Adler, Mortimer Jerome

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ADLER, MORTIMER JEROME (1902–2001), U.S. philosopher and educator. Born in New York, Adler studied and later taught psychology at Columbia. From 1927 to 1929 he was assistant director of the People's Institute in New York. In 1930, he was appointed associate professor of philosophy of law at the University of Chicago (full professor in 1942), where he was active in curriculum reform. In 1952 he became director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago. Adler opposed John Dewey's influence in education, and advocated studying the great books of the Western tradition. While he continued his educational reforms on a more conservative basis, the concept of seminars on "great books" and "great ideas" continued to become integrated into programs at other educational institutions. In 1952, his work in this area culminated in the publication of the Great Books of the Western World by the Encyclopaedia Britannica company in 54 volumes (1945–52), with R.M. Hutchins.

Adler helped found the Institute for Philosophical Research and the Aspen Institute. He taught business leaders the classics at the Aspen Institute for more than 40 years. He was also on the board of the Ford Foundation and the Board of Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where his influence was clearly felt in its policies and programs. He was also the co-founder, along with Max Weismann, of the Center for the Study of Great Ideas.

In 1977, Adler published an autobiography entitled Philosopher at Large, which was later followed by another account entitled A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher at Large (1992). He spent a lifetime making philosophy's greatest texts accessible to everyone. Throughout his teaching career, he remained devoted to helping those outside academia educate themselves further. According to Adler, no one, no matter how old, should stop learning. He wrote more than 20 books after the age of 70, and at the age of 95 was working on his 60th, The New Technology: Servant or Master?

Adler's main works include Art and Prudence (1937); St. Thomas and the Gentiles (1938); How to Read a Book (1940); A Dialectic of Morals (1941); The Capitalist Manifesto (with L. Kelso, 1958); Great Ideas from the Great Books (1961); The Conditions of Philosophy (1966); The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes (1968); Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind (1977); The Time of Our Lives: Ethics of Common Sense (1970); Aristotle for Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy (1980); The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982); The Angels and Us (1982); Six Great Ideas (1984); A Vision of the Future: Twelve Ideas for a Better Life and a Better Society (1984); Ten Philosophical Mistakes (1985); How to Speak / How to Listen (1985); A Guidebook to Learning: For a Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom (1986); Truth in Religion: The Plurality of Religions and the Unity of Truth (1990); How to Think about God: A Guide for the 20th-Century Pagan (1991); Desires, Right & Wrong: The Ethics of Enough (1991); and Adler's Philosophical Dictionary: 125 Key Terms for the Philosopher's Lexicon (1995).

A self-described pagan for most of his life, Adler converted to Christianity in 1984 and was baptized by an Episcopalian priest. In 1999, he converted to Roman Catholicism.

[Richard H. Popkin /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]