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

Friday, April 21, 2017

500th Anniversary (Quincentennial) of Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia

Laksiri Fernando, author of Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), wrote from Australia for the Sri Lanka Guardian.
"I only had the present serendipity recently, after retirement from university teaching and when I was carefully going through Book I where it explains the main protagonist, Raphael Hythloday’s visit to Ceylon, perhaps as a hidden indication. Thereafter, all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle started to form into its proper place. It is not the mere mentioning of the visit to Ceylon that made me think that More took information about Ceylon to work out his imaginary island of Utopia. Many similarities exist between Utopia and Ceylon of that time in terms of the size, location, historical legend, family and social customs including some religious practices."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What’s Left?

Sheila Fitzpatrick reviews
  • October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville
  • The Russian Revolution 1905-1921 by Mark D. Steinberg
  • Russia in Revolution: An Empire in Crisis, 1890 to 1928 by S.A. Smith
  • The Russian Revolution: A New History by Sean McMeekin
  • Historically Inevitable? Turning Points of the Russian Revolution by Tony Brenton
at The Times Literary Supplement.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Great Books Socialism?

Tim Lacy at Public Seminar.
"While conducting research for my book, The Dream of Democratic Culture: Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea, I found that the great books idea could be untethered from the conservative tradition. Adler — a philosopher and educator who dedicated much of his life’s energy to promoting ‘great books’ for all — was definitely no conservative. During the late 1960’s, he used classic and modern texts — especially Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Kant, Mill, and other canonical texts — to advocate for a kind of vital center liberalism. However, his full exposition of an ideal world society contained many positions that look, in our current climate, like weaker forms of socialism. It is of small importance whether Adler’s vision of a socialist community corresponds with what would be best in 2017 and beyond. What is relevant is how he arrived at his conclusions — thinking philosophically and historically about great books and the ideas they contained."

Friday, April 14, 2017

Emerson on Plato: Literary Philosophy, Dialectic, and the Temporality of Thought

Jesse Bailey at Humanitas.
"When we read his comments on Plato, we find crystallized what philosophical work Emerson intended his essays to accomplish. Hence, the reader must be attentive not simply to the explicit content of his essays, but also the dialectic form of the essays."

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Old Books

Dr. James Emery White at Crosswalk. "If you are going to suggest a list of twelve books to be sure to read during one of the more pivotal and developmental decades of anyone’s life, what are the great books?
"'There never was very much doubt in anybody’s mind about which the masterpieces were,' wrote Robert Maynard Hutchins. 'They were the books that had endured and that the common voice of mankind called the finest creations, in writing, of the Western mind.' The great books are those writings that have most shaped history and culture, civilization and science, politics and economics. They prompt us to think about the great issues of life.

"C.S. Lewis simply called them the 'old' books."

Monday, April 10, 2017

Partisans of Liberal Education

Vuval Levin in The Corner blog at National Review Online.
"Obviously the great books have a lot to offer the Left, but that’s because they have a lot to offer everyone and anyone. Sure, what Adam Smith says about our innate sociality could well reaffirm some things liberals argue, and what Edmund Burke says about the limits of power could reinforce modern critiques of imperialism. But don’t just read what great minds have thought when it sounds like what you think. Read Smith and Burke (and far greater minds still, who will offer you far deeper and more fundamental challenges) to learn from them what you may not already know, and what might challenge what you think and how you think."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Who was the first modern philosopher?

Steven Nadler reviews The Age of Genius: The seventeenth century and the birth of the modern mind, by A. C. Grayling, at The Times Literary Supplement.
"Tangled debates about the meaning of 'modernity' aside, there can be no denying that something very special happened in philosophy in the seventeenth century – and especially in natural philosophy, what we now call science."

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Great Books/Great Friends

From Thomas J. O'Gorman's column at the latest weekly issue of Skyline.
"This column mourns the passing of Max Weismann, philosopher, thinker, gentle soul and passionate friend of Professor Mortimer Adler. Together they were a team of remarkable intellectuals who pioneered the Center for the Study of Great Ideas. The center was Adler’s true posterity. And Adler was Weismann’s. Since Adler’s death in 2001, the dream of an intellectually revitalized nation through the development of human intellectual ability fell to Weismann. He and Adler were the heart of many absorbing conferences from Aspen to Wye, Maryland, Chicago and across America during their lifetime. Mr. Weismann served as Chairman of the Great Books Academy until the time of his death. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Elaine Weismann, Managing Director of the Institute."

Monday, April 3, 2017

Unwearying Aphorisms

R. J. Snell reviews Doublethink/Doubletalk: Naturalizing Second Thoughts & Twofold Speech, by Eva Brann, at The University Bookman.

"The dialogue and the aphorism remain somewhat immune to these doldrums, although difficult to do well. Of these two, aphorism retains immediacy and power, in part because amenable to ambivalence, playfulness, and leisureliness. At times, aphorisms are merely witty, but they can convey and evoke sustained reflection and thought, as those of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, or Nicolás Gómez Dávila.

"To that list we can add Eva Brann, tutor at St. John’s College since 1957 and something of an icon of its great books program."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How Different Are the Early Versions of the United States Constitution?: An Examination

Philip Huff at The Green Bag
"There are, then, four early texts of the Constitution with a special claim on our attention."


