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Appeal to Tradition 3: The Scope Problem

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The appeal to tradition assumes a key part of what makes a belief or practice true or correct is its age—that is, it is old enough to be a tradition. If defenders of tradition simply went with the oldest beliefs and practices they could find, there would be no need to sort out which traditions to accept beyond discerning which are the most ancient. But those making the appeal rarely use it to defend the ancient beliefs or practices. For example, while American defenders of “traditional” gender roles often hearken back to their perception of a past, they do not  draw their traditions of sexual roles from ancient Greece. This is not surprising—though these are ancient, they are not consistent with the values that are presented as traditional by present day American conservatives. Since defenders of tradition do not follow the “oldest is best” principle, they need some other guide in selecting their traditions—some principle other than time. This leads to the obvious dilemma: if time is the determining factor for what is best, then they would need to embrace the oldest practices and beliefs they can find. If there are other factors, then there would be no need to appeal to tradition—they could just use these other factors to defend their beliefs and practices. The first option is absurd; the second makes referring to tradition pointless—except as a fallacy or rhetorical device. While the scope of time  is a problem for the defenders of tradition, there are analogous problems. While time is obviously a factor, one also must consider geography. For example, Christian Americans who appeal to tradition when defending religious values do not embrace the traditions of the China, Persia (now Iran), or India. They focus on the United States and Europe. Not only that, they must focus on specific groups within those geographic locations—after all, there are diverse traditions in even a single American state. And even single cities. And even within a single family. Those making. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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