The Human Equation in Dialectic

Mortimer AdlerMORTIMER J. ADLER, PH.D.

In the Sophist, Plato separates the philosopher from the sophist, not by any distinction in method, but by the difference in the use each makes of the same technique. — Mortimer Adler

The psychological factors that are circumstantial to human participation in so intellectual an activity as argument may be classified under three rubrics: (I) leisure, (II) intelligence, and (III) temperament. Leisure, though in part determined by an economic situation, is here taken to mean more than economic disengagement; it implies general disengagement from all practical considerations, an attitude of deliberate impracticality. Intelligence, whatever be the ultimate definition of it agreed upon by psychologists, includes a number of psychological functions, such as language ability, ability to deal with relations, ability to deal with abstractions, understanding and interpretation, controlled association, and the organization of associations. These abilities are possessed by human beings in greater or less degree; a defect of them is certainly a limiting condition of intellect. Temperament implies, in the first place, other fundamental individual differences, and along with differences in intelligence, partly accounts for the difficulties human beings meet in the business of communicating with and understanding one another. In the second place, the temperament of the individual is constituted by a set of wishes, desires, purposes, and sentiments or emotional complexes that not only determine his comprehension of an intellectual situation but are also the irrational determinants of what he chooses to rationalize, his prejudices, beliefs, and special pleadings. [1]Â

I“It is only in a period, fortunate both in its opportunities for disengagement from the immediate pressure of circumstances, and in its eager curiosity, that the Age-Spirit can undertake any direct revision of those final abstractions which lie hidden in the more concrete concepts from which the serious thought of the age takes its start.” [2] It is not here implied that profound intellectual activity has no practical consequences, but it is asserted that the pursuit, to be effectively undertaken, must be carried on independently of whatever practical issues it may have. The common distinction between pure and applied science may be stated in terms of certain logical distinctions between their subject-matters. There is, however, a significant difference in attitude as well, the theoretical as opposed to the practical attitude. The enterprise of theory must have no urgencies or ends beyond its own intellectual situation. The existence of the theoretical enterprise may depend upon the economic disengagement of a number of individuals; but it further depends upon a certain attitude in those individuals themselves, a temporary disregard for anything except the intellectual consequences of their undertaking.

It cannot be denied that discussion and controversy have served and do serve practical ends in human experience. Were this not so, much of the business of legislative bodies would be superfluous, and most of the conversations in which human beings engage would not occur, since for the most part their origin is in practical difficulties, and their aim is to remove impediments to further action. But it can be denied that the arguments of political gatherings, and the discussions of those who seek thereby a decision with regard to conduct, and all similar instances of conversation and dispute, are dialectical. Conversation is dialectical only insofar as it refers to the universe of discourse; and in having this reference it becomes entirely theoretical. Whatever conclusion such conversation or argument may reach, whether it be resolution of the conflict or merely a clarification of the issue, the conclusion is without practical consequence, at least insofar as it is considered dialectically.

This can be understood in terms of the distinction between the realm of facts and the universe of discourse, between the denotative and connotative dimensions of language. Dialectic is confined to the universe of discourse, and is existentially expressed in the connotative level of linguistic usage. Language, however, has this other reference to the facts, and the conclusions of a discussion which has been somewhat dialectical may, therefore, be taken practically. But that it is so taken is irrelevant to its dialectical sources, and taking it practically does not in any way determine or alter its dialectical status.

Dialectic is even more strictly a theoretical enterprise than is pure science. Its impracticality is as great as that of a non-Euclidean geometry; its values are entirely intellectual or theoretical. Pure science, for instance, in its physical or biological branches, is interested in the solution of certain problems, in the establishment of certain hypotheses, in the further verification of certain formulae. In any particular instance of special research or of scientific thinking, there is a state of affairs in view which would properly conclude the effort; this conclusion would be, temporarily at least, a truth, a case of knowledge in the empirical sense. But dialectic, as subsequent analysis will show more thoroughly, has no genuine conclusion. In any instance of dialectical thinking, all that can be achieved, at the very most, is the temporary resolution of a contradiction or conflict in discourse. This resolution immediately and automatically generates another issue, that is, the conflict between the propositions making the resolution and their contradictory propositions in discourse. If dialectic occurs in any partial universe of discourse, if it employs any one of the indefinite modes of metaphor of which language is capable, then its conclusions are always subject to the reversals and alterations that are inevitable if they are considered in any of the other partial universes of discourse, or translated into other partial systems of meanings. And since the conclusions of any finite instance of dialectical thinking are hypothetical, being entirely determined by their doctrinal sources, the postulates, definitions, and dilemmas from which they derive their status cannot be final, and they cannot escape the modifications of further dialectic.