Friday, March 24, 2017

Some modest proposals

"The creator of the Lilliputians is a giant among English satirists. Or is he, in fact, one of the great Irish satirists? While Jonathan Swift considered himself English, it is in Ireland that the Dublin-born writer is today most celebrated, by national leaders who, surprisingly, seem to have actually read his work. This year is Swift's 350th anniversary, and Claude Rawson leads this week's issue by examining the writer's political philosophy."
at The Times Literary Supplement

#JonathanSwift #Government

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How Does One Do History of Philosophy?

Skye Cleary reported on this year's John Dewey Lecture, given by Margaret Atherton, at the American Philosophical Society's Central Division meeting in Kansas City.
"Margaret Atherton is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is best known as a historian of philosophy, specifically for her work on Berkeley, Locke, and women philosophers of the early modern period."
"One of the most contentious points that Atherton raised–and which was hotly debated in the audience–is that a philosophy course ought to focus on exploring three or four key texts in depth, from cover to cover. Atherton’s view is that this approach will support students in developing important skills in doing philosophy, as opposed to survey-style courses which tend to emphasize knowledge of content by drawing upon excerpts from a wide variety of philosophers, and which run the risk of taking the philosopher and philosophies out of context."

#education #philosophy

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Max Weismann (June 8, 1936 – February 22, 2017)

The Center is saddened to report the death of its co-founder and chairman. Details of a memorial service remain pending.

In the meantime, his death has been noted at Wikipedia.

Update: Here is his obituary as published in the online Chicago Tribune.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Adler's 'Idea of Freedom'

Desmond J. FitzGerald in Freedom in the Modern World: Jacques Maritain, Yves R. Simon Mortimer J. Adler, Michael D. Torre, Editor, American Maritain Association: Proceedings of the 1988 Annual Meeting held at the University of Notre Dame, pp. 47-54, posted at American Maritain Association.
"as a young student of philosophy and graduate instructor in psychology, Adler's natural temperament turned him toward the ideal of a Summa Dialectica, a treatise matching for the twentieth century the Summa Theologica of Aquinas in the thirteenth century. But where Saint Thomas tried to give answers, Adler's ideal was a summa that 'would rigorously abstain from making comparable judgments, contenting itself with constructing a vast but inherently uncompleteable map of the universe of discourse in which theories (which may or may not be true) are placed in revealing logical relationships to one another'" [Philosopher at Large, pp. 91-92]

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Where to find Mortimer Adler's papers

Some of Mortimer Adler's papers have, over the years, been donated to the following institutions.
  1. University of Chicago. Its Library has posted this Guide to the Mortimer J. Adler Papers 1914-1995, listing the contents of 154 boxes. [revised link -ed.]
  2. Syracuse University. Its Library has posted An inventory of his papers, listing the contents of 16 boxes (10 linear feet).
  3. University of Texas at Austin. It has posted An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, 3 boxes (1.26 linear feet). It notes that Adler materials are located in the other of the Center's manuscript collections:
  4. and in
  5. Indiana University, Bloomington. The Lilly Library Manuscript Collections include The Casady mss., ca. 1980-2001, 24 items
If other collections come to our attention, we hope to supplement this listing.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Nicholas Copernicus on his birthday

Paul Gross at WDIV.
"To fully appreciate how bold and dangerous this new theory was, Copernicus actually prefaced his writings with a special message to Pope Paul III. His message began with 'I can recon easily enough, Most Holy Father, that as soon as certain people learn that in these books of mine which I have written about the revolutions of the spheres of the world I attribute certain motions to the terrestrial globe, they will immediately shout to have me and my opinion hooted off the stage.'"


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

'In Defence of Honour'

Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen, interviewed by Julian Baggini at TPM Online.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Where Life Is Seized

Adam Shatz reviews Écrits sur l’aliénation et la liberté, by Frantz Fanon, edited by Robert Young and Jean Khalfa, at the London Review of Books.
"In an 1841 essay endorsing the 'pacification' of Algeria, Tocqueville wrote: 'Men in France whom I respect, but with whom I do not agree, find it wrong that we burn harvests, that we empty silos, and finally that we seize unarmed men, women and children … These, in my view, are unfortunate necessities, but ones to which any people that wants to wage war on the Arabs is obliged to submit.' Fanon, who believed that what had been removed by force should be taken back by force, did little more than turn Tocqueville on his head."


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

'Plato for plumbers'

Mark Bessoudo's "Writers' Award XI 'technology'" winning essay at New Philosopher.
"Like other engineering students in Canada who are close to graduating from university, I participated in a ceremony called The Ritual of the Calling of the Engineer, a peculiar and somewhat secretive tradition (developed by the British writer Rudyard Kipling, no less) which culminates with each student receiving an iron ring.

"Legend has it that each ring is made from the iron of a bridge that collapsed (twice) into Quebec’s St. Lawrence River in the early 20th century. The disasters were blamed on a combination of negligence, structural deficiencies, and faulty calculations. In all, almost 90 people were killed.

"The ring is therefore meant to be worn as a reminder of our professional commitment to public safety and to maintaining the highest standards of ethics."

P.S. See "Quebec Bridge" at Wikipedia.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cargo Cult Science

Some remarks on science, pseudoscience, and learning how to not fool yourself, by Richard P. Feynman, 1974 commencement address at Caltech.


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.


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?"


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.'"


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."


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