Mortimer J. Adler
Adler while presiding over the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas
Mortimer Jerome Adler
December 28, 1902
New York City, New York
|Died||June 28, 2001 98) (aged|
|Philosophical theology, metaphysics, ethics|
Mortimer Jerome Adler (December 28, 1902 – June 28, 2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. He lived for long stretches in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and San Mateo, California.He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica , and Adler's own Institute for Philosophical Research.
Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. This school of thought is in the modern sense of philosophy, covering existence, ethics, mind and related subjects. In Aristotle's time, philosophy included natural philosophy, which preceded the advent of modern science during the Scientific Revolution. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school and later on by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle's writings. In the Islamic Golden Age, Avicenna and Averroes translated the works of Aristotle into Arabic and under them, along with philosophers such as Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi, Aristotelianism became a major part of early Islamic philosophy.
The City of New York, often called New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.
Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the third most populous city in the United States. As of the 2017 census-estimate, it has a population of 2,716,450, which makes it the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. Chicago is the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States, and the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, which is often referred to as "Chicagoland." The Chicago metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States, the fourth largest in North America, and the third largest metropolitan area in the world by land area.
Adler was born in New York City on December 28, 1902, to Jewish immigrants from Germany.He dropped out of school at age 14 to become a copy boy for the New York Sun, with the ultimate aspiration to become a journalist. Adler soon returned to school to take writing classes at night where he discovered the works of men he would come to call heroes: Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, John Stuart Mill and others. He went on to study at Columbia University and contributed to the student literary magazine, The Morningside (a poem "Choice" in 1922 when Charles A. Wagner was editor-in-chief and Whittaker Chambers an associate editor). Though he refused to take the required swimming test for a bachelor's degree (a matter that was rectified when Columbia gave him an honorary degree in 1983), he stayed at the university and eventually received an instructorship and finally a doctorate in psychology. While at Columbia University, Adler wrote his first book: Dialectic, published in 1927.
Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.
Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the pivotal figure in the development of Western philosophy, along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle. In addition, Plato has also often been cited as one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato."
Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist born in the city of Stagira, Chalkidiki, Greece. Along with Plato, he is considered the "Father of Western Philosophy". Aristotle provided a complex and harmonious synthesis of the various existing philosophies prior to him, including those of Socrates and Plato, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its fundamental intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be central to the contemporary philosophical discussion.
Adler worked with Scott Buchanan at the People's Institute and then for many years on their respective great books efforts (Buchanan as founder of the great books program at St. John's College).
Scott Buchanan was an American philosopher, educator, and foundation consultant. He is best known as the founder of the Great Books program at St. John's College, at Annapolis, Maryland.
St. John's College is a private liberal arts college with dual campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, which are ranked separately by U.S. News & World Report within the top 100 National Liberal Arts Colleges. It is known for its distinctive curriculum centered on reading and discussing the Great Books of Western Civilization. St. John's has no religious affiliation.
In 1930 Robert Hutchins, the newly appointed president of the University of Chicago, whom Adler had befriended some years earlier, arranged for Chicago's law school to hire him as a professor of the philosophy of law; the philosophers at Chicago (who included James H. Tufts, E.A. Burtt, and George H. Mead) had "entertained grave doubts as to Dr. Adler's competence in the field [of philosophy]"and resisted Adler's appointment to the University's Department of Philosophy. Adler was the first "non-lawyer" to join the law school faculty. Adler also taught philosophy to business executives at the Aspen Institute.
The University of Chicago is a private, non-profit research university in Chicago, Illinois. The university is composed of an undergraduate college, various graduate programs and interdisciplinary committees organized into five academic research divisions and seven professional schools. Beyond the arts and sciences, Chicago is also well known for its professional schools, which include the Pritzker School of Medicine, the Booth School of Business, the Law School, the School of Social Service Administration, the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, the Divinity School and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. The university holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.
