My Inspirations #1: Mortimer Adler

You may have wondered about the portraits in my sidebar of various individuals. I labeled this group of people “My Inspirations,” not because no one else has inspired me, but because these individuals have touched my heart in a certain way that is unique and life-changing. In an important sense, I want my life to be like their lives. Obviously, I don’t want to relive Mother Teresa’s life or reproduce the works of C.S. Lewis, but I do want to live in the same spirit of love that animated Mother Teresa and I want to be able to write with the simple profundity of C.S. Lewis.

So I’m going to write a series of profiles of each of these persons and explain their influence on my life. I also will strive to provide a bibliography of their published works and significant links to where you can find out more about them. I will not attempt to provide full biographies, just some vital statistics that will introduce you to some people who have inspired me. Maybe they’ll inspire you too.

We begin with Mortimer Adler, not because he is the most important on the list but because his name comes first in the alphabet.

Mortimer Adler
Life: 1902-2001
Profession: Writer and professor

Mortimer Adler’s most significant intellectual contribution was his creation of the Great Books program at the University of Chicago. He also edited the “Great Books” series published by Encyclopedia Britannica, which you may have spied on your grandparents’ bookshelf.

His greatest influence on my life was a little book called How To Read a Book. This handy little book has helped me make the immense amount of time I spend reading more fruitful and productive. Frankly it’s the best book about reading a book. I highly recommend it if you get a chance to pick it up. He presents a method for systematically reading a book and he even tells you how to mark a book’s margins. At the back of How To Read a Book he includes a very good list of most of the best books ever written–really good reading material if you need something to perk up your mind.

Adler had struggled with theological and philosophical ideas his whole life, yet he had remained a self-professed pagan. But in 1984 God touched his life and Adler became a Christian, an Episcopalian to be exact. Amazingly, this was not enough. Just two years before his death, Adler converted to Catholicism. He had been going to a Catholic church with his wife and finally decided to be received into the Church himself. (Weirdly enough, his funeral was held at an Episcopalian church. I’m not really sure why. If I can figure it out, I’ll update this post. There’s also conflicting information as to whether he became Catholic in 1999 or 2000.)

I think I have a special affinity for Adler, Lewis and Muggerridge because they all struggled intellectually with the ideas of faith and Christianity before they actually converted. There’s an intellectual honesty about these men which inspires me and encourages me as I think about and struggle with the ideas of faith and philosophy.

Links about Mortimer Adler:
The Wikipedia Article
A brief biography by Margaret Farrand
A stub article from Christianity Today
The Radical Academy: Bio, Bibliography, Adler Anecdotes
Outline of Adler’s Life
A comprehensive bibliography

A Select Bibliography of Mortimer Adler(from Wikipedia)
* Dialectic (1927)
* The Nature of Judicial Proof: An Inquiry into the Logical, Legal, and Empirical Aspects of the Law of Evidence (1931, with Jerome Michael)
* Diagrammatics (1932, with Maude Phelps Hutchins)
* Crime, Law and Social Science (1933, with Jerome Michael)
* Art and Prudence: A Study in Practical Philosophy (1937)
* What Man Has Made of Man: A Study of the Consequences of Platonism and Positivism in Psychology (1937)
* The Philosophy and Science of Man: A Collection of Texts as a Foundation for Ethics and Politics (1940)
* How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education (1940), 1966 edition subtitled A Guide to Reading the Great Books, 1972 revised edition with Charles Van Doren, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading: ISBN 0-671-21209-5
* A Dialectic of Morals: Towards the Foundations of Political Philosophy (1941)
* How to Think About War and Peace (1944)
* The Revolution in Education (1944, with Milton Mayer)
* The Capitalist Manifesto (1958, with Louis O. Kelso) ISBN 0-8371-8210-7
* The Idea of Freedom: A Dialectical Examination of the Conceptions of Freedom (1958)
* The New Capitalists: A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings (1961, with Louis O. Kelso)
* The Idea of Freedom: A Dialectical Examination of the Controversies about Freedom (1961)
* Great Ideas from the Great Books (1961)
* The Conditions of Philosophy: Its Checkered Past, Its Present Disorder, and Its Future Promise (1965)
* The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (1967)
* The Time of Our Lives: The Ethics of Common Sense (1970)
* The Common Sense of Politics (1971)
* The American Testament (1975, with William Gorman)
* Some Questions About Language: A Theory of Human Discourse and Its Objects (1976)
* Philosopher at Large: An Intellectual Autobiography (1977)
* Reforming Education: The Schooling of a People and Their Education Beyond Schooling (1977, edited by Geraldine Van Doren)
* Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy (1978) ISBN 0-684-83823-0
* How to Think About God: A Guide for the 20th-Century Pagan (1980) ISBN 0-02-016022-4
* Six Great Ideas: Truth-Goodness-Beauty-Liberty-Equality-Justice (1981) ISBN 0-02-072020-3
* The Angels and Us (1982)
* The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982)
* How to Speak / How to Listen (1983) ISBN 0-02-500570-7
* Paideia Problems and Possibilities: A Consideration of Questions Raised by The Paideia Proposal (1983)
* A Vision of the Future: Twelve Ideas for a Better Life and a Better Society (1984) ISBN 0-02-500280-5
* The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus (1984, with Members of the Paideia Group)
* Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985) ISBN 0-02-500330-5
* A Guidebook to Learning: For a Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom (1986)
* We Hold These Truths: Understanding the Ideas and Ideals of the Constitution (1987)
* Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind (1988, edited by Geraldine Van Doren)
* Intellect: Mind Over Matter (1990)
* Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth (1990) ISBN 0-02-064140-0
* Haves Without Have-Nots: Essays for the 21st Century on Democracy and Socialism (1991) ISB
N 0-02-500561-8
* Desires, Right & Wrong: The Ethics of Enough (1991)
* A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher At Large (1992)
* The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought (1992)
* Natural Theology, Chance, and God (The Great Ideas Today, 1992)
* The Four Dimensions of Philosophy: Metaphysical-Moral-Objective-Categorical (1993)
* Art, the Arts, and the Great Ideas (1994)
* Adler’s Philosophical Dictionary: 125 Key Terms for the Philosopher’s Lexicon (1995)

Edited works

* The New Technology: Servant or Master (in work, with Phillip W. Goetz)
* Scholasticism and Politics (1940)
* Great Books of the Western World (1952, 52 volumes), 2nd edition 1990, 60 volumes
* A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas (1952, 2 volumes), 2nd edition 1990
* The Great Ideas Today (1961-1977, 17 volumes), with Robert Hutchins, 1978-1999, 20 volumes
* Gateway to the Great Books (1963, 10 volumes), with Robert Hutchins
* The Annals of America (1968, 21 volumes)
* Propædia: Outline of Knowledge and Guide to The New Encyclopædia Britannica 15th Edition (1974, 30 volumes)
* Great Treasury of Western Thought (1977, with Charles Van Doren)

One thought on “My Inspirations #1: Mortimer Adler

  1. Max Weismann

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *