How to Think about the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization

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Open Court Publishing, 2000 - History - 530 pages

Time magazine called Mortimer J. Adler a "philosopher for everyman." In this guide to considering the big questions, Adler addresses the topics all men and women ponder in the course of life, such as "What is love?", "How do we decide the right thing to do?", and, "What does it mean to be good?" Drawing on his extensive knowledge of Western literature, history, and philosophy, the author considers what is meant by democracy, law, emotion, language, truth, and other abstract concepts in light of more than two millennia of Western civilization and discourse. Adler's essays offer a remarkable and contemplative distillation of the Great Ideas of Western Thought.

 

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HOW TO THINK ABOUT THE GREAT IDEAS: From the Great Books of Western Civilization

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This collection of transcripts from a 50-year-old educational TV series has its creaky moments, but overall it is surprisingly fresh, containing much sound thinking on a variety of philosophical ... Read full review

Contents

TRUTH DEFINED
THE EASY PROBLEM OF TRUTH
THE DIFFICULT PROBLEM OF TRUTH
CONSISTENCY IS NEEDED FOR TRUTH
THE IMMUTABILITY OF TRUTH
IS EVERYTHING A MATTER OF OPINION?
OPINION VERSUS KNOWLEDGE
A RIGHT TO OUR OWN OPINION
THE AMBIGUITY OF LANGUAGE
THREE AGES OF MAN
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LEISURE AND PLAY
THE MEANING OF REST
BEING PAID IS NOT ESSENTIAL TO WORK
WORK LEISURE AND CHORES
DEFINING LEISURE
LEISURE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WORK