The University of Chicago Law School is a professional graduate school of the University of Chicago. It employs more than 200 full-time and part-time faculty and hosts more than 600 students in its Juris Doctor program, while also offering the Master of Laws, Master of Studies in Law and Doctor of Juridical Science degrees in law. It is consistently ranked among the top law schools in the world, and has produced many distinguished alumni in the judiciary, academia, government, politics and business.
James Hayden Tufts (1862–1942), an influential American philosopher, was a professor of the then newly founded Chicago University. Tufts was also a member of the Board of Arbitration, and the chairman of a committee of the social agencies of Chicago. The work Ethics in 1908 was a collaboration of Tufts and John Dewey. Tufts believed in a conception of mutual influences which he saw as opposed in both Marxism and idealism.
Adler and Hutchins went on to found the Great Books of the Western World program and the Great Books Foundation. He founded and served as director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in 1952. He also served on the Board of Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, and succeeded Hutchins as its chairman from 1974. As the director of editorial planning for the fifteenth edition of Britannica from 1965, he was instrumental in the major reorganization of knowledge embodied in that edition.He introduced the Paideia Proposal which resulted in his founding the Paideia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of difficult works (as judged for each grade). With Max Weismann, he founded the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas in 1990 in Chicago.
Great Books of the Western World is a series of books originally published in the United States in 1952, by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., to present the Great Books in a 54-volume set.
The Great Books Foundation, incorporated in the state of Illinois and based in Chicago, is an independent, nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to help people think and share ideas. Toward this end, the Foundation publishes collections of classic and modern literature as part of a continuum of reading and discussion programs for children and adults. The foundation has two main programs: Junior Great Books, serving students in kindergarten through high school, and Great Books Discussion for college students, continuing education, and Great Books book groups. The organization derives its income from the sale of books, teacher professional development fees, contributions, and grants.
The Encyclopædia Britannica, formerly published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia. It was written by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. The 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages, was the last printed edition.
Adler long strove to bring philosophy to the masses, and some of his works (such as How to Read a Book ) became popular bestsellers. He was also an advocate of economic democracy and wrote an influential preface to Louis O. Kelso's The Capitalist Manifesto .Adler was often aided in his thinking and writing by Arthur Rubin, an old friend from his Columbia undergraduate days. In his own words:
How to Read a Book is a 1940 book by Mortimer Adler. He co-authored a heavily revised edition in 1972 with Charles Van Doren, which gives guidelines for critically reading good and great books of any tradition. The 1972 revision, in addition to the first edition, treats genres, inspectional and syntopical reading.
Economic democracy is a socioeconomic philosophy that proposes to shift decision-making power from corporate managers and corporate shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, customers, suppliers, neighbours and the broader public. No single definition or approach encompasses economic democracy, but most proponents claim that modern property relations externalize costs, subordinate the general well-being to private profit and deny the polity a democratic voice in economic policy decisions. In addition to these moral concerns, economic democracy makes practical claims, such as that it can compensate for capitalism's inherent effective demand gap.
Louis Orth Kelso was a political economist, corporate and financial lawyer, author, lecturer and merchant banker who is chiefly remembered today as the inventor and pioneer of the employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), invented to enable working people without savings to buy stock in their employer company and pay for it out of its future dividend yield.
Unlike many of my contemporaries, I never write books for my fellow professors to read. I have no interest in the academic audience at all. I'm interested in Joe Doakes. A general audience can read any book I write – and they do.
Dwight MacDonald once criticized Adler's popular style by saying "Mr. Adler once wrote a book called How to Read a Book. He should now read a book called How to Write a Book."
The ethnic composition of Adler's Great Books list was controversial in some[ which? ] academic circles, as was his response to accompanying criticism. Some[ who? ] fellow academics characterized the list as ethnically exclusive with Henry Louis Gates saying later that the assembly of the list showed a "profound disrespect for the intellectual capacities of people of color – red, brown or yellow". Others, such as E. D. Hirsch, Jr., claim the Great Books of the Western World project was inherently unnecessary, saying that an understanding of shared cultural items within books is more important than reading them. Adler was asked in a 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times why his Great Books of the Western World list did not include more non-whites and non-Europeans. He attributed the lack of Latino authors to the lack of recommendations by Mexican poet and committee member Octavio Paz, and the lack of black authors to a lack of books good enough to fit the criteria. In the face of criticism Adler maintained that ethnic quotas were irrelevant to the subject.
