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Precedent and Tradition, 99 Yale L.J. 1029 (1990)


In certain fields of inquiry, the discipline of philosophy is presented with a special challenge: that of understanding actions and experiences which belong to a sphere of life governed by a spirit very different from its own. Not every branch of philosophical inquiry presents this special challenge. Metaphysics and epistemology, for example, do not, for in these departments of philosophy—its oldest and most self-centered ones—the subject matter as well as the method of inquiry is supplied by the discipline of philosophy itself. The questions that metaphysics and epistemology address, including the question of how we are to understand the very process of philosophical reflection they display, are in this sense all internal ones. Here the challenge to which I have referred does not arise. But in other, less self-centered, branches of philosophy, where the subject-matter of inquiry is drawn from a sphere of life that is external to, and often even in tension with, the discipline of philosophy itself, this challenge does arise, sometimes in dramatic form. The philosophy of religion, for example, and the branch of thought we call aesthetics, both challenge philosophers in this way, for in each, those devoted to philosophy are forced to confront attitudes and values alien to their own and practices shaped by a ruling spirit that is stubbornly non-philosophical.

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