Winter 2017

Taking Truth for Granted: A Reflection on the Significance of Tradition in Josef Pieper

D. C. Schindler

When Josef Pieper explores a philosophical theme, his typical practice is to begin by laying out what has already been said, and has generally found acceptance, on the matter. There is a certain irony in the fact that, when he sets himself to reflect specifically on the theme of tradition, he finds that virtually nothing has been handed down on this subject in the realm of philosophy.1 Quite unusually, there is no entry on “tradition” in the great German philosophical dictionaries, and the classic dictionaries in theological and classical literature provide entries of such narrow scope as to offer very little to the philosophical mind. Thus, when he takes up this particular theme in his 1970 book, Tradition: Concept and Claim, Pieper discovers he has to start more or less from scratch.2


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1. Pieper discussed the concept of tradition often in his work. Setting aside an early essay (“Die Grundsätze für die Gestaltung der Sammlung christlichen Traditionsgutes” [1933], published in Werke, Ergänzungsband, I, Frühe soziologische Schriften [Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2004]), Pieper first offered some thoughts on the matter from a philosophical perspective in the essay “The Philosophical Act” (originally written in 1947), which appears in his best-known book Leisure, the Basis of Culture (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998) (see pages 117–20). In 1957, he delivered a lecture directly on this theme, which was then published along with the critical responses to it in 1958 as “Über den Begriff der Tradition” (Cologne: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1958). Shorter essays on tradition appeared later, most importantly the 1960 essay, published in English as “Tradition in the Changing World,” in the book Tradition as Challenge (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2015), 1–19. The most sustained treatment, which will be the focus of our discussion here, was developed from the 1957 lecture. It was published in 1970 as Überlieferung: Begriff und Anspruch (in English: Tradition: Concept and Claim, trans. E. Christian Kopff [Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008]) (hereafter cited as Tradition)]. On all of this, see the translator’s helpful introduction, Tradition, xvii–xxxi. All otherwise unattributed citations in this essay will be to this work.

2. Tradition, 6–7.