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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Universe Began With a Big Melt, Not a Big Bang

Thanu Padamanabhan on 'The cosmological constant and the creation of the universe' at Nautilus.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ancient China For Modern Conservatives

Tanner Greer to Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

"One of the places I usually suggest conservative thinkers start, especially conservative thinkers whose past exposure to ancient China thought came in a new-age guise, is with Xunzi. Xunzi was a self proclaimed Confucian who lived a few centuries before Christ. In the West we kind of have this fortune-cookie vision of Confucians: we see them as a bunch of old, secluded sages spitting out epigrams and coining pithy little proverbs.
"Xunzi is a man who has stared into the abyss of human cruelty, and is fighting with all of his might to not let that overwhelm his humanity. He sees the world for what it is. He doesn’t believe in the utopian fairy tales of the Daoists, nor the warm-fuzzy feeling based theories of Confucianism’s more optimistic strains. But he insists to the end that humanity is salvageable.
"So Xunzi is a great starting point for an intellectual journey into the Chinese tradition. He is a traveling companion worthy of just about any discussion or topic. Eric Hutton’s translation is accessible to just about anyone."

#man #virtue

Monday, October 9, 2017

Anarchy in 'Great Books of the Western World'

While Anarchy is not one of the Great Ideas, that is, not one of the major topics in Great Books of the Western World, its entry in the Inventory of Terms lists:
Anarchy: see
     Democracy 2;
     Government 1a; and 5;
     Liberty 1b; and
     Tyranny and Despotism 3.
which refer to the following references within the set (2nd edition, 1990), by volume, author, and page(s).

Democracy 2. The derogation of democracy: the anarchic tendency of freedom and equality

5 Herodotus, 107–108
6 Plato, 408–414
8 Aristotle, 492, 512, 516, 523
21 Hobbes, 150–151, 273 33 Locke, 29
40 Mill, 298–299, 354–355
41 Boswell, 125, 127, 211
43 Hegel, 104, 390
43 Nietzsche, 481–482, 501–503, 522–523
44 Tocqueville, 130–144 esp 135–136, 281
47 Dickens, 159–160
58 Weber, 98–100 

 Government 1a. The origin and necessity of government: the issue concerning anarchy

New Testament: Romans, 13:1–8
5 Thucydides, 436–438
6 Plato, 44, 316–319, 663–667
8 Aristotle, 445–446, 475–476
11 Lucretius, 72–73
13 Plutarch, 638
14 Tacitus, 51
16 Augustine, 231, 414–415
18 Aquinas, 226–227
19 Dante, 52
20 Calvin, 420–421
21 Hobbes, 58, 77, 84–87, 91, 99–102, 109, 113, 159
24 Shakespeare, 535–536
25 Shakespeare, 109
28 Spinoza, 669–670
30 Pascal, 227–228
33 Locke, 4, 16, 25, 28–29, 44–55, 65, 75
34 Swift, 135–184
35 Montesquieu, 1–3
35 Rousseau, 333, 391–393
36 Smith, 347–349
39 Kant, 433–434
40 Federalist, 31, 36, 63, 65, 71–78 passim, 121–122
40 Mill, 302–303
43 Hegel, 127–128, 180–183
44 Tocqueville, 361
49 Darwin, 310, 321 

Government 5. The relation of governments to one another: sovereign princes or states as in a condition of anarchy

6 Plato, 788–790
8 Aristotle, 478
21 Hobbes, 86
34 Swift, 23–25, 149–150
35 Rousseau, 355
37 Gibbon, 520–521
39 Kant, 435, 449–458
40 Declaration of Independence, 1, 3
40 Articles of Confederation, 5–9 passim
40 Federalist, 29–259
40 Mill, 417–442
43 Hegel, 110–118, 153–154, 299–300, 379–382
44 Tocqueville, 218
58 Huizinga, 283–287 

 Liberty 1b. The independence of men and the autonomy of sovereigns in a state of nature or anarchy 

21 Hobbes, 84–87, 99
28 Bacon, 20
28 Spinoza, 669–670
33 Locke, 28, 44, 53, 54, 73–74
35 Montesquieu, 2
35 Rousseau, 342–345, 352, 353–355 passim, 356–357
39 Kant, 433–434, 435–436
43 Hegel, 69–70, 178–179
43 Nietzsche, 481
58 Frazer, 31–32
60 Lawrence, 148–157 

