Published Humanitas, Volume XIV, No. 1, 2001

I am grateful to Dr. Frohnen for providing me with an opportunity to elucidate further my analysis of tradition and its place in social life. My response will take a step toward him but then two back.

Frohnen suggests that my analysis of tradition is too abstract in that it ignores the way traditions are embedded in habits and social interactions. However, I suspect the difference between us here is largely terminological. My concept of tradition refers to ideas or beliefs—though not necessarily conscious and rational ones—that we inherit and that then form the background to our later development. However, while I thus equate traditions exclusively with ideas or beliefs, I am happy to allow that beliefs and traditions are always embedded in actions and practices, perhaps the habits and social interactions invoked by Frohnen. Neither beliefs nor traditions exist as disembodied entities apart from their instantiation in our lives and activities. Indeed, we can come to ascribe beliefs to people, including ourselves, only through an interpretation of actions. Frohnen and I thus differ here only in our use of words: when he writes about traditions, he refers to what I would call practices, for I prefer to reserve the term tradition to refer to the beliefs or meanings that inform such practices.

Even after I shift my attention from traditions conceived as beliefs to practices conceived as the clusters of actions and interactions that embody such beliefs, however, two significant differences remain in the ways Frohnen and I would characterize such practices. One difference arises over what it means to say traditions are concrete, social realities. Although I am willing to allow that tradition is embedded in practice…

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