Adler was born into a nonobservant Jewish family. In his early twenties, he discovered St. Thomas Aquinas, and in particular the Summa Theologica .Many years later, he wrote that its "intellectual austerity, integrity, precision and brilliance ... put the study of theology highest among all of my philosophical interests". An enthusiastic Thomist, he was a frequent contributor to Catholic philosophical and educational journals, as well as a frequent speaker at Catholic institutions, so much so that some assumed he was a convert to Catholicism. But that was reserved for later.
In 1940, James T. Farrell called Adler "the leading American fellow-traveller of the Roman Catholic Church". What was true for Adler, Farrell said, was what was "postulated in the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church", and he "sang the same tune" as avowed Catholic philosophers like Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and Martin D'Arcy. Farrell attributed Adler's delay in joining the Church to his being among those Christians who "wanted their cake and ... wanted to eat it too", and compared him to the Emperor Constantine, who waited until he was on his deathbed to formally become a Catholic.
Adler took a long time to make up his mind about theological issues. When he wrote How to Think About God: A Guide for the Twentieth-Century Pagan in 1980, he claimed to consider himself the pagan of the book's subtitle. In volume 51 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (2001), Ken Myers includes his 1980 interview with Adler, conducted after How to Think About God was published. Myers reminisces, "During that interview, I asked him why he had never embraced the Christian faith himself. He explained that while he had been profoundly influenced by a number of Christian thinkers during his life, ... there were moral – not intellectual – obstacles to his conversion. He didn't explain any further."
Myers notes that Adler finally "surrendered to the Hound of Heaven" and "made a confession of faith and was baptized" as an Episcopalian in 1984, only a few years after that interview. Offering insight into Adler's conversion, Myers quotes him from a subsequent 1990 article in Christianity magazine: "My chief reason for choosing Christianity was because the mysteries were incomprehensible. What's the point of revelation if we could figure it out ourselves? If it were wholly comprehensible, then it would just be another philosophy."
According to his friend Deal Hudson, Adler "had been attracted to Catholicism for many years" and "wanted to be a Roman Catholic, but issues like abortion and the resistance of his family and friends" kept him away. Many thought he was baptized as an Episcopalian rather than a Catholic solely because of his "wonderful – and ardently Episcopal – wife" Caroline. Hudson suggests it is no coincidence that it was only after her death in 1998 that he took the final step.In December 1999, in San Mateo, where he had moved to spend his last years, Adler was formally received into the Catholic Church by a long-time friend and admirer, Bishop Pierre DuMaine. "Finally," wrote another friend, Ralph McInerny, "he became the Roman Catholic he had been training to be all his life".
Despite not being a Catholic for most of his life, Adler can be considered a Catholic philosopher on account of his lifelong participation in the Neo-Thomist movementand his almost equally long membership of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.
Adler referred to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as the "ethics of common sense" and also as "the only moral philosophy that is sound, practical, and undogmatic". Thus, it is the only ethical doctrine that answers all the questions that moral philosophy should and can attempt to answer, neither more nor less, and that has answers that are true by the standard of truth that is appropriate and applicable to normative judgments. In contrast, he believed that other theories or doctrines try to answer more questions than they can or fewer than they should, and their answers are mixtures of truth and error, particularly the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant.