 Tyranny and Despotism 3.The choice between tyranny or despotism and anarchy

5 Herodotus, 23–24
13 Plutarch, 68–70, 525–526, 588–591
14 Tacitus, 51–52
21 Hobbes, 104, 112
33 Locke, 44–46, 56–57, 76–78
35 Rousseau, 356, 389, 433–434
40 Federalist, 45–47 passim, 66–78 passim
40 Mill, 344, 350–355 passim
44 Tocqueville, 164–165

#democracy #government #GreatBooksoftheWesternWorld #liberty #tyranny

Is the Universe a Vacuum Fluctuation?

Edward P. Tryon in Nature, Volume 246 (December 14, 1973), pp. 396–397.

#cosmology #physics

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Second Time I Learned to Read

An appreciation of teachers who push students in challenging directions, by Stephen L. Carter, at Bloomberg View.

"My English teacher was right, and I was wrong. Some books are better than others. And as a teen I had no way of judging for myself.

"... Mrs. Dickey had taught me that there are things one ought to read. I put away the books of sports records and pulpy sci-fi."


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Aquinas Leadership International - October 2017 Update

[from Peter A. Redpath, "about some developments related to the Aquinas Leadership International (ALI), our affiliate organizations, and other groups interested in ALI’s work."]

● Fifth Annual Aquinas Leadership International World Congress

The dates of 20 to 22 July 2018 have been reserved for the 5th annual Aquinas Leadership International Conference at the Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, Long Island, NY, USA. If you have a Congress topic that you think might be good for this annual meeting, please send the information to the Congress Chair, Peter Redpath, at:

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Defender of Utopia’s Remnant

Charles Mathewes reviews Habermas: A Biography, by Stefan Müller-Doohm, at The Hedgehog Review.


Monday, October 2, 2017

How the Jesuits at ‘America’ responded when Hugh Hefner sent them copies of ‘Playboy’

Hugh Hefner's recent death was the occasion for republishing their May 1, 1965 comments on his magazine, including that,

"Persons as distinguished as Jean-Paul Sartre and Mortimer Adler have contributed interviews and articles to it."

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Integrated Information Theory of Consciousness

Hedda Hassel Mørch at Philosophy Now.

"Consciousness is something with which we’re all intimately familiar. It’s the thing that goes away every night in deep sleep, and comes back when we wake up every morning, or whenever we start dreaming. It encompasses all our subjective feelings and experiences, ranging from the simple redness of red, to the complex depth of an emotion, to the ephemeral quality of thought. It’s the one thing that is directly and immediately known to us, and it mediates our knowledge of the external world. This is how consciousness is defined by neuroscientist Giulio Tononi, the originator of the Integrated Information Theory of consciousness, or IIT for short."


Thursday, September 28, 2017


As the Syntopicon was a topical index of ideas in Great Books of the Western World, the Propaedia was an outline of knowledge for the latest print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. As the latter's online version explains in its entry on itself,
"Upon [Robert Maynard ] Hutchins’s retirement in 1974, [Mortimer J.] Adler succeeded him as chairman of the Board of Editors. Under the stewardship of Adler, [William] Benton, and Charles E. Swanson (president of the company from 1967 to 1985), a vast editorial effort was assembled, resulting in the first publication of Britannica 3, or the 15th edition, in 1974. The new set consisted of 28 volumes in three parts serving different functions: the Micropædia: Ready Reference and Index, Macropædia: Knowledge in Depth, and Propædia: Outline of Knowledge. ..."
In its entry on "Encyclopaedia", the section on Content arrangement concludes,
"The Propædia specifically was a reader’s version of the circle of learning on which the set had been based and was organized in such a way that a reader might reassemble in meaningful ways material that the accident of alphabetization had dispersed."
While there is not a specific Britannica article on Propaedia, there is one at Wikipedia which includes the outline of its 10 Parts, 41 Divisions, and 167 Sections.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Herbert Ratner: Apostle of the Culture of Life

Donald DeMarco recalls Herbert Ratner, at the National Catholic Register

In 1937, Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, appointed Ratner as senior member of the Committee of Liberal Arts. There, he did research on the history of medicine as an assistant to Mortimer Adler, the founder of the Great Books program.