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER ABOUT OPINION
ITS BETTER TO BE IGNORANT THAN WRONG
SCHOOLCHILDREN MAINLY LEARN OPINIONS
OPINIONS ARE ACCEPTED VOLUNTARILY
SKEPTICS DENY THAT WE HAVE KNOWLEDGE
THE ANSWER TO THE SKEPTIC
IS RELIGION A MATTER OF OPINION?
FUNDAMENTAL VALUES ARE UNIVERSAL
OPINION AND THE NEED FOR FREEDOM
OPINION AND THE NEED FOR AUTHORITY
FORCE AUTOCRACY AND MAJORITY RULE
MAJORITY RULE DEFENDED
CONTROVERSY IS GOOD
BEFORE AND AFTER DARWIN
HOW ARE HUMANS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER ANIMALS?
MANS NATURE AND ORIGIN ARE INSEPARABLE
DIFFERENCES IN KIND AND DIFFERENCES IN DEGREE
DIFFERENCES IN KIND EXCLUDE INTERMEDIATE FORMS
THE MAIN POINTS OF DARWINS THEORY
MENTAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN APES AND HUMANS
THREE THINGS ONLY HUMANS DO
ONLY HUMANS MAKE ARTISTICALLY
ONLY HUMANS THINK DISCURSIVELY
ONLY HUMANS ASSOCIATE POLITICALLY
ONLY HUMANS HAVE A HISTORY
MAN ALONE IS RATIONAL
CLOSED MINDS ON MANS NATURE AND ORIGIN
DARWINISM IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH HUMAN DIGNITY
EMOTIONS ARE WIDESPREAD BODILY COMMOTIONS
EMOTIONS ARE INSTINCTIVE
TWO OPPOSED VIEWS OF HUMAN EMOTIONS
THE PASSIONS AND ORIGINAL SIN
LOVE AS DESIRE
LOVE AS INDEPENDENT OF DESIRE
THE KINDS OF LOVE
TRUE LOVE IS UNSELFISH
ARISTOTLES THREE REASONS FOR ASSOCIATION
LOVE AND JUSTICE
THE DEFINITION OF LOVE
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF
FREUD VERSUS ARISTOTLE
FREUDS VIEW OF SEX AND LOVE
HOW CAN SEX AND LOVE BE COMBINED?
SEXUAL UNION AS KNOWLEDGE
LOVERS WHO BREAK THE RULES ARE VIEWED AS HEROES
CHRISTIANITY ON THE THREE BAD LOVES
FREUD ON THE THREE BAD LOVES
MORAL GOOD AND MORAL EVIL
APPARENTLY GOOD AND REALLY GOOD
WHAT IS THE HIGHEST GOOD?
THE FOUR GOODS
WHAT BEAUTY IS
BEAUTY IS NOT ONLY IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
UNITY ORDER CLARITY
BEAUTY IN NATURAL OBJECTS
THREE KINDS OF FREEDOM
SOCIAL FREEDOM
FREEDOM AND COERCION
MUST THE LAW ALWAYS CURTAIL FREEDOM?
DISCOVERY COMES BEFORE INSTRUCTION
LEARNING IS ALWAYS ACTIVE
THE STUDENTS INTERESTS SHOULD NOT GOVERN LEARNING
TEACHING SHOULD COMBAT WEAKNESSES
A LIFETIME OF LEARNING
GROWNUPS ARE MORE EDUCABLE THAN CHILDREN
CHILDREN LEARN SKILLS ADULTS LEARN WISDOM
WHEN LEARNING STOPS THE MIND ATROPHIES
HOW TO LEARN BY READING
READING FOR INFORMATION AND READING FOR ENLIGHTENMENT
THE ART OF READING FOR ENLIGHTENMENT
THE THREE QUESTIONS AND THE THREE SETS OF RULES
LEARNING BY DISCOVERY AND BY DISCUSSION
THE THREE PRECONDITIONS FOR DISCUSSION
THE TEN RULES FOR CONDUCTING A DISCUSSION
ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS IS THE KEY TO GOOD DISCUSSION
THE OBSTACLES TO LEARNING FROM TV
WATCH TV ACTIVELY
MAKE NOTES ASK QUESTIONS CHALLENGE WHAT YOURE TOLD
FOLLOW TV VIEWING WITH DISCUSSION
THE TRADITIONAL MEANING OF ART
THE RESTRICTED CONTEMPORARY SENSE OF ART
THE NATURAL AND THE ARTIFICIAL
THREE WAYS OF COMING INTO BEING
THE THREE COOPERATIVE ARTS
THE COOPERATIVE ARTS HELP NATURE
FINE ART IS USELESS
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY ASPECTS OF WORKS OF ART
LIBERAL AND SERVILE ARTS
THREE QUALITIES OF A WORK OF FINE ART
IS PHOTOGRAPHY A FINE ART?
CAN DIFFERENT ART FORMS HAVE THE SAME CONTENT?
BAD ART IS STILL ART
THE MORALIST VERSUS THE ARTIST
FINE ART AS SPECTACLE
THREE SENSES OF JUSTICE
THE THREE SENSES CAN BE RECONCILED
NATURAL AND CONVENTIONAL JUSTICE
IS THERE NATURAL JUSTICE?
MIGHT MAKES RIGHT
RETRIBUTION OR PREVENTION?
CHOOSING IN DIFFICULT CASES
FINDING MIDDLE GROUND
LANGUAGE IS PECULIARLY HUMAN
THERE IS NO SINGLE NATURAL LANGUAGE
WORDS MEAN IDEAS
DRUDGERY AND LABORS OF LOVE
THE DIGNITY OF LABOR
WORK IS NOT AN END IN ITSELF
ARISTOTLE ON WORK AND LEISURE
THE TWO REVOLUTIONS IN LIFE AND WORK
THE BAD RESULTS OF INDUSTRIALIZATION
SCHOOLING HAS RISEN EDUCATION HAS DECLINED
THE MEANING OF LIBERAL EDUCATION
THE FAILURE OF AMERICAN EDUCATION
ALL CAN BENEFIT BY LIBERAL EDUCATION
WHAT IS LAW?
TWO VIEWS OF LAW
HUMAN AND DIVINE LAW
POSITIVE AND NATURAL LAW
