Mortimer J. Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler

Mortimer J.
Adler, fully Mortimer Jerome Adler

American Philosopher, Educator and Author

Author Quotes

The books to be read should not be limited to those written in English.... Instead it should be devoted to the great works of history, biography, philosophy, theology, natural science, social science, and mathematics, as well as the... tradition of Western literature -- in English translation... Its aim should not be a survey of Western civilization, but an effort to understand the basic ideas and issues in Western thought.

There is a strange fact about the human mind, a fact that differentiates the mind sharply from the body. The body is limited in ways that the mind is not. One sign of this is that the body does not continue indefinitely to grow in strength and develop in skill and grace. By the time most people are thirty years old, their bodies are as good as they will ever be; in fact, many persons' bodies have begun to deteriorate by that time. But there is no limit to the amount of growth and development that the mind can sustain. The mind does not stop growing at any particular age.

We love even when our love is not requited.

The characteristics of this kind of reading are perhaps summed up in the word "orthodox," which is almost always applicable. The word comes from two Greek roots, meaning "right opinion." These are books for which there is one and only one right reading; any other reading or interpretation is fraught with peril, from the loss of an "A" to the damnation of one?s soul. This characteristic carries with it an obligation. The faithful reader of a canonical book is obliged to make sense out of it and to find it true in one or another sense of "true." If he cannot do this by himself, he is obliged to go to someone who can. This may be a priest or a rabbi, or it may be his superior in the party hierarchy, or it may be his professor. In any case, he is obliged to accept the resolution of his problem that is offered him. He reads essentially without freedom; but in return for this he gains a kind of satisfaction that is possibly never obtained when reading other books.

There is no mutuality in ordinary desire: the hungry man wants to eat the food, but the food does not reciprocate ? it doesn't want to be eaten.

We must bear in mind the distinction between fame and honor. A virtuous person is an honorable person, a person who ought to be honored by the community in which he or she lives. But the virtuous person does not seek honor, being secure in his or her own self-respect. Lack of honor does not in any way detract from the efficacy of moral virtue as an indispensable operative means in the pursuit of happiness.... Those totally lacking in virtue may achieve fame as readily as, perhaps even more easily than those who are virtuous. Fame belongs to the great, the outstanding, the exceptional, without regard to virtue or vice. Infamy is fame no less than good repute. The great scoundrel can be as famous as the great hero; there can be famous villains as well as famous saints. Existing in the reputation a person has regardless of his or her accomplishments, fame does not tarnish as honor does when it is unmerited.

The complete realization of the ideal that is the goal?the whole truth and nothing but the truth?will never be achieved in any stretch of time. The pursuit is endless. It is in the main progressive, though there are periods when no advances are made and even some when impediments to further progress appear at the time to be insuperable. Nevertheless, the pursuit of truth is never so blocked or frustrated that despair impels us to give up the enterprise. Viewing the pursuit of truth retrospectively, we find that experts who are competent to judge?mathematicians, scientists, historians, each in their own departments of learning? have reached agreement about a host of judgments that they have come to regard as settled or established truths in their respective fields. This does not mean, of course, that all these agreed-upon truths have the finality and incorrigibility of certitude. It means only that the shadow of a doubt that still hangs over them because of what an uncharted, future has in store does not at the present moment threaten their status as established truth, temporarily undisputed by experts competent to judge.

There is no point in our ancestors speaking to us unless we know how to listen.

When children, or adults as well, say that they love pleasant things to eat or drink, or that they love to do this or that, they think they are saying no more than that they like something, that it pleases them, or that they want it.

The failure in reading ? the omnipresent verbalism ? of those who have not been trained in the arts of grammar and logic shows how lack of such discipline results in slavery to words rather than mastery of them.

There is only one situation I can think of in which men and women make an effort to read better than they usually do. It is when they are in love and reading a love letter.

When it becomes necessary to move into the imaginary world without sex, I'll give you notice.

The five "intellectual" rules: Be relevant, which means "find out what the issue is and stick to it." Divide the issue into its parts; every complex issue has parts, and move along from one part to another. Don't take things for granted. State your assumptions and see if you can get the other participants to state theirs. Make an effort to find out what the other person's assumptions are. Try to avoid arguing fallaciously. Don't cite authority as if they were conclusions. Don't argue ad hominem -- that means, don't argue against the person as opposed to against the point. Don't say to the other person, "Oh, that's the kind of thing Republicans say or Democrats say or Socialists say," as if calling it by that kind of name necessarily proves it wrong. That is a terrible fallacy of guilt by association. Don't agree or disagree with the other person until you understand what that person has said. This rule requires you in the course of discussion to say to the other person, "Now let me see if I can say in my own words what you have just said." And then having done that, you turn to them and say, "Is that what you mean?" And if they say, "Yes, it is; that's exactly what I mean," then you are for the first time privileged to say, "I agree with you," or "I disagree with you," and not one moment sooner. If, after understanding the other person, you do disagree, state your disagreement specifically and give reasons why. You can tell the other person what is wrong with their argument in four very sharp, specific ways. You can say: 1) "You are uninformed of certain relevant facts and I will show you what they are." 2) "You are misinformed. Some of the things you think are relevant facts aren't facts at all, and I will show you why they are not." 3) "You are mistaken in your reasoning and I will show you the mistakes that you have made." 4) "You don't carry your reasoning far enough. There is more to say than you have said and I will tell you what it is." These are all very polite and much to the point.

There is only one true religion because there cannot be opposed truths of faith. There is only one orthodox or right theology because there cannot be two or more opposed correct understandings of those truths. Because of this, religion must be organized by a church and its dogma and ritual must be prescribed by church doctors.

When one prays to God one believes in God as one does not believe if one affirms God's existence as a philosopher. So one has gone beyond philosophy. The leap of faith is not from less sure grounds for the affirmation of God's existence to more sure grounds, but it's from the affirmation of God's existence to belief in God as benevolent, caring, just, and merciful.

The great authors were great readers, and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.

These three ideas [liberty, equality, and justice] are the ones we live by in society. They represent ideas which a considerable portion of the human race has sought to realize for themselves and for posterity.

When sex comes first, and especially if it remains primary, then the love that is based on it will be fickle and short-lived ? as changeable as sexual interest is.

The great books of ancient and medieval as well as modern times are a repository of knowledge and wisdom, a tradition of culture which must initiate each generation.

Think how different human societies would be if they were based on love rather than justice. But no such societies have ever existed on earth.

When we ask for love, we don't ask others to be fair to us ? but rather to care for us, to be considerate of us.

The Greeks and Romans had different names for the different kinds of love. The Greeks used the word eros and the Romans used the word amore for the kind of love we call erotic, amorous, or sexual.

To avoid being drawn into the meshes of love is not so hard a the toils, to issue out and break through the strong bonds of Venus.

When young children say they love their parents, they do not mean that they have any benevolent impulses toward them. On the contrary, they do need their parents for a variety of the goods they acquisitively desire and that they want their parents to get for them.

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.

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