A Man of Ideas: The Legacy of Mortimer Adler | Andrew Svenning | Catholic World Report
More than a decade after his death, Dr. Adler’s work of bringing philosophy to everyone continues. Max Weismann discusses the mission of the “Philosopher at Large” and his own work at the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas.
Mortimer J. Adler passed away in June of 2001, having left an indelible mark on 20th century philosophy. A standard history of philosophy text might place him under the subheading of the Aristotelian and Thomistic revivals of his time, but his contributions extend far beyond the narrow confines one might associate with academic philosophy. He acted as the founder and director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Chairman of the Board of Editors for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and co-founded both the Aspen Institute and the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas. Adler truly was the “Philosopher at Large,” the title of his 1977 intellectual autobiography, because unlike many in the discipline, he spoke to a wider audience. His interlocutors were not a close-knit circle of elite intellectuals and his published works were not technical tracts, laced in jargon accessible only to fellow professional academics. Adler was always more interested in the average person, who by nature possessed the ability to think and, therefore, to philosophize. This notion is best summed up by a phrase he came back to over and over again throughout his life: “Philosophy is everybody’s business”—a proposition upon which he staked his career.
“To be a human being is to be endowed with the proclivity to philosophize,” says Max Weismann, who co-founded the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas with Adler back in 1990. “To some degree we all engage in philosophical thought in the course of our daily lives.” And what is it we all should be philosophizing about? Weismann and his mentor have a reply: “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.”
These Great Ideas form the basis for Adler’s philosophic enterprise, an enterprise his best student is now carrying on. The center operates as the resource for accessing Dr. Adler’s works, providing members with subscriptions to weekly and quarterly journals, lectures, DVDs, and an array of information on Great Books programs.
Weismann’s journey as a student of Adler began after an epiphany he had discussing Plato’s Apology at a Great Books seminar in 1959.