Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Sunday, January 15, 2017

After the Great Flood of Florence

'Letter from Florence' by Marco Grassi, On the wreckage and recovery of art works in the Arno River flood of 1966, at The New Criterion.

#Art

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Trouble with Quantum Mechanics

Steven Weinberg at The New York Review of Books.
"The introduction of probability into the principles of physics was disturbing to past physicists, but the trouble with quantum mechanics is not that it involves probabilities. We can live with that. The trouble is that in quantum mechanics the way that wave functions change with time is governed by an equation, the Schrödinger equation, that does not involve probabilities. It is just as deterministic as Newton’s equations of motion and gravitation. That is, given the wave function at any moment, the Schrödinger equation will tell you precisely what the wave function will be at any future time. There is not even the possibility of chaos, the extreme sensitivity to initial conditions that is possible in Newtonian mechanics. So if we regard the whole process of measurement as being governed by the equations of quantum mechanics, and these equations are perfectly deterministic, how do probabilities get into quantum mechanics?"

#Physics

Monday, January 9, 2017

Voice of Civilization

Essay by Algis Valiunas on Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at The Claremont Review of books.
"What then is Gibbon’s ideal of civilized humanity? In 'the love of pleasure and the love of action' one finds the animating passions of 'the most virtuous and liberal dispositions.' 'The character in which both the one and the other should be united and harmonised, would seem to constitute the most perfect idea of human nature.' For Gibbon intellectual pleasure enjoys pride of place in humanity perfected. 'The acquisition of knowledge, the exercise of our reason or fancy, and the cheerful flow of unguarded conversation, may employ the leisure of a liberal mind.' And these noblest pleasures were naturally condemned by the unnatural 'severity of the fathers, who despised all knowledge that was not useful to salvation, and who considered all levity of discourse as a criminal abuse of the gift of speech.'"

#History

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sartre's Muse

Corey Mohler at Existential Comics, with Jean Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

#Liberty #Will

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Rules of the Game: A New Electoral System

Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen at The New York Review of Books.
"Are there election methods that always (i.e., for all rankings that voters might conceivably have) give us a clear-cut winner, respect everyone’s vote, and avoid vote-splitting (or equivalent conditions)? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Some sixty-five years ago, the economist Kenneth Arrow published his Impossibility Theorem, showing that no electoral method can satisfy all three requirements (although there are many rules that satisfy two out of three—for example, plurality rule respects everyone’s vote and produces a winner, but often leads to vote-splitting). [footnote omitted] The natural follow-up question is whether there is an election method that satisfies these requirements more often (i.e., for a wider class of voters’ rankings) than any other. Here, fortunately, there is a clear answer: the solution is the classic method of majority rule, strongly advocated by the Marquis de Condorcet, the great eighteenth-century political thinker.

"Instead of limiting a voter to choosing a single candidate, Condorcet proposed that voters should have the option of ranking candidates on the ballot from best to worst. The winner is the candidate who, according to the rankings, would beat each opponent in a head-to-head contest."

#Democracy

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A Funny (and Great) Little Man

Paul Greenberg via Tribune Media Services, originally on Mortimer Adler's death in 2001, republished at Paul's Pearls

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016

Gearing for Battle: Ancient Warrior Wisdom for Negotiation

Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Marquette University - Law School, Vasudha Srinivasan, Singapore Mediation Centre, and James Shing Ping Chiu, The University of Hong Kong, in Tan Pan: The Chinese-English Journal on Negotiation, Vol. 2, at Social Science Research Network.
"This article examines the art of negotiation through the lens of three ancient texts from diverse cultures: the Bhagavad Gita from Hinduism, The Art of War from the Chinese culture, and the Torah from Judaism. As these texts come from distinct traditions and from different parts of the world, it might be assumed there exists no common ground between them. Yet, each of these texts is designed to give leaders advice about conflict. In fact, there are allusions in all three texts to avoiding war, being just, and offering mercy. Sun Tzu has perhaps the most well-known aphorisms in Chapter 3 of The Art of War - 'to subdue the enemy's army without a war indicates superlative wisdom' and 'a good strategist should bring the enemy to his knees without staging a war.'

