Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Mortimer J. Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler

American Philosopher, Educator and Author

"More consequences for thought and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other question."

"Sacred theology is superior to philosophy, both theoretically and practically; theoretically, because it is more perfect knowledge of God and His creatures; practically, because moral philosophy is insufficient to direct man to God as his last end."

"The teacher does not produce knowledge in the mind; he merely helps the mind discover it for itself."

"The teacher is like the farmer or the physician. The farmer doesn’t produce the grains of the field; he merely helps them grow. The physician does not produce the health of the body; he merely helps the body maintain its health or regain its health. And the teacher does not produce knowledge in the mind; he merely helps the mind discover it for itself."

"Anticipate charity by preventing poverty."

"If instead of considering science, one considers wisdom, man's wisdom, it is much more questionable whether as one comes down the centuries from ancient to modern times there has been a great advance in human wisdom. One is entitled to doubt that there has been any advance at all over the ages."

"Nothing which can be learned by instruction cannot also be learned by discovery."

"When what I do, what I think, how I become, flows entirely from myself, I am free. Self-expression, self-determination is the essence of freedom."

"In the case of great books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you."

"Only the communion of love produced by the conversations of lovers overcomes our human isolation and our human aloneness or loneliness."

"Our wisdom does not increase nearly at the same rate or proportion to the increase in our power."

"True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline."

"There are two ways in which men possess things: physically and spiritually. We possess them physically when we consume them or use them; we possess them spiritually when we behold them or know them."

"Truth itself is immutable, even if we as humans in our thinking do not possess the truth immutably."

"We acknowledge but one motive - to follow the truth as we know it, whithersoever it may lead us; but in our heart of hearts we are well assured that the truth which has made us free, will in the end make us glad also."

"What is needed to make democracy work as it is not now working- to bring into existence in reality a sound conception of democracy? The mass liberal education of the mass electorate. Not just schooling, but an education that involves moral training as well as training of the mind."

"Ultimately, there can be no disagreement between history, science, philosophy, and theology. Where there is disagreement, there is either ignorance or error."

"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature."

"We overcome in all human affairs the inertia of custom. Custom is a great enemy of progress"

"Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life."

"The truly great books are the few books that are over everybody's head all of the time."

"A good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser. Not just more knowledgeable - books that provide nothing but information can produce that result. But wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life."

"A lecture has been well described as the process whereby the notes of the teacher become the notes of the student without passing through the mind of either."

"Is it too much to expect from the schools that they train their students not only to interpret but to criticize; that is, to discriminate what is sound from error and falsehood, to suspend judgement if they are not convinced, or to judge with reason if they agree or disagree?"

"The ability to retain a child's view of the world with at the same time a mature understanding of what it means to retain it, is extremely rare - and a person who has these qualities is likely to be able to contribute something really important to our thinking."

"The complexities of adult life get in the way of the truth. The great philosophers have always been able to clear away the complexities and see simple distinctions - simple once they are stated, vastly difficult before. If we are to follow them we too must be childishly simple in our questions - and maturely wise in our replies."

"To agree without understanding is inane. To disagree without understanding is impudent."

"Television, radio, and all the sources of amusement and information that surround us in our daily lives are also artificial props. They can give us the impression that our minds are active, because we are required to react to stimuli from the outside. But the power of those external stimuli to keep us going is limited. They are like drugs. We grow used to them, and we continuously need more and more of them. Eventually, they have little or no effect. Then, if we lack resources within ourselves, we cease to grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually. And we cease to grow, we begin to die."

"There are genuine mysteries in the world that mark the limits of human knowing and thinking. Wisdom is fortified, not destroyed, by understanding its limitations. Ignorance does not make a fool as surely as self-deception."

"The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks."

"A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to analyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever."

"If you ask a living teacher a question, he will probably answer you. If you are puzzled by what he says, you can save yourself the trouble of thinking by asking him what he means. If, however, you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself. In this respect a book is like nature or the world. When you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking an analysis yourself."

"If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you don't already possess."

"All books will become light in proportion as you find light in them."

"The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live."

"The tragedy of being both rational and animal seems to consist in having to choose between duty and desire rather than in making any particular choice."

"The person who, at any stage of a conversation, disagrees, should at least hope to reach agreement in the end. He should be as much prepared to have his own mind changed as seek to change the mind of another ... No one who looks upon disagreement as an occasion for teaching another should forget that it is also an occasion for being taught."

"Only hidden and undetected oratory is really insidious. What reaches the heart without going through the mind is likely to bounce back and put the mind out of business."

"Habits are formed by the repetition of particular acts. They are strengthened by an increase in the number of repeated acts. Habits are also weakened or broken, and contrary habits are formed by the repetition of contrary acts."

"Imaginative literature primarily pleases rather than teaches. It is much easier to be pleased than taught, but much harder to know why one is pleased. Beauty is harder to analyze than truth."

"Love wishes to perpetuate itself. Love wishes for immortality."

"Friendship is a very taxing and arduous form of leisure activity."

"The philosopher ought never to try to avoid the duty of making up his mind."

"The telephone book is full of facts, but it doesn't contain a single idea."

"The ultimate end of education is happiness or a good human life, a life enriched by the possession of every kind of good, by the enjoyment of every type of satisfaction."

"Man's greatness lies in his power of thought."

"Freedom is the emancipation from the arbitrary rule of other men."

"The only standard we have for judging all of our social, economic, and political institutions and arrangements as just or unjust, as good or bad, as better or worse, derives from our conception of the good life for man on earth, and from our conviction that, given certain external conditions, it is possible for men to make good lives for themselves by their own efforts."

"In Aristotelian terms, the good leader must have ethos, pathos and logos. The ethos is his moral character, the source of his ability to persuade. The pathos is his ability to touch feelings to move people emotionally. The logos is his ability to give solid reasons for an action, to move people intellectually."

"A good performance, like a human life, is a temporal affair-a process in time. It is good as a whole through being good in its parts, and through their good order to one another. It cannot be called good as a whole until it is finished. During the process all we can say of it, if we speak precisely, is that it is becoming good. The same is true of a whole human life. Just as the whole performance never exists at any one time, but is a process of becoming, so a human life is also a performance in time and a process of becoming. And just as the goodness that attaches to the performance as a whole does not attach to any of its parts, so the goodness of a human life as a whole belongs to it alone, and not to any of its parts or phases."