Dialectical thinking, then, unlike empirical thinking or even geometrical thinking, is genuinely inconclusive, and for this reason requires the theoretical attitude and the mood of leisure to the greatest degree. Dialectic has no intellectual end at all comparable to the solution of a problem, or the completion of a system, since it is concerned really with demonstrating and understanding how no problems can be finally solved, and how no systems can be absolutely completed, in their purely intellectual terms. Human conversations, therefore, obviously are seldom dialectical in the strictest sense of the word. They partake of dialectic in the measure that their manner and their attitude conform to the abstract pattern and intellectual ideals of dialectic; but this conformity is seldom, perhaps never, perfect, even among philosophers. It is notoriously a human trait to be impatient of theory and to be governed by the urgency of practical situations. Most human beings never think; and the thinking of the few who do is usually entangled in the mesh of hurried practical affairs. Rarely, now and then, conversation or discussion or reflection is undertaken for the delight of the activity itself and the intellectual benefits intrinsic to it. Under such conditions dialectic is possible, and judged by its standards, only discussion or reflection so conditioned can be dialectical. The attitude of impracticality is thus seen to be indispensable to dialectic; a discussion which seeks to end in a conclusion which is final, or in a proposition which is decisive for action, is as thoroughly undialectical as an argument about the facts, and for the same reasons. The realm of facts and the world of practical affairs are one; and there are varieties of human thinking oriented towards and subservient to their nature and their needs. The realm of meanings, or the universe of discourse, and the world of theoretical concerns are similarly united, and there is at least one kind of thinking which is entirely confined thereto; and since it is so restricted, thinking of this sort requires of those who would participate in it the mood of leisure and utter disengagement from finality or action. Geometrical or empirical thinking may, in one sense or another, rest in the truth; but dialectic must have endless leisure, for it cannot rest.

The contrast is so clear that there can be no confusion between what is here stated as an intellectual ideal and what actually occurs when human beings engage in controversial conversation or in the silent polemic of reflection. Most human discussions stop short because there is no time to go on, or because there are other matters more urgent; they are brief episodes from which one turns to something else, and about which one does nothing. One of the sins of Socrates was his inveterate persistence in conversation: Plato caught this aspect of discussion dramatically in the dialogues; they do not terminate because the argument is concluded but rather because of the intrusion of practical affairs or other matters foreign to the given theme. What little time can be spared for conversation should be surrendered to it completely, freely, and without the expectation of practical issue or intellectual reward. Infinite leisure would be required for the perfection of dialectic; and that could not be asked even of those who call themselves philosophers. It is enough if the moments given to the dialectical handling of themes in conversation and reflection be given wholly and as if in a world apart. Human beings are capable of such abandonment to the intellectual life to some small degree. To the degree in which they are incapable of that psychological state which has been called the attitude of impracticality or the mood of leisure, human beings are incapable of realizing the values which are inherent in conversation, and commit the error of trying to force dialectical thinking to serve other than its own ends. Arguing about the facts, or asserting the conclusions of an argument as true, empirically or finally, are the common errors of human conversation. Such faults prevail because human beings are generally unable to take conversation or discussion with leisure and impractically; its dialectical possibilities are thereby lost for them, or they dispute in a manner utterly confused and unsatisfactory because they attempt the method of argument without really understanding, or being capable of, the nature of its pursuit.

IIImpatience and incurable pragmatism are not the only psychological difficulties in the way of dialectic as the art of conversation. They are not impediments to dialectic considered abstractly, but only in its human occasion; difficulties which human beings encounter when they try to be dialecticians.

It is difficult to think — a defect for which there is no remedy. The lack of time may be in part responsible, but there is also often a lack of wit, or what William James called sagacity. And insofar as the ability to think depends upon these intangible gifts, normative logic is ineffective for its improvement and no prescription of rules can greatly augment its powers. Normative logic deals with thinking as it can never occur. Habits of thought are as idiosyncratic as are human faces, and he who would regulate all human thinking according to any single form would be like an artist who sees only the humanity of a face to the total exclusion of its individuality. One man cannot tell another how to think; he can simply tell the other how he himself thinks, and let the model work its own effect. Thinking may be the name for a group of activities, as talking is, and walking is. These activities can be described in general; but at the same time, if there is sufficient feeling for the idiom and intimate rhythm of the activity, the perception will be inevitable that any two cases of it are never quite the same. Men do not think alike any more than they walk alike; although it is obvious that, in both ways, they may equally well get somewhere.

