Mortimer Adler was a man who made significant contributions to the field of education
The following information is provided to create a better understanding of the man and his writing. Mortimer Adler is known for his many contributions to the field of education and philosophy. Throughout his professional and personal life, he was consumed with the desire to learn and to teach others. His approach to education became instrumental in advancing the idea that philosophy is integrated with other disciplines such as Literature, Science, and Religion.
He was the author of numerous books and articles and played a significant role in American educational reform in the twentieth century. He is best known for his efforts in promoting the Great Books of the Western World for reflection and systematic study. He was ultimately responsible for publishing the Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World."
Mortimer Adler devoted a lifetime to studying the great philosophers and explaining their ideas in several of his accomplished books. In We Hold These Truths, Dr. Adler discusses the ideas and ideals that the United States of America was founded upon. He examines the fundamental principles of the Declaration of Independence including inalienable rights, civil rights, the pursuit of happiness, human equality and the ability to consent or dissent when it comes to the government. These principles represent the core ideas that were used to create the ideals that are found in the Preamble to the constitution -- freedom and justice for all, the general welfare of all, common defense and liberty.
Adler extends these ideas to include Pericles' famous speech at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War, comparing Athenian civilization and Sparta's militaristic state in which he attests to the Athenian's ability to cultivate beauty.
In addition, Adler aims to clarify the roles of the citizen under the guides of the Constitution. He espouses to the belief that the goals of justice and equality remain unrealized between citizens and the government. He extends his philosophical investigation to the ideals expressed in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and the Constitution's Preamble.
Adler also discusses the idea of truth, goodness and beauty as an integral part of our universe of ideas, thoughts, and conduct. The other ideas that he explores are liberty, equality and justice for all. These key factors have an affect on us as individuals and society at large and they have a definite impact on our laws and government.
He was a great proponent of reeducating people to fully understand the concepts that he proposes in this book and several other published works. Adler believed that adults were capable of relearning and could become generalists as well as specialist in their chosen field. He often stated that adult learning was the very essence of human education.
He also spends time examining the issue of truth, which he describes as one of the fundamental values of a trans-cultural community. He refers back to our ideal of the "pursuit of happiness" and the role that truth plays in achieving that. Although he alludes to many variations of truth, he believes that the pursuit of truth is a matter of the reasoning mind and that once an individual understands what truth is they can readily pursue it. Adler believed that what people memorize they soon forget but if a person really understood something, they would not forget it.
He also focused on the inalienable rights promised by the Constitution. Adler believed that as part of an organized society, individuals have these rights conferred upon them naturally. But he is quick to point out that these rights that are given under the law can be quickly taken back by the same power or authority that provides them. He differentiates from human rights that are naturally endowed as opposed to those that are provided by the Constitution or legal system.
Professor John Erskine, who taught a "great Books," influenced much of Adler's theories class when Adler was at Columbia. The great books themselves also influenced him and the real teachers became the philosophers themselves. This was the beginning of Adler's belief in absolute and universal truths and values, which underlie the subject matter in We Hold These Truths.
One of the constant themes running throughout his writing is the role that philosophy plays in creating a better understanding of these fundamental concepts, which are essential for individuals and society to cope with the political, social and moral issues that confront us.
According to Adler, knowledge is paramount to being able to process the truth. He states, there are two modes of truth -- theoretical and practical. Theoretical truth is descriptive truth. We have such truth when our judgments conform to reality -- a reality that is independent of our minds. We have practical truth when our judgments about what should be sought or what should be done conform to right desire. The dichotomy of true and false is exhaustive only when we suspend judgment and entertain a proposition without making judgments. Our judgments may be probable or improbable. They have certitude only when they are beyond the shadow of doubt. Otherwise they are highly probable when they are beyond reasonable doubt; they have a lower degree of probability when, at a given time, they are supported by reasons and evidence that merely tip the scales in their favor."
We Hold These Truths was written based on philosophical politics. It is a perfect example of Adler's educational beliefs that philosophy is integrated into every other subject. He takes the premises of tradition philosophy and systematically weaves it throughout his writing. Much of this work reflects the philosophical and religious ideas of Western civilization, which he integrates into a discussion of the ideas and ideals of our Constitution.
Throughout this work, Adler creates a set of theories, which he scientifically intertwines into a broader view of what he terms the great ideas. He discusses at length the question of inalienable rights. He refers to the Declaration mentioning our right to life and liberty and the loss of that liberty, and sometimes life through our justice system. He questions how these rights remain inalienable if we use capital punishment to take someone's life.
Basically, he believes and supports the idea that philosophy is part of our everyday lives and is everybody's business. According to Adler, "To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives. Acknowledging this is not enough. It is also necessary to understand why this is so and what philosophy's business is. The answer, in a word, is ideas. In two words, it is Great Ideas -- the ideas basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live."
Adler uses formidable analytical skills throughout this work to explain his position. He further indicates that not everyone will understand the great ideas because they are still questioning. Part of the goal of this work is to help readers achieve some level of understanding and that he believes means that one is engaging in the business of philosophy.
In essence, Adler is trying to direct his reader to consider the "subjective contents of our own minds" -- to create some association of ideas so that we think and question the ideas and ideals that guide us as individuals and a society.
Thinking more results in a pattern of not just blindly accepting what we have been taught to be the truth. We must seek out and search for the truth to understand the objects that come into our minds when we think of liberty, beauty, peace, justice, etc.
We Hold These Truths opens the door to a whole new way of thinking and reasoning by applying the principles of philosophical thought.
We Hold These Truths is not an easy read. Adler thinks and writes from a deeply philosophical perspective, questioning everything that most of us take for granted or as acceptable. He does not blindly assume that what we know is true. He raises questions about the "ideas and ideals" embodied in three historical documents: the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address. Although, he intimates that his book is written for the non-scholarly reader., it nonetheless, comes across as very dry and wordy reading. It also doesn't appear that Adler designed it to be read straight through because he devotes a significant portion of the book to supplementary reference material.
The book has merit because it requires the reader to think "out-of-the-box," which is what philosophers do. They look for explanations, often short of conclusions. I think this book shows that knowledge and thinking is not compartmentalized but intertwines across unrelated fields. Which is one of the things that Adler is noted for. He was able to bring what seemed like many threads of thought into a more complex but integrated singularity.
The book is a perfect example of his multi-disciplinary…