Adler was a self-proclaimed "moderate dualist", and viewed the positions of psychophysical dualism and materialistic monism to be opposite sides of two extremes. Regarding dualism, he dismissed the extreme form of dualism that stemmed from such philosophers as Plato (body and soul) and Descartes (mind and matter), as well as the theory of extreme monism and the mind–brain identity theory. After eliminating the extremes, Adler subscribed to a more moderate form of dualism. He believed that the brain is only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for conceptual thought; that an "immaterial intellect" is also requisite as a condition;and that the difference between human and animal behavior is a radical difference in kind. Adler defended this position against many challenges to dualistic theories.
The meanings of "freedom" and "free will" have been and are under debate, and the debate is confused because there is no generally accepted definition of either "freedom" or "free will". – circumstantial, natural, and acquired – is necessary for clarity on the subject.Adler's "Institute for Philosophical Research" spent ten years studying the "idea of freedom" as the word was used by hundreds of authors who have discussed and disputed freedom. The study was published in 1958 as Volume One of The Idea of Freedom, sub-titled A Dialectical Examination of the Idea of Freedom with subsequent comments in Adler's Philosophical Dictionary. Adler's study concluded that a delineation of three kinds of freedom
As Adler's interest in religion and theology increased, he made references to the Bible and the need to test its articles of faith for compatibility with certainties from fields of natural knowledge such as science and philosophy.In his 1981 book How to Think About God, Adler attempts to demonstrate God as the exnihilator (the creator of something from nothing). Adler stressed that even with this conclusion, God's existence cannot be proven or demonstrated, but only established as true beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in a recent re-review of the argument, John Cramer concluded that recent developments in cosmology appear to converge with and support Adler's argument, and that in light of such theories as the multiverse, the argument is no worse for wear and may, indeed, now be judged somewhat more probable than it was originally.
Adler believed that, if theology and religion are living things, there is nothing intrinsically wrong about efforts to modernize them. They must be open to change and growth like everything else. Further, there is no reason to be surprised when discussions such as those about the "death of God" – a concept drawn from Friedrich Nietzsche – stir popular excitement as they did in the recent past and could do so again today. According to Adler, of all the great ideas, the idea of God has always been and continues to be the one that evokes the greatest concern among the widest group of men and women. However, he was opposed to the idea of converting atheism into a new form of religion or theology.
Mortimer Adler was married twice and had four children. [ citation needed ]He and Helen Boynton were married in 1927 and later divorced in 1960 with whom he had two children, Mark and Michael. Second wife was Carolyn Pring, and he had two more children with her.
Educational perennialism is a normative educational philosophy. Perennialists believe that one should teach the things that are of everlasting pertinence to all people everywhere, and that the emphasis should be on principles, not facts. Since people are human, one should teach first about humans, rather than machines or techniques, and about liberal, rather than vocational, topics.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher and an important figure of German idealism. He achieved wide recognition in his day and—while primarily influential within the continental tradition of philosophy—has become increasingly influential in the analytic tradition as well. Although Hegel remains a divisive figure, his canonical stature within Western philosophy is universally recognized.
The philosophy of education examines the goals, forms, methods, and meaning of education. The term is used to describe both fundamental philosophical analysis of these themes and the description or analysis of particular pedagogical approaches. Considerations of how the profession relates to broader philosophical or sociocultural contexts may be included. The philosophy of education thus overlaps with the field of education and applied philosophy.
Dialectic or dialectics, also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. Dialectic resembles debate, but the concept excludes subjective elements such as emotional appeal and the modern pejorative sense of rhetoric. Dialectic may be contrasted with the didactic method, wherein one side of the conversation teaches the other. Dialectic is alternatively known as minor logic, as opposed to major logic or critique.
Max Weismann was an American philosopher and a long-time friend and colleague of Mortimer Adler, with whom he co-founded the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas in Chicago. He is director and president of the Center and has dedicated his time and talents to promoting the philosophical and pedagogical ideas of Dr. Adler, especially the importance of the study of the "Great Books". He also compiled, edited and published, How To Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization, a 600-page tome of never published work from Adler’s television series, The Great Ideas. Weismann serves as chairman of the Great Books Academy and is a Fellow at the Adler-Aquinas Institute.