The ability to think varies from individual to individual, not only because of personal habit differences, but because it is a gift of nature and of circumstance as well, and is capriciously distributed. Insofar as thinking involves dealing with highly abstract notions and complex relational systems, with the skilful use of language and the drawing of fine distinctions, in short, insofar as thinking is undoubtedly crude, but it is significant for the present discussion that the distinction between a neurotic patient and an ‘insane’ or psychotic one is that the latter lacks all insight into his symptoms and his so-called abnormalities. In the second place, a distinction is clearly made between difficulties due to amentia or feeblemindedness and the group of diseases that are disorders of the personality, largely emotional or impulsive in character and origin, but independent of intellectual defect. The temperamental factor is thus considered more or less in isolation. In the third place, it is understood that the insane or neurotic patient is never irrational in the sense of being incoherent or without intrinsic cogency. On the contrary, the abnormality of such patients often is their excessive rationality. It is normal to be somewhat irrational. Furthermore, of course, it is not the degree to which they are rational or irrational that renders them clinical material, but the grounds or presuppositions upon which they exercise their rationality. A patient suffering from the grandiose delusion that he is Napoleon is in all ways rational in the development of the implications of his delusion. Such delusions are often elaborately and marvellously systematized and are unassailable by argument or demonstration intended to contradict them. But they are rationally developed only within the limits of one or more unquestioned and unquestionable assumptions or prejudices or complexes or beliefs — and it is these, rather than the peculiar rationality, which form the pathogenic source of the delusion.

A paranoid patient thus affords an impressive example of certain traits present in the neurotic and even in the normal, though perhaps less obviously. Herbert Spencer was once confronted by an asylum patient who had heard him address the convalescent inmates. The man was distraught with manic laughter, and when Spencer finally quieted him and persuaded him to reveal the object of his merriment, the patient intelligently remarked, “To think of me in and you out!” The distinction between the inmate and the outsider is certainly arbitrary in some respects, and especially when logical competence is taken as the criterion of differentiation. The paranoiac maintains the deluded judgment that he is Napoleon, whatever be the complex biographical background of this delusion. This judgment functions logically as the premise of a deductive system, or as the assumption that must be made in argument: and within the limits defined by the acceptance of this judgment as true, the paranoiac is capable of deriving rational consequences which are consistent with it, the whole set of propositions or judgments or beliefs finally achieved forming an orderly and coherent system. He is classified as insane because he lacks ‘insight’ into his assumptions or deluded beliefs; and society commits him to an asylum because he may be dangerous if, being not simply a deluded dialectician, he becomes a deluded pragmatist as well, and acts upon his judgments.

Many of those, however, who are not so committed, the merely neurotic and the conventionally normal, are poor dialecticians and dangerous pragmatists in the same sense as the individual suffering a systematized delusion of grandeur, though perhaps to a less degree. Judged by the stricter standards of dialectic, rather than by those of society and psychiatry, lack of insight is as prevalent outside asylums as in them. By and large, human beings are unable to appreciate the assumptions about which they reason and the prejudices and unquestionable beliefs which they rationalize. The process of rationalization is itself not to be deplored. Reasoning and rationalization are identical in process; the difference, if there is any, is that reasoning is self-critical. It acknowledges explicitly that its sources are arbitrary; it admits its irrational origins and whatever propositions or judgments it takes for granted, or as true, or at least as temporarily not to be demonstrated. Rationalization, on the other hand, both in its pathological and normal manifestations, usually conceals the prejudices and assumptions it attempts to render reasonable; it will not admit that it is based on propositions accepted irrationally and believed arbitrarily; it could not serve its pathological function in the disturbed personality if it were at all self-critical. Conversely, the individual who was thoroughly self-critical, who possessed insight, would not be pathological, and, having no need for rationalization, would be able to reason instead. Rationalization and reasoning, be it remembered, are identical in every respect except with regard to their sources or their grounds. Insight, or the capacity for self-criticism, is the differentiating trait of reason.

