||Mortimer Jerome Adler, born 1902 in New York City, is an American philosopher, educator,
and author. He began his career as a secretary and copywriter for the New York Sun and through a program of
formal and self education was awarded a PhD from Columbia University (1928). Adler,
became associate professor there in 1930, continued to participate in the Honors
program, instituted by John Erskine, which focused on the reading of the classics.
tenure at Columbia included study with such eminent thinkers as Erskine and John Dewey.
This kind of environment inspired not only his interest in reading and the study of
"great" books of "Western
Civilization," but his insistence on the establishment of an integrated
philosophy of science, literature, and religion.
||It was this combination of interests that dominated his career at schools and research
institutions such as the University of Chicago, the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, the Institute for Philosophical Research, and the Aspen Institute, the
two of which he helped establish. Adler was also a board member of the Ford Foundation
and the Encyclopedia Britannica, whose
policies and programs he helped guide and significantly influence.
||In 1930 he was appointed to the Philosophy faculty at the University of Chicago. Because
of the innovations he proposed for the curriculum, his appointment led to a conflict
with the faculty. These changes were based on Adler's central interests in the reading,
discussion and analysis of "classic" literature and an
integrated philosophical approach to the study of separate disciplines. By 1931 these
"interdepartmental wars" resulted in Adler's
reassignment to the Law School as Professor of Philosophy of Law. While he continued
educational reforms on a more conservative basis, the concept of seminars on "great books" and "great
ideas" continued to gain inroads at other universities. In 1952, his work
culminated in the publication by Britannica
of the "Great Books and Great
||His earliest work resulted in the publication of Dialectic (1927), which focused on a summation of the great
philosophical and religious ideas of "Western
Civilization" -- ideas influenced by his fascination with medieval thought and
sensibility. The work on which he had concentrated since his Columbia University days,
together with a lecture series and essays produced in Chicago, resulted in several
publications: The Higher Learning in America
(1936), What Man Has Made of Man: A
Study of the Consequences of Platonism and Positivism in Psychology (1937),
Art and Prudence: A Study in Practical
Philosophy (1937) and, in December 1940, How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting A Liberal Education.
His interest in the liberal education of the "common
man" came to fruition in How to Read a
How to Think About War and Peace
(1943), written in the political and social climate of the Second World War,
continued his advocacy of a popular, yet intelligent approach to public education.
met life-long friend Clifton "Kip" Fadiman in a great
books seminar taught by Adler at Columbia University. Fadiman later became an editor
Simon and Schuster, a literary critic for The
New Yorker as well as the author of numerous essays and books. While
corresponding with Adler throughout the writing of the book, he supplied, in 1943,
preface, "A Plea to the Reader, "
for How to Think about War and Peace.
||Adler has written voluminously throughout his career, consistently focusing on a
cross-disciplinary and integrated philosophy of law, politics, religion, and education.
Other books that reflect this theme include: The Common Sense of Politics (1971), Six Great Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Justice, Liberty: Ideas We Judge
By, Ideas We Act On (1981), and The
Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus (1984). More recently he has been
involved in creating video programs with Bill Moyers which focus on the subject of
Constitution and biographies of the justices of the Supreme Court. In 1992 he published
a continuation of his autobiography Philosopher
at Large (1977) entitled A Second
Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher
Large. In 1993 he published The Four
Dimensions of Philosophy: Metaphysical, Moral, Objective, Categorical. The
main criticism of his work remains the narrow focus and definition (Anglo-American,
European and male) that he gives to "greatness."
||The Mortimer J. Adler Papers were donated by Adler and Fadiman to the Harry Ransom
Center in two parts: the How to Read a Book
papers in 1962 and the How to Think
about War and Peace papers in 1963.