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Tradition: Concept and Claim by Josef Pieper

Tradition: Concept and Claim

by Josef Pieper

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The concept of tradition is alternately derided by radical social reformers and sloppily defended by reactionaries who uphold ancient customs solely out of force of habit. Josef Pieper, by contrast, insists that tradition is made meaningful by its preservation of some original truth, bequeathed to future generations and accepted by them as a meaningful part of their own lives. This 'sacred tradition' is not identified exclusively with the truths of Christian revelation - elements of this wisdom exist in every community. For Westerners, some of this traditional knowledge can be sought in the literature and philosophy of classical antiquity. These beliefs and ideas express truths that transcend individual intelligences, and are therefore of the utmost importance to any society.

Pieper's emphasis on 'sacred tradition' does not exclude the importance of secular traditions (always plural), which are the manmade conventions that give stability and a framework for meaning in a particular community. Both types of tradition are essential to our common life. If both have been threatened in modern times, Pieper argues, it is because of a category mistake: we assume that the pattern of progressive discovery that we see in the natural sciences, with new knowledge superseding the old, can be extended to encompass the entirety of human existence.

Anything Josef Pieper writers is worth reading, and this brief treatise is no exception. At less than seventy pages of body text, this could be a good way in for someone new to Pieper's thought: it takes only an hour or two to read, but addresses fundamental issues that will reward a lifetime of careful thought. ( )
  hauptwerk | May 16, 2010 |
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