If these essential similarities between the insane, the neurotic, and the normal, be granted, it may now be possible to discover the psychological causes for that which is called delusion in the one, neurotic personality in the second, and incapacity for dialectic in the third. Good intelligence, the ability to reason, and the tendency to be rational are traits present in all three; it is their common defect of insight which protects the pathogenic source of the delusion, converts the neurotic’s symptoms into reasons, and makes the normal person dogmatic in discussion rather than dialectical.

The introduction of self-criticism would appear to be the fundamental therapeutic measure in all three instances. If the distinguishing feature of the psychoses is complete loss of insight, it is questionable whether such therapy can ever be applied to advanced insanity. This therapeutic device has, however, been extraordinarily developed as the technique of psycho-analysis in the treatment of neuroses, and as the method of geometry in the field of reason. The consideration of psycho-analysis and geometry may lead, on the one hand, to an analysis of the temperamental factors in the personality that cloud the insight, and on the other hand, to the formulation of a discipline of dialectic.

Psycho-analysis may be thought of as the technique of becoming highly self-conscious. Its therapeutic ideal may be phrased in the Greek maxim “Know thyself”, the geometrical equivalent of which would be the rule to know and to avow explicitly all one’s assumptions. A geometrical system knows itself in the act of explicitly stating its definitions, its postulates, and its rules of procedure. But psycho-analysis as a method is, in one respect, even more pertinent to the dialectical problem than geometry, for it is a technique of self-criticism by means of translation.

In a very general statement of a typical syndrome, the neurotic patient presents a clinical picture of a group of symptoms such as excessive fatigue, anxieties, curious fears, persistent impulsions or obsessions, and, in instances of conversion hysteria, certain organic ailments which are found to have no organic basis whatsoever, and are therefore judged to be neurotic or functional. The neuroses, in general, are called functional diseases because their symptoms have not sufficient foundation in organic pathology or tissue lesions. The symptoms, therefore, are taken to express a functional disorder; whether its locus be primarily neurological or psychic is, for the moment, indifferent. It is the precise expressive value of the symptoms in each case which it is the aim of psychoanalysis to interpret.

The theory, or at least a theory of the psycho-analytic method may be stated very briefly as follows: Due to circumstances arising in the environment or in the personality itself, the libido, or some part of it, gets repressed. The desires, wishes, or impulses, and all of the ideas and habits associated therewith, which are thus withheld from normal integration in the personality and from free exhaustion of their energies, are not annihilated by repression, but merely impeded. They form a reservoir of latent energies in the personality: ideas, habits, impulses with a unifying emotional tone which consolidate as a dissociated or split-off portion of the personality. This is the repressed complex, and it is the tendency of such repressed energy to exhaust itself in some manner. But the ordinary language habits of the individual are under the control of the major portion of the personality, and are dominated by the censor which was the agent in the original act of repression. The individual is thus prevented from acknowledging to himself the existence of the repressed complex either consciously or by means of his regular habits of expression, his language habits. In its tendency toward exhaustion, the repressed complex of energies must, therefore, choose other means of expression. The neurotic symptoms form a group of such expressive devices, the symbolic content of which the patient himself cannot understand because they are capable of proper interpretation only in terms of their source, and this source is a portion of the personality which the patient has thoroughly dissociated from himself and against which he has raised the high barriers of repression. The dream is a familiar neurotic symptom in this sense, having a manifest content that is comprehensible to the major personality, and a latent content which expresses the repressed portion; and it is therefore unintelligible to the conscious individual who commands the language habits of ordinary interpretation.

The neurosis thus exists as a disintegrated condition of the personality due to the impossibility of translation between two metaphorical languages which the dissociated parts of the personality employ; the one the ordinary, verbal language of the conscious personality, in whose terms the conscious personality is able to understand and interpret; the other the abnormal, symbolic language of the unconscious self, a language whose terms are the symptoms which the patient cannot translate into his other language properly, and therefore cannot interpret or understand. In this lack of understanding or insight, in this lack of communication between two parts of the total personality, in this lack of translation between two modes of metaphor which the personality has been forced to use, consists the individual’s inability to understand himself, the individual’s neurosis. The method of psycho-analysis is to introduce into such a personality the therapeutic device of self-criticism by means of translation; if the translation is effected, the individual understands himself and is able to function integratively, the symptoms disappear, and the neurosis is cured. Psycho-analysis, in other words, is a dialectic of the neurotic personality, a dialectic of the soul which has been split into two universes of discourse and which must be reunited by the establishment of translation between them.

