The Great Conversation is the ongoing process of writers and thinkers referencing, building on, and refining the work of their predecessors. This process is characterized by authors in the Western canon making comparisons and allusions to the works of earlier authors. As such it is a name used in the promotion of the Great Books of the Western World published by Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. in 1952. It is also the title of (i) the first volume of the first edition of this set of books, authored by Robert Maynard Hutchins, and (ii) an accessory volume to the second edition (1990), authored by Mortimer Adler.
According to Hutchins, "The tradition of the West is embodied in the Great Conversation that began in the dawn of history and that continues to the present day". Adler said,
"What binds the authors together in an intellectual community is the great conversation in which they are engaged. In the works that come later in the sequence of years, we find authors listening to what their predecessors have had to say about this idea or that, this topic or that. They not only harken to the thought of their predecessors, they also respond to it by commenting on it in a variety of ways."
- The Great Conversation, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
- Mortimer Adler: "The Great Conversation Revisited," in The Great Conversation: A Peoples Guide to Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, 1990, p. 28.
- The Tradition of the West -- chapter one of "The Great Conversation" online
- “The Great Conversation” (The Classic Essay for The Great Books by Robert Hutchins) -- extended excerpt of "The Great Conversation" that comes with the Second Edition of the Great Books of the Western World
- Great Conversation book discussion group