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, 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.

#MortimerAdler

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.'"

#Astronomy

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.

#Honor

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."

#Revolution

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.

#Good

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.

#Science

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