Existentialism Is a Humanism is a 1946 work by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, based on a lecture by the same name he gave at Club Maintenant in Paris, on 29 October 1945. In early translations, Existentialism and Humanism was the title used in the United Kingdom; the work was originally published in the United States as Existentialism, and a later translation employs the original title. The work, once influential and a popular starting-point in discussions of Existentialist thought, has been widely criticized by philosophers, including Sartre himself, who later rejected some of the views he expressed in it.
Christian philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from a Christian tradition.
Charles Lincoln Van Doren is an American academic, writer, and editor who was involved in a television quiz show scandal in the 1950s. In 1959 he testified before the United States Congress that he had been given the correct answers by the producers of the show Twenty-One. Terminated by NBC, he joined the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1959, becoming a vice president and writing and editing many books before retiring in 1982. He has continued to live a quiet life as a writer and teacher.
The great books are books that constitute an essential foundation in the literature of Western culture. Specified sets of great books typically range from 100 to 150, though they differ according to purpose and context. For instance, some lists are built to be read by undergraduates in a college semester system, some are compiled to be sold as a single set of volumes, while some lists aim at a thorough literary criticism.
Robert Maynard Hutchins, was an American educational philosopher, president (1929–1945) and chancellor (1945–1951) of the University of Chicago, and earlier dean of Yale Law School (1927–1929). He was the husband of novelist Maude Hutchins. Although his father and grandfather were both Presbyterian ministers, Hutchins became one of the most influential members of the school of secular perennialism.
Leszek Kołakowski was a Polish philosopher and historian of ideas.
African philosophy is philosophy produced by African people, philosophy that presents African worldviews, or philosophy that uses distinct African philosophical methods. African philosophers may be found in the various academic fields of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, and political philosophy. African philosophy can also be defined as any epistemic endeavor that attempts to understand the world from an African perspective. It is therefore not just about Africa but about the world even if the location of the subject is Africa.
Walter Arnold Kaufmann was a German-American philosopher, translator, and poet. A prolific author, he wrote extensively on a broad range of subjects, such as authenticity and death, moral philosophy and existentialism, theism and atheism, Christianity and Judaism, as well as philosophy and literature. He served more than 30 years as a professor at Princeton University.
A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas (1952) is a two-volume index, published as volumes 2 and 3 of Encyclopædia Britannica’s collection Great Books of the Western World. Compiled by Mortimer Adler, an American philosopher, under the guidance of Robert Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, the volumes were billed as a collection of the 102 great ideas of the western canon. The term “syntopicon” was coined specifically for this undertaking, meaning “a collection of topics.” The volumes catalogued what Adler and his team deemed to be the fundamental ideas contained in the works of the Great Books of the Western World, which stretched chronologically from Homer to Freud. The Syntopicon lists, under each idea, where every occurrence of the concept can be located in the collection's famous works.
Philosophical theology is both a branch and form of theology in which philosophical methods are used in developing or analyzing theological concepts. It therefore includes natural theology as well as philosophical treatments of orthodox and heterodox theology. Philosophical theology is also closely related to the philosophy of religion.
Richard McKeon was an American philosopher and longtime professor at the University of Chicago. His ideas formed the basis for the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Paideia Proposal is a K–12 educational reform plan proposed by Mortimer Adler. Adler was a prolific author, and references to the Paideia plan for educational reform can be found in a number of his books listed in the references below.
The classical education movement advocates a form of education based in the traditions of Western culture, with a particular focus on education as understood and taught in Classical antiquity and the Middle Ages. The curriculum and pedagogy of classical education was first developed during the Middle Ages by Martianus Capella and systematized during the Renaissance by Petrus Ramus. Capella's original goal was to provide a systematic, memorable framework to teach all human knowledge. The term "classical education" has been used in Western culture for several centuries, with each era modifying the definition and adding its own selection of topics. By the end of the 18th century, in addition to the trivium and quadrivium of the Middle Ages, the definition of a classical education embraced study of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art, and languages.