The technique of psycho-analysis is, like dialectic, an affair of conversation. The pun that psycho-analysis is conversation ad libido is not entirely unworthy. Actually, however, it is at once both slightly more and slightly less than ordinary conversation; more, in its emotional surcharge; less, to the degree that it is deliberately controlled by the analyst. The emotional aspect is profoundly important. The success of the analysis depends indispensably upon the occurrence of what is called an emotional transference from the patient to the physician. Once this has been made the conversation that goes on from day to day acquires new force. In the course of this prolonged conversation the patient acquires analytic insight into his own personality, partly in terms of his emotional identification with the analyst, and partly in terms of the new vocabulary, the new language, which the analysis places at his disposal. This analytic insight is equivalent to gradual coalescence of the two universes of discourse between which the patient’s personality had been divided. The patient’s symptomatic and symbolic language gets interpreted very gradually, and almost imperceptibly, in terms of the concepts and metaphors which form the theoretical substance of psycho-analytical psychology. The two disparate and antagonistic universes of discourse, whose conflict caused the neurosis, are thus united by their both being absorbed into the psychoanalytical universe of discourse, which, including the other two, effects the translation between them. The personality is supposedly re-formed and re-unified in proportion as this absorption and translation occurs; and the energies of the repressed complex, being reintegrated functionally with the other energies of the organism, find normal outlets for exhaustion, and the symptoms disappear.

The therapeutic climax is equivalent to the resolution of conflicting systems in terms of a unified whole which is inclusive of them. The resolution in psycho-analysis is to be qualified, as it must always be, by the set of assumptions and ideas which define the universe of discourse which resolves the other two, and upon which its doctrine is based. In this case, of course, it is the theory of psycho-analysis which is assumed, and whose principles generate a universe of discourse and a metaphorical language capable of effecting mutual translation between the previously disjunct systems.

It is not merely a matter of linguistic facility, however. It is possible for an individual to learn the language of psycho-analysis without being in the least therapeutically benefited thereby. It is insight which, deriving its force from the patient’s emotional identification with the analyst, gives the assumed propositions of the psychoanalytical doctrine their status as accepted truths. In this status they have both logical and psychological priority over the propositions and ideas of the two conflicting partial systems, which now appear to be sets of complementary half-truths. By translation they complete one another, and by inclusion in the new system they are integrated and ordered. The analytical insight is really an emotional experience in which the assumptions of psycho-analysis are given the value of intuitive propositions, immediate truths whose light clarifies and resolves the conflicting shadows of the neurotic difficulty.

This is, of course, the description of an ideal psycho-analytical performance. There are many circumstances to prevent any actual situation from fulfilling the ideal. The most important of these is the resistance which the patient may have or develop toward the analysis itself. The cause of this resistance is identical in kind with the cause of the original repression or conflict; and unless this resistance is removed, the analysis must fail because, in the absence of a complete emotional transference, the new universe of discourse which psycho-analysis intrudes into the conversation lacks the intuitive force which makes it so effective. The patient may acquire the language relevant to this new universe of discourse; but unless he identifies himself with the analyst, he does not employ the new metaphors to understand himself as the analyst understands him, and it becomes a merely linguistic acquirement. The resistance prevents the patient from getting the insight that will make the reinterpretation possible, just as the original conflict, repression, and dissociation caused the loss of insight which made the reinterpretation necessary. In other words, if there is anything to prevent the psycho-analytical doctrine from being assumed as true, it will not serve its purpose to resolve and translate the partial systems it may include.

Psycho-analysis may fail in another way. The patient may acquire the insight which reassociates the disintegrated portions of his personality; the symbolic manifestations of his unconscious self may become intelligible to his major, conscious personality. The patient may have self-knowledge or understanding of himself, and yet the neurotic traits of his character so far as they appear in his impulses and qualify his actions may not be removed. Understanding may be achieved and yet no practical consequences flow therefrom. That this can occur may be significant of the fact that psychoanalysis is essentially a dialectical procedure; and the dialectical resolution, equivalent to the self-knowledge which concludes the analysis, is entirely an affair in discourse, or psychologically stated, entirely a matter of understanding, and may quite properly be without issue in action. If psycho-analysis does sometimes accomplish an alteration of the patient’s conduct as well as a synthesis of partial systems of expression in the patient’s personality, the two accomplishments may be concomitant with one another without being causally related. The conversational technique of psycho-analysis may yield the patient insight and understanding; the emotional experience of the analysis may alter his conduct.

