The Future of Tradition

The Future of Tradition

Two distinct topics have been involved in the recent debate about the future of the humanities, and the worst failure of the debate is that it hardly seems to notice the distinction. The topics in question are the traditional study of the humanities and the study of tradition in the humanities. Attacks on the first tend to shade into attacks on the second, without understanding the very different challenge this entails. At the same time, defenses of the second often try to cover the first as well. Because I want to sketch a position here that I have not seen argued elsewhere, it will be best to start with a disclaimer. I have nothing to say for or against what is now called the traditional study of the humanities; though, in America, few scholarly practices are of more than three generations’ standing: a fact that ought to make us suspicious of theories which hold such practices to be either altogether oppressive or altogether sacred. At any rate I offer no argument here about the older patterns of teaching and research. Rather, I aim to defend the study of tradition as such. If I am right, the humanities are the proper place for that study to go on.

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Lima