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Mortimer Adler

"The philosopher ought never to try to avoid the duty of making up his mind."

Mortimer Jerome Adler (December 28, 1902 - June 28, 2001) was an American philosopher and author.

Adler was born in New York City. After dropping out of high school at age 14, he worked as a copy boy for the New York Sun. Wanting to become a journalist, he took 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 philosophy at Columbia University. Though he failed to complete the necessary physical education requirements for a bachelor's degree, he stayed at the university and eventually was given a teaching position and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy.

Adler was appointed to the philosophy faculty at the University of Chicago in 1930, where he met its president Robert Hutchins, with whom he founded the "Great Books" program and made other educational reforms. With Max Weismann, he founded The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas. For a long time he was an editor of the Encyclopędia Britannica, and influenced many of the policies of the 15th edition. He served as director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in 1952.

Adler long strove to bring philosophy to the masses, and some of his works (such as How to Read a Book) became popular bestsellers. Adler was often aided in his thinking and writing by Arthur Rubin, an old friend from his Columbia undergraduate days.

"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."

Adler took a long time in his own life to "make up his mind" about theological issues. In Volume 51 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (2001), Ken Meyer includes his 1980 interview with Adler, conducted after How to Think About God was published. Meyer 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."

Meyer goes on to point out that Adler finally "surrendered to the hound of heaven" and "made a confession of faith and was baptised" only a few years after that interview. Offering insight into Adler's conversion, Meyer quotes Adler from his 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."

Also in that 1980 interview, Meyer "playfully" asked Adler which single book he would want to take on a desert island. Adler responded with eleven:

Thucydides' The History of the Peloponnesian War [1]
5 or 6 of Plato's Dialogues
Aristotle's Ethics & Politics
Augustine of Hippo's Confessions
Plutarch's Lives
Dante's Divine Comedy
some plays of Shakespeare
Montaigne's Essays
Gulliver's Travels
Locke's Second Treatise on Government
Tolstoy's War and Peace

Adler was a controversial figure in some circles who saw his focus on the classics as eurocentric and dogmatic, and he was never afraid to speak his mind. Once asked in an interview why his great books list did not include any black authors, he said simply "...they didn't write any good books."

Table of contents
1 Works
2 Edited Works
3 External Links - Resources


Edited Works

External Links - Resources