Mortimer J. Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler

Mortimer J.
Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler

American Philosopher, Educator and Author

Author Quotes

Proper self-love is inseparable from the true love of another. In fact, it is its basis and measure. It is the second precept of charity. The mutuality of love arises from loving in ourselves the same excellence we love in others. Without amour-propre or proper self-respect, true love would be impossible.

The hardest thing of all to do in discussion is to know how to ask good questions, the kind of questions that by their very nature generate good discussion. This is the hardest thing because asking good questions is much, much harder than answering them. We ought to be able to distinguish between questions of fact on the one hand, and questions of interpretation on the other. Such questions as whether something is the case or exists, and on the other hand, what it means, what it implies, what consequences it leads to. And then we should be able to distinguish between questions of fact and questions of value. Here we ought to know if we are asking about whether something happened, or whether it was good; how someone behaves, or how they should behave; questions of what is the case, as opposed to questions about what should be or what ought to be.

To avoid this error, the error of assuming that that to be widely read and to be well read are the same thing, we must consider a certain distinction in types of learning. ? In the history of education, men have often distinguished between learning by instruction and learning by discovery. ? Discovery stands to instruction as learning without a teacher stands to learning through the help of one. In both cases the activity of learning goes on in the one who learns. It would be a mistake to suppose that discovery is active learning, and instruction passive. There is no inactive learning, just as there is no inactive reading. This is so true, in fact, that a better way to make the distinction clear is to call instruction ?aided discovery.?

With one or two exceptions, all the fundamental philosophical truths that I have learned in more than fifty years, to which I am now firmly committed, I have learned from Aristotle, from Aquinas as a student of Aristotle, and from Jacques Maritain as a student of them both. I have searched my mind thoroughly and I cannot find in it a single truth that I have learned from works in modern philosophy written since the beginning of the 17th century. If anyone is outraged by this judgment about almost four hundred years of philosophical thought, let him recover from it by considering the comparable judgment that almost all modern and contemporary philosophers have made about the two thousand years of philosophical thought that preceded the 17th century.

Reading the Great Books had done more for my mind than all the rest of the academic pursuits?it is the best education for the faculty as well as for the students; the use of original texts is an antidote for survey courses and fifth-rate textbooks; and it constitutes by itself, if properly conducted, the backbone of a liberal education.

The love which moves the world, according to common Christian belief, is God's love and the love of God.

To say, as I have said, that I have not learned a single fundamental truth from the writing of modern philosophers is not to say that I have learned nothing at all from them. With the exceptions of Hegel and other post-Kantian German philosophers, I have read their works with both pleasure and profit. The pleasure has come from the perception of errors the serious consequences of which tend to reinforce my hold on the truths I have learned from Aristotle and Aquinas. The profit has come from the perceptions of new but genuine problems, not pseudo-problems, perplexities, and puzzlements invented by therapeutic positivism and by linguistic or analytical philosophy in our own century.

With this background, let us consider the nature of adult conversation. And let's consider the rules which should govern it if such conversation is to develop into good, profitable discussion, profitable as a means of learning.

Real discussion consists of two or more persons talking to one another, each asking questions, each answering, making remarks and counter-remarks. Such conversation is at its best when the parties to it tend to regard each other as equal. That is the heart of the difference between learning by discussion and learning by instruction. In adult learning by discussion, each party to the discussion is both a teacher and a learner. Just as in the political republic, each citizen is ruler and ruled in turn, so in the adult republic of learning, each adult is both teacher and taught.

The Paideia Program seeks to establish a course of study that is general, not specialized; liberal, not vocational; humanistic, not technical. Only in this way can it fulfill the meaning of the words "paideia" and "humanities," which signify the general learning that should be in the possession of every human being.

Too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.

Work that is pure toil, done solely for the sake of the money it earns, is also sheer drudgery because it is stultifying rather than self-improving.

Sin is not only manifested in certain acts that are forbidden by divine command. Sin also appears in attitudes and dispositions and feelings. Lust and hate are sins as well as adultery and murder. And, in the traditional Christian view, despair and chronic boredom -- unaccompanied by any vicious act -- are serious sins. They are expressions of man's separation from God, as the ultimate good, meaning, and end of human existence.

The three "emotional" rules: Keep your emotions in place. That means, keep them out of the argument, for they have no place in the argument. Catch yourself or the other person getting angry. Starting to shout, overemphasizing the point by repeating it again and again, using sarcasm, teasing, getting a laugh on the other person, all these are signs that someone's temper is getting out of hand. If you can't control your emotions, at least beware of the results of emotional disorder. Realize that your emotions can lead you either to say things you don't mean, or stubbornly refuse to admit things you really do see.

Ultimately, we wish the joy of perfect union with the person we love.

You have to allow a certain amount of time in which you are doing nothing in order to have things occur to you, to let your mind think.

Sometimes it feels like I'm thinking against the wind.

The two great political philosophers that Bloom admires most are Plato and Rousseau, and neither is a democrat in my sense of the term. Neither would take Mill's view that democracy is the ideal form of government with a long future and almost no past.

Unless we love and are loved, each of us is alone, each of us is deeply lonely.

You may take care of your health by virtuous conduct on your part, but your achievement of a healthy body may also require a healthy environment, which may or may not be your good fortune to enjoy. (In my youth, I went through serious influenza and poliomyelitis epidemics unharmed. Through diligent care by my parents I escaped being ill but, that was still a blessing of good fortune.) In a book in which I have recited the free choices I made to devote myself to teaching and learning, to writing books and editing them, and above all to the vocation of philosophy, it seems fitting that at its close I should briefly recount the incidents of good fortune with which I have been blessed. With the exception of one?s mate, one does not choose one?s family?parents, siblings, offspring, and in-laws. In these respects, I experienced good fortune, but not entirely. My parents came from good stock, as evidenced by their longevity and my own. I am grateful to them not only for the genes they bestowed on me, but also for their wise and benevolent treatment of me as a child, a schoolboy, and a college student.

Television, radio, and magazines are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements?all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics?to make it easy for him to ?make up his own mind? with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and ?plays back? the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.

Theories of love are found in the works of scientists, philosophers, and theologians.

Unlike many of my contemporaries, I never write books for my fellow professors to read. I have no interest in the academic audience at all. I'm interested in Joe Doakes. A general audience can read any book I write?and they do.

The basic natural right that a just society of government should try to secure - and aid or abet -- for every individual is not, and cannot be, the right to happiness, but is rather the right to its pursuit.

There are theories of taxation. So there are theories of love.

Author Picture
First Name
Mortimer J.
Last Name
Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler
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American Philosopher, Educator and Author