Adler, who was a Thomist, spearheaded a re-examination of the classical thinkers, particularly Aristotle and Aquinas. Impressed with the philosophy of Aquinas, many became attracted to the Catholic Church.

In 1938, Herb converted to Catholicism and remained a faithful and devoted member of the Church throughout his life. He was a longtime and active member of the Chicago Catholic Physicians Guild and served as the president of the Catholic Medical Association.

Having studied Aristotle and Aquinas, he realized all the more clearly the essential role of nature, not only for medicine, but also for the family.

"In an article entitled, 'The Family: Nature’s Institution,' he pays homage to what the great Thomist and historian of philosophy Etienne Gilson said of St. Thomas’ thinking:
'The central intuition which governs the whole philosophical and theological undertaking of St. Thomas is that it is impossible to do justice to God without doing justice to nature, and that doing justice to nature is at the same time the surest way of doing justice to God.'
Thus nature was a vicar general (or God’s representative in the natural order). And just as the vicar is of one mind with his superior, so, too, nature has a similar relationship with her Creator. In an address to members of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars in 1988, Ratner told his audience, "The notion of nature as a vicar general is a realistic and dynamic concept of nature which recognizes man as an integral part of biological nature and the universe 'tied within the divine mind by an indissoluble knot.'"

With regard to the family, he stated: 'The battle for the survival of the family centers in good part around the explication of the family as a natural institution communicating nature’s wisdom with its inherent power to persuade human reason and free choice.'

#family #nature

Monday, September 25, 2017

Richard Rorty: Life, Pragmatism, and Conversational Philosophy

Santiago Zabala at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

A lot was expected of Rorty both intellectually and socially even at an early age. This is probably why he was sent at the age of 15 to the Hutchins College at the University of Chicago, which had recently begun accepting high school students to educate them in the great books of the Western tradition. However, there was a problem at Hutchins: the pragmatism of John Dewey, who was a hero to Rorty’s family, was considered vulgar, relativistic, and self-refuting. "As they pointed out over and over again,' Rorty recalls,
"Dewey had no absolutes. To say, as Dewey did, that 'growth itself is the only moral end,' left one without a criterion for growth, and thus with no way to refute Hitler’s suggestion that Germany had 'grown' under his rule. To say that truth is what works is to reduce the quest for truth to the quest for power."
The Hutchins program, as Neil Gross recalls in his biography of Rorty,
"was too out of sync with the rest of the American university system for other schools to know what to do with someone who had graduated at age eighteen after only three years of coursework. Richard decided to stay on at Chicago, and the experiences he underwent during his next three years there would prove formative for his later thought."

#education #philosophy

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Prisoners, professors discuss great books, life of the mind

David Waters at USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee.

"The Iliad is a tale of rage and desire, delusion and deception, forgiveness and redemption, homecoming and exile.
"As incarcerated women, they can relate."

#education #punishment

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Unreality of Time

John Ellis McTaggart, from Mind: A Quarterly Review of Psychology and Philosophy 17 (1908): 456-473, at DiText


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Who needs the Great Books?

'A personal and political history of Directed Studies—Yale’s boot camp for freshmen who dare, by Molly Worthen, at the Yale Alumni Magazine.

"Directed Studies could have encouraged us to slide into self-indulgent pseudo-philosophy—we had enough of that in late-night hang-outs in the common room, thank you—were it not for the discipline of weekly papers based on close readings of difficult books."


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Defense of Presentism

By Ned Markosian, available in Dean Zimmerman (ed.), Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, Volume 1 (Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 47-82. Reprinted in Michael Rea (ed.), Arguing About Metaphysics (Routledge, 2009); and in Sally Haslanger and Roxanne Marie Kurtz (eds.), Persistence: Contemporary Readings (MIT Press, 2006), as well as at his website.


'The Internationalists': A timely book that instructs and delights

Bob Kohn, one of the Senior Fellows here at the Center, reviews The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World, by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, at Amazon.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Classic books find a home on the radio, online and at Eureka Books

The Times-Standard reported,

"In 1993, the North Coast Great Books Discussion Group was founded. Every month the group has been meeting and producing a short radio show called 'Classics Now!' on the KHSU Magazine."