POSITIVE LAW MAY CONFLICT WITH THE HIGHER LAW
WHY WE NEED LAWS
HOW LAWS INDUCE OBEDIENCE
HOW IS POSITIVE LAW DERIVED FROM NATURAL LAW?
NATURAL LAW COMMANDS POSITIVE LAW DEFINES
THE SOURCE OF LEGAL AUTHORITY
JUSTICE IN THE APPLICATION OF LAWS
JUSTICE IN THE MAKING OF LAWS
JUSTICE IN THE SUBSTANCE OF LAWS
THE IMPROVEMENT OF LAWS
CAN WE EVER SCRAP GOVERNMENT?
GOVERNMENT IS NECESSARY FOR CIVIL PEACE
IS GOVERNMENT A NECESSARY EVIL?
CIVIL PEACE THROUGH JUSTICE
THE TWO ASPECTS OF GOVERNMENT
GOVERNMENT IS A MONOPOLY OF AUTHORIZED FORCE
THE MORAL BASIS OF GOVERNMENT
HOW MUCH POWER SHOULD GOVERNMENT HAVE?
THE LOOPHOLE IN THE US CONSTITUTION
GOVERNMENT AND THE GENERAL WELFARE
THE FORMS OF GOVERNMENT
THREE ERRORS OF THE GREEKS ON GOVERNMENT
LAWFUL AND LAWLESS GOVERNMENT
THE DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
EQUALITY IS THE ESSENCE OF DEMOCRACY
TWO LIVE ISSUES ABOUT DEMOCRACY
THE ARISTOCRATIC CHALLENGE TO DEMOCRACY
THE ERROR OF EGALITARIAN DEMOCRACY
ARISTOCRATIC ELEMENTS IN A SOUND DEMOCRACY
OBSTACLES TO EFFECTIVE DEMOCRACY
ZENOS PARADOXES
THE ATOMISTS
ARISTOTLES ACCOUNT OF CHANGE
ARISTOTLES FOUR KINDS OF CHANGE
THE UNIVERSE AS A MACHINE
WILL CHANGE COME TO AN END?
HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY
PROGRESS VERSUS CYCLES
THINGS KEEP GETTING BETTER AND BETTER
RISE AND FALL RISE AND FALL
WHAT DO THE FACTS TELL US ABOUT PROGRESS?
DOUBTS ABOUT MORAL PROGRESS
HUMAN NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE
WAR IS NOT CONFINED TO FIGHTING
PEACE REQUIRES LAW
KEEPING THE CONVERSATION GOING
THE NECESSITY OF WORLD GOVERNMENT
WHAT USE IS PHILOSOPHY?
PHILOSOPHY SCIENCE AND RELIGION
THE SPECIAL FUNCTION OF PHILOSOPHY
HUMAN BEINGS THINKING TOGETHER
THE SCIENCES ARE INDEPENDENT
DIFFERENT METHODS DIFFERENT OBJECTS
PHILOSOPHY IS INDEPENDENT OF SCIENCE AND RELIGION
AN ASCENDING HIERARCHY
SCIENCE CANT EXPLAIN EVERYTHING
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST PHILOSOPHY
SCIENCE IS NOT THE MODEL FOR PHILOSOPHY
PROGRESS IN PHILOSOPHY
PHILOSOPHERS WILL ALWAYS DISAGREE
MAKING SENSE OF PHILOSOPHICAL DISPUTES
PHILOSOPHY AND LIBERAL EDUCATION
THE FOUR KEY QUESTIONS ABOUT GOD
THE THREE POSSIBLE CONCEPTIONS OF GOD
SAINT ANSELMS ARGUMENT
AN ARGUMENT FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
IS THE PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT FOR THEISM CONCLUSIVE?
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About the author (2000)

Born in New York, Mortimer Adler was educated at Columbia University. Later as a philosophy instructor there, he taught in a program focused on the intellectual foundations of Western civilization. Called to the University of Chicago in 1927 by President Robert Maynard Hutchins, Adler played a major role in renovating the undergraduate curriculum to center on the "great books." His philosophical interests committed to the dialectical method crystallized in a defense of neo-Thomism, but he never strayed far from concerns with education and other vital public issues. From 1942 to 1945, Adler was director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, based in San Francisco, California. Beginning in 1945 he served as associate editor of Great Books of the Western World series, and in 1952 he published Syntopicon, an analytic index of the great ideas in the great books. In 1966 he became director of the editorial planning for the fifteen edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in 1974, chairman of its editorial board. Adler has been devoted in recent years to expounding his interpretations of selected great ideas and to advocating his Paideia Proposal. That proposal would require that all students receive the same quantity and quality of education, which would concentrate on the study of the great ideas expressed in the great books, a study conducted by means of the dialectical method. Mortimer J. Adler died June 28, 2001 at his home in San Mateo, California at the age of 98.

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