"Of course the focus on war raises questions of applicability in peace-making and in negotiation. Ostensibly, these texts may seem more applicable to litigation or distributive negotiation. (And, in fact, both The Art of War and the Torah devote significant attention to deception of the enemy.) After delving deeper, however, it is readily apparent that the wisdom provided in each text provides advice that can be utilized in peace-making and in integrative (or problem-solving) negotiation. After providing a brief introduction to the texts, this article examines four lessons common to all."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Law schools, lawyers, and dead philosophers

Michael D. Cicchini at Wisconsin Law Journal.
"... For many young, liberal, globally minded college and law-school students, the reality of President-Elect Trump has caused significant emotional turmoil. Colleges have dealt with this by using more safe spaces and trigger warnings, holding “cry-ins,” and working hard to suppress upsetting speech on campus. But how are law schools dealing with the campus trauma? They are, after all, professional schools. Surely they wouldn’t coddle students the way colleges do, would they?

"Unfortunately, one law school dealt with its Trump-induced turmoil by providing “post-election self-care with food and play.” This was a school-sponsored event that offered 'self-care activities such as coloring sheets, play dough [sic], positive card-making, Legos, and bubbles with your fellow law students.' [footnote omitted]
[...]
"Instead of handing out children’s toys, law schools should teach their students to anticipate and deal with this type of adversity. And just as law schools rely on an ancient Greek philosopher to essentially run their entire curriculum — I am referring, of course, to Socrates and the Socratic Method — the solution is once again found in philosophy: this time, the Roman Stoics. ..."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Wittgenstein 'On Certainty'

On Certainty (Uber Gewissheit 1949-1951) by Ludwig Wittgenstein, edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, translated by Denis Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe (1969-1975), at PrawfsBlawg

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Mortimer Adler on The Word (Jn 1:1-5, 14)

Mortimer J. Adler Sermon: Christ Church, August 7, 1994


I. My text for today is the gospel according to St. John, I, 1-5, 14

That text reads as follows:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."
II. At this point, I would, with your indulgence, like to repeat what I said in my sermon four summers ago in 1990. I pray that in this sermon I do not speak heresy or anything that verges on heresy.

Heresy is a stubborn will to deviate from the articles of faith adopted by an established church. In the Anglican communion, it is a willful departure from the 39 articles.

To disagree with theologians is not heresy, for the theologians often disagree with one another.
In the course of this sermon I may disagree with Christian theologians from the 4th to the 14th centuries, but to do so is not heresy.

As you know, I am a philosopher, and I must tell you that it is easy for a philosopher to be a believing Jew or a believing Muslim (not fundamentalist Jew or fundamentalist Muslim, for that no philosopher can ever be).

But, it is much more difficult for a philosopher to be a believing Christian, even if not a fundamentalist Christian, because the dogmas—the articles—of Christian faith—are difficult to understand, The grievous error of fundamentalism applies not only to Scriptures but to the creed. It is the error of which St. Ambrose cured St. Augustine when the latter heard the former preach on Milan on the text; Idolatry and the Making of Graven Images. "The letter killeth; the spirit givesth life."

III. At this point, I would like you to face with me the first problem that confronts us. What does the word "word" mean?
A. Clearly not the visible or audible spoken word of any natural language, such as English, French, German, etc. 
B. The Greek word "logos" is in Latin "ratio" and should perhaps be translated in English by "thought" 
C. A little more freely we can think of “logos” as standing for the divine intellect, the mind of God 
D. God’s essence is to exist and also God’s essence is to be Intellect. 
E. The text of John I mentions the two great mysteries of the Christian church: the trinity and the incarnation.
(1) The Trinity: three person of one substance.
(2) One individual having two natures: divine and human
F. No conflict between Christian monotheism and the doctrine of the trinity. G. And in the Nicene creed, we say that the second person of the trinity is begotten, not made, which means procreated, not created. 
H. Two beginnings: Genesis, I and John, I. Can we reconcile them? 
I. At this point, permit me to read you some passages from a commentary on the trinity written by Father Walter Farrell, a Dominican Priest and a collaborator of mine.
"The Trinity is a mystery. Unless we had been told of its existence, we would never have suspected such a thing. Moreover, now that we know that there is a Trinity, we cannot understand it. The man who attempts to unravel the mystery is in the position of a near-sighted man straining his eyes from the Eastern Shore of Maryland for a glimpse of Spain. We cannot probe the depths of the ocean of divinity with the foot-rule of the human intellect. 
"When such truths are made known to us by a superior intellect, there is not much we can do with them. Certainly we cannot prove them; we have little result from attempting to probe them; we can show they are not violations of reason, that is that they do not involve contradictions, and we can dig up a few clumsy illustrations. Thus, for instance, we can show that the idea of three persons in one nature is not inconceivable, it is not the contradictory statement that the same thing is at the same time one and three. As a matter of fact, the exclusion of this often alleged contradiction against the truth of the Trinity is absurdly simple; ... 
"In the mystery of the Trinity, the persons are distinct from each other; but each one is identical with the divine nature. Is this not a violation of the mathematical principle that two things equal to a third are equal to each other? The Father is not distinct from the divine nature, the Son is not distinct from the divine nature; therefore the Father is not distinct from the Son. The revealed truth is that though Father and Son are not distinct from the divine nature, they are distinct from each other. 
"By way of illustration we hit upon such clumsy, things as the merging of three flames into a single flame; the light of a candle, which is red, yellow and blue, yet one light; or the trunk of a tree springing from the roots and the fruit coming from both root and trunk, yet all three make up one tree.
"Human reason cannot get much done with truths that are entirely proper to the mind of God. Perhaps the best procedure, in dealing with the Trinity, would be to single out the basic theological terms, subject them to analysis and illustration, so that we might be able to achieve an accurate statement of the mystery and maintain our slender intellectual foothold on the towering truth of three divine persons in one divine nature."


