By George Allan

ISBN-10: 0887061168

ISBN-13: 9780887061165

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The act was designed to overcome the transitory qualities of the mortal flesh involved, to give veracity to fragile memories, to insure the temporal extensiveness that is a sure sign of a thing's significance. The gravestone is a modest piece of rock, failing in its spatial proportions to command the respect desired for the event it commemorates. But by choosing granite, a rock that does not readily erode, by engraving that rock with marks that signal meanings ensconced in a language of enduring importance, and by locating both the rock and the remains of the person it celebrates in an area set aside from the changing impact of utili- Page 7 tarian needs, these ancestors of mine gave their rock a new kind of massiveness.

That is, I must begin my search for truth at the bottom of the ladder, working out of a perspective provided by the human effort to find meaning from within the flux of momentary experience. Memory, feeling, and imagination are the resources available to this primordially fundamental perspective. Its teaching is that tradition is the sole source and best custodian of social value. Page xi The authority of tradition is therefore the object of my inquiry in this book. I will discuss its experiential base, the way by which common sense and need, everyday events and the confusions that surround them, are transformed into beliefs and practices rooted in the importances of the past.

Thus Descartes is not simply exasperated. He is at wits' end and is prepared to go to extremes if necessary in order to regain the security of a world in which things can be trusted to be as they seem. George Santayana, 300 years later, echoes this desperation as he prepares to undertake a similar enterprise: The brute necessity of believing something so long as life lasts does not justify any belief in particular; nor does it assure me that not to live would not, for this very reason, be far safer and saner.

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The importances of the past: a meditation on the authority of tradition by George Allan


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