It should be clear from this brief exposition of psycho-analysis as somewhat analogous to dialectic that the psychological phenomena of understanding cannot be described in purely intellectual or rational terms. Loss of insight accompanies the dissociation of elements of the personality caused by a severe emotional disturbance, the conflict of desires, or similar sub-rational forces in the personality. The gaining of new insight is dependent upon the patient’s emotional identification with the integrated personality of the analyst, and through that identification, the intuitive acceptance of a new system of ideas which yields the insight.

The same psychological description which has been applicable to the role of insight in the neuroses may now be applied to the relation of insight and dogmatism in the impersonal conversations, the controversies and disputes, in which so-called normal individuals engage. It is a commonplace observation that misunderstanding is at the basis of controversy, and that if the misunderstanding persists, the controversy cannot be solved. But what causes the misunderstanding in the first place, and what explains the frequent instances in which it persists? When two individuals do not understand one another, they are incapable of mutually translating their opinions. Such separation of spheres of discourse from one another by logic-tight barriers is analogous to the split-up personality which thereafter must employ two different languages to express itself. Misunderstanding and dissociation may persist as long as the emotional conflict responsible for them persists. It is the removal in some manner of the emotional conflict which occasions the return of insight. This, in the case of the neurotic character, reunites the divided selves in the use of a single language, and in the case of argument between individuals, provides them with a common universe of discourse.

It is not necessary in the present discussion to offer a detailed description of the psychological facts here suggested. They can be found in the literature on the subject. The dividing line between the neurotic and the normal person is a doubtful one: the same relation obtains between the emotional and intellectual processes in the normal as in the neurotic, and is illuminated by the slightly exaggerated condition of the latter. Normal psychology, psychiatry, and psycho-analysis are agreed with respect to the central thesis that irrational forces play a crucial part in conditioning insight, limiting the understanding, and determining the uses that shall be made of reason.

Dogmatism in argument or reflection may be thought of, then, as defect of insight, and therewith viewed as similar in its psychological origins to the delusions of the insane and the fragmented personalities of the functional disorders. Dogmatism is an intellectual attitude which is not self-critical; it attempts to rationalize assumptions and prejudices which it does not acknowledge. In argument and controversy the dogmatic attitude must result in the persistence of misunderstanding and disagreement. Dogmatic disputants have limited insight; unappreciative of the doctrinal sources of either of the sets of conflicting opinions, they are unable to conceive and construct the doctrine inclusive of the two in opposition, and definitive of a common universe of discourse in which understanding would prevail, translation would occur, and some agreement would be reached.

The analogy between the neurotic condition and the attitude of dogmatism may be carried one step further. Psycho-analysis has developed therapeutic treatment of the functional diseases; the neurosis is removed or ameliorated by the acquisition of analytical insight as the result of the therapy. Perhaps, similarly, dialectic may be formulated as a set of rules for the elimination of dogmatism from argument. The psychological analysis which revealed the obstacles in the way of the human practice of dialectic may now be used to suggest what is comparable to a normative logic — a discipline of dialectic. Dogmatism may be fundamentally congenial to human nature; it may be rooted in its irrational soil. But the attempt to banish dogmatism from dispute is not to deny the fundamental factors which condition thinking of any sort, and particularly dialectical thinking; it is rather thoroughly to take account of them in order to devise a regimen by which they can be disciplined.

Notes

  1. The logical and metaphysical aspects of the view here outlined will be further developed in the author’s forthcoming work entitled Dialectic (International Library of Psychology, Philosophy, and Scientific Method).

  2. A. N. Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World, p. 49 (Italics not in text).

Originally published in Psyche, Volume 28, April 1927.


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Mortimer Jerome Adler (1902 – 2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler’s own Institute for Philosophical Research. Adler went on to found the Great Books of the Western World program and the Great Books Foundation. He founded and served as director of the Institute for Philosophical Research. He also served on the Board of Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica from its inception and became its chairmen. Spearheading the fifteenth edition of Britannica he was instrumental in the major reorganization of knowledge embodied in that edition. He founded the Paideia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of difficult works (as judged for each grade). With Max Weismann, he founded the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas. He also served along with Max Weisman on the Board of Directors of Jonathan Dolhenty’s Radical Academy.