IV. Let me turn now from the gospel of St. John, I and the Nicene creed, to the Lord’s prayer. You will soon see my reason for doing so.
"Our Father, who art in Heaven, blessed be thy name..."
A. The troublesome word is "heaven." Over the last 25 centuries it has changed its meaning in remarkable ways. 
B. For Aristotle, the heavens were referred to by the word "de caelo." The celestial 
C. For him and for the astronomers of Alexandria later, it referred to the visible sky above our heads: the sun, moon, and the fixed stars and the constellations. 
D. In the high Middle Ages—12th and 13th centuries—before the Copernican revolution, the word "heaven" still referred to the sky above our heads. 
E. Then, with Galileo and Kepler it referred to the solar system with the sun, not the earth, at the center. 
F. With this imagery, it was alright to say that heaven is up there and earth is down here. It still was a physical space, to which one could ascend and down from which one could descend. 
G. Now in the 20th century, we know that the solar system is a small speck in our milky way, and that the physical cosmos consists of thousands of galaxies receding from us at the speed of light.
V. Under these circumstances, how shall we think of the heaven that is home of the transcendent God: We must think of it as eternal (timeless and spaceless) and immutable. Physical or material bodies cannot go to heaven or descend from heaven. There is no up and down about going to heaven, or about being in God’s presence there, or in the hell that designates God’s absence.

VI. We must learn to be Christians without using our imaginations—without all the superstitions and myths that are no part of Christian faith. (The very worst error in theology is fundamentalism—taking the word of holy scripture literally and imagining what they tell us. Our Christian faith must be enlightened by our intellects, not by our imagination.

VII. Finally, let me return once more to the text of the day, the first chapter of the gospel according to St. John.
A. How can we understand that the word was both with God and was God? I do not understand how to answer this question? The first sentence of Genesis, in the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth... In the beginning (the same beginning?) the word was with God and the word was God? 
B. The two great mysteries of the Christian faith
(1) The trinity and the incarnation;
(2) God is both transcendent and immanent: Christ for a time and the Holy Spirit forever in time.
(3) The divine nature of Jesus; and the Crucifixion.
(4) The resurrection: and the problem of a spiritual body

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Focus on Great Books, Not Textbooks

Tim Pratt interviews John Felis, a student in the St. John’s College Graduate Institute in Annapolis.
"'I don’t have to write 10 papers about stuff I don’t care about,' he says. 'That’s work; that’s laboring. Here, there’s this freedom.'

"Readings for the curriculum are organized into five segments: Literature; Politics and Society; Philosophy and Theology; Mathematics and Natural Science; and History. Students must complete four of the five segments—36 semester credit hours—to earn the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts degree. Work is completed in seminars, tutorials and preceptorials."