Sunday, September 17, 2017

How do you translate the Quran? New book digs into history

Patrick T. Reardon reviews The 'Koran' in English: A Biography, by Bruce B. Lawrence, at the Chicago Tribune.

"For this new book looking specifically at the English version, Lawrence uses the transliteration Koran in the title and often in the text because it is the word most often used in English in the past and still best known by English speakers. In addition, he often uses the spelling Qur'an. Many news organizations, including the Tribune, employ Quran.

"Lawrence is elaborate in his praise for a 2015 translation American Qur'an, which he describes as an 'illuminated' version of the holy book. In this large-format work, artist Sandow Birk offers each sura beautifully handwritten and framed by scenes of American life. An image from that book is on the cover of The 'Koran' in English."


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Teaching the Constitution

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1787.

"Engaging in a Socratic dialogue with students at St. John’s College in Annapolis, philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler offers insights in 'America’s testament'."
Transcript at Moyers & Company.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why 'Great Books' Programs are Enjoying a Resurgence in Popularity

Dakota Buhler of George Fox University at Study Breaks.

"Great books programs are founded on the Socratic Method. They generally consist of small cohorts that read through history’s most prominent Western writers, and then discuss the works in a Socratic style. The specific curriculum varies from program to program, but it generally includes authors who have been set apart as great philosophers, theologians, political theorists, scientific thinkers and literary geniuses of their times. These authors’ works become the core texts on which great books programs are built.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Exchange of papers between Leibniz and Clarke

Five papers and replies by Gottfried Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, November 1715 to 9 October 1716, posted by Jonathan Bennett at Early Modern Texts.

#religion #space

Getting the classics back in the classroom

Winston Brady at North State Journal.

"When introducing the iPad 2, Steve Jobs said, 'Technology alone is not enough,' because the best technology needs the liberal arts to stoke its creative fires. Jobs even attributed his edge in the tech world to studying calligraphy, not courses in engineering.Classical education already unites the arts and sciences. In history, students study the Scientific Revolution and its prominent figures; in logic, they learn the rules these thinkers applied in studying the natural world; and in science they conduct experiments with Galileo’s boldness and curiosity."
Here is a video of Mr. Jobs on technology and the liberal arts.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The real reason there are so few conservatives on campus

Damon Linker at The Week.

"Professors are trained as graduate students to become scholars — and scholarship in our time is defined as an effort to make progress in knowledge. The meaning of progress in the hard sciences is fairly obvious. But what does it mean to make progress in our knowledge of, say, English literature? One possibility is to find obscure, previously neglected authors and make a case for their importance. (This could be described as making progress in knowledge by way of expanding the canon.)

"Another possibility is to bring new questions to bear on old, classic texts. But where will those new questions come from if not the concerns of the present?"

(via Elliot Kauffman at National Review)


Monday, September 11, 2017

Why Read Great Books?

David Randall at First Things says

"The problem is when you focus too much on the civic arts and not enough on formation of character."


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Political animal

Lauro Martines reviews Machiavelli's Politics, by Catherine H. Zuckert, Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli’s lifelong quest for freedom, by Erica Benner, and Machiavelli on Liberty and Conflict, edited by David Johnston, Nadia Urbinati and Camila Vergara, at The Times Literary Supplement.

#government #liberty

Saturday, September 9, 2017

How I quit smoking and got a little smarter along the way

Ben Mayfield, Special to The Advocate (Baton Rouge).

"Then one day my secretary announced that Mr. Doe with 'The Great Books of the Western World' was here to see me. My former roommate had a set of the books which I enjoyed reading, and from that time on they were on my wish list. Mr. Doe explained that they had a three-year payment plan with monthly payments of $14.73. We had two small children and were living from payday to payday so I knew we could not justify the added financial burden.

"I was about to inform Mr. Doe that I couldn’t do it, when I had an epiphany. I think it was divine. The monthly payment was equivalent to my smoking cost, which was a budgeted item."

#education #habit #GreatBooksOfTheWesternWorld