The Challenge of Tradition (2018), by Sean Gabb

Sean Gabb, speaking in London on the 20th February 2018.

Custom and traditional institutions are essential to civilised life. They are a kind of crystalised reason, telling us to do things, and giving us an incentive to do them, that we are unable to justify by our own unaided reason.

This being said, there are many customs that are universal and that have been practised since time out of mind – slavery, for example, and human sacrifice. If people were justified in washing their hands before the 19th century scientists were able to explain to us the danger of microorganisms and toxins that accumulate there, what criterion have we for rejecting slavery and human sacrifice? Just because we can think of no valid defence of these customs, does that make them wholly without value?

This is a speech that raises more questions than it answers.


© 2018, seangabb.

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