thing should happen because another has happened, and we cannot know future events (TLP 5.135-5.1362, 6.3, 6.36311-6.372).

In other words, induction (TLP 6.3f.) has only a psychological justification; 'there are no grounds for believing that the simplest eventuality will in fact be realized.' For the 'law of induction', according to which nature is uniform - will carry on the way it has in the past - has no logical justification. Everything outside logic, in the domain of empirical science, is 'accidental'. In particular, causation is neither a real nor a necessary connection between events. Consequently we cannot know that the sun will rise tomorrow. "The events of the future cannot be inferred from those of the present.Superstition is the belief in the causal nexus". For reasoning yields knowledge only if the premises are known to be true and entail the conclusion; but the existence of one situation never entails the existence of another. Wittgenstein supposition is that knowledge requires certainty.

Like other so-called 'fundamental' laws of science, the 'law of causality', according to which every event has a cause, is not a law, but 'the form of a law'. This means that it is neither a law of logic, nor an empirical generalization, nor a synthetic a priori proposition. Indeed, it is not a proposition at all, since it tries to say what can only be shown. What it indicates is a certain 'form of description' which is crucial to scientific theorizing (TLP 6.321f.). Descriptions which connect events in a non-lawlike manner are excluded from science. To characterize something as an event is to imply that it is explicable by reference to some often unknown causal law. Causation itself is a formal concept. It characterizes not reality, but the 'network' of an optional form of representing reality, such as Newtonian mechanics (TLP 6.33-6.341, 6.36f., 6.362).

Wittgenstein's later thoughts after TLP on causation focuses on the way we establish causal connections in everyday life, not in science, and the results challenge crucial aspects of the Humean position. Wittgenstein makes the claim that the principle of causality, 'Every event must have a cause', is not a synthetic a priori truth, as Kant thought, but a disguised rule of grammar. If this means that our grammar simply rules out as nonsensical the expression 'uncaused event', it is wrong. But one might argue that it is a norm of representation of classical mechanics that it always makes sense to look for the cause of an event, even if no plausible candidate is in sight.

  • Very nice answer, however is it correct to say Wittgenstein ' makes the claim that the principle of causality is not a synthetic a priori truth'? This is not the sort of thing W would have claimed in his later philosophy, since he quite consistently avoids using the technical language of previous philosophers. Also though your description of his later position seems quite correct, I don't see that it is based on 'the way we establish causal connections in everyday life' - rather it is solely based on grammatical analysis.
    – adrianos
    Mar 7, 2013 at 19:25
  • @adrianos You will find the concept of a priori truth as a synthetic causal principle in the notes of Alice Ambrose in “Wittengenstein Lectures, Cambridge, 1932-1935”, note 16. You will find the focus on the way we establish causal connections in everyday life in the Wittgenstein's paper “Cause and Effect: Intuitive Awareness”. Mar 8, 2013 at 0:49
  • I don't see any reference by Wittgenstein to Kant or synthetic a priori principles in those lectures.
    – adrianos
    Mar 8, 2013 at 16:56
  • You will not find the term "synthetic a priori", but the concept will find there, as Kant uses. Mar 8, 2013 at 17:17
  • Fantastic Answer
    – dgo
    Sep 14, 2014 at 4:52

"Superstition is the belief in the casual nexus" means: the idea of superstition can be explained as the belief that the existence of one situation can imply the existence of a different situation. The later translation was "Superstition is nothing but belief in the casual nexus." (Wittgenstein didn't say that causality is superstition- we do describe the world using laws that have a casual form.)


The answer given is based on Glock's entry for "causation" in "Wittgenstein's Dictionary". Not only the reference is unacknowledged, Glock's entry is far more comprehensive.You can find it online.

  • Thanks for joining philosophy.stackexchange.com -- please avoid link only answers. (Or in your case: reference only. Please do provide the actual link). More importantly: Each answer should contain all the information and not require to look up an external source. Can you summarize the Glock's entry within this answer?
    – k0pernikus
    Nov 23, 2017 at 11:35

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