Friday, November 18, 2016

The failure of the department of Economics

Jonathan Stern at The Chronicle.
"In spite of all of their hard work, most undergraduates at Duke who study Economics leave benighted, knowing nothing of the luminaries of the history of the field, and in most cases, nothing either of its great ideas.
[...]
"The root of the problem is the poisonous idea that curriculums need not—nay ought not—entail the Great Books, the canonical texts of the Western intellectual tradition. The idea first stole over the minds of educators in the early part of the 20th century and corrupts them to this day. As Robert Hutchins reminds us in The Great Conversation, 'Until lately the West has regarded it as self-evident that the road to education lay through great books. No man was educated unless he was acquainted with the masterpieces of his tradition.' The failure of Duke’s Department of Economics can be attributed directly to this great scourge of education. ..."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Establishing a foundation for philosophy

Caitlin Trude interviewed Rev. Tony Amatangelo at the Moorpark Acorn.
"'In our culture, the idea of there being any objective truth is oftentimes a foreign concept,' said Amatangelo, lead pastor of Moorpark’s Life Spring Community Church. 'Our culture accepts that truth is relative from person to person, and that’s such a core philosophical mistake.'

"Amatangelo said that’s just one common gap in modern thought that American philosopher and author Mortimer Adler addresses in his book, Ten Philosophical Mistakes.

"'(When) I start talking to somebody and I realize there’s a fundamental philosophical error between us, I like to go back and get Mortimer Adler’s perspective on it,' he said. 'I think Adler is one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. He takes each of these 10 philosophical mistakes and distills it down into something you can read really quickly.'"

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Makeover Mania

'Inside the 21st-Century Craze for Redesigning Everyting', by Rob Walker at The New York Times Magazine

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Great Books of the Western World as Free eBooks

At Prodigal No More, who asks,
"If an eBook or PDF of the appropriate work becomes available, leave a comment so this list can be updated."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Brutus et Cassius absolvuntur!

Daisy Dunn at the Times Literary Supplement.
"This, the trial of the millennium, held only two millennia late, was organized by the charity Classics for All. ... The witnesses included Virgil, Plutarch and Shakespeare.

"Caesar’s death on the Ides of March 44 BC from multiple stab wounds inflicted by a band of men that included Brutus and Cassius precipitated further bloodshed, and ultimately the rise of Augustus. The question at the heart of the trial was whether Caesar’s death was necessary. Was it murder, or was it justifiable homicide?"

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On Hegel's 'The Philosophy of History'

At The Leo Strauss Center,
"Seminar in Political Philosophy: Hegel’s The Philosophy of History" was taught winter quarter 1965. It has 16 sessions and audio files for 16 sessions."
Hegel on History was the subject of Episode 15 at The Partially Examined Life.

(via Penny Parker at The Great Conversation)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Veteran’s Story

Donald Whitfield at the Great Books Foundation.
"In an NPR interview, Benjamin Busch, author of the foreword to our anthology, Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian, takes exception to our impulse to routinely thank veterans for their service. While expressing gratitude for the sacrifices citizens make when they join the armed forces is well meant, the gesture hardly begins to address the complicated circumstances surrounding military service. Better, Busch says, to ask a veteran to tell you a story. And so, to commemorate this Veterans Day, as an Army veteran myself, here’s my veteran’s story about a veteran’s story..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Unlocking the Power of Inquiry-Based Learning

Bill Siegel on 'Training teachers to ask curiosity-driven questions that force students to search for meaning' at Great Books Foundation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Man Who Could Make Your Kids Less Ignorant

Gil Troy at The Daily Beast.
"Although he died nearly 40 years ago in 1977, we need the wisdom of the educational reformer Robert Maynard Hutchins. While he probably would be shouted down on many campuses today for being politically incorrect, this Oberlin graduate and anti-McCarthyite was a true liberal. He wanted universities producing thoughtful, knowledgeable, and critical world citizens, not narrow-minded specialists, soulless technicians or indoctrinated political bullies."

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

From the Center: Adler on conversation; excerpt from 'The Doubling' by Diana Sheets;

Recent communications with members of the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas included:


Become a member

Discussion Guides for 'Imperfect Ideal: Utopian and Dystopian Visions'

At the Great Books Foundation,
"These free, downloadable discussion guides will help your book group delve deeper into the ideas presented in our anthology Imperfect Ideal: Utopian and Dystopian Visions. Each guide includes an overview of the novel or film as well as thought-provoking questions to support lively discussion of each of these cultural masterpieces."

Monday, November 7, 2016

College Admissions: The 5 Most Unusual Colleges in the U.S.

Cristiana Quinn at GoLocalProv.
"Are college tours and info sessions leaving you bored and listless? Do you feel like the campuses and curricula are all pretty much the same? Well here are five colleges that shatter the mold.

"They aren’t for the faint of heart or traditionalists, but they do present opportunities rarely found in the realm of higher education..."