Philosophy Book Reviews : Six Great Ideas , by Mortimer J. Adler

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Six Great Ideas , by Mortimer J. Adler

Six Great Ideas , by Mortimer Jerome Adler

            Mortimer Adler calls himself a "Philosopher At Large" (the title of his 1975 autobiography). He acknowledges Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas as his primary influences.

The six great ideas are:

  1. Truth
  2. Beauty
  3. Goodness
  4. Liberty
  5. Equality
  6. Justice

            Adler upholds the correspondence theory of truth : a proposition is objectively true if it corresponds to reality, and the truth is independent of whether we know about it, or what we may think about it.

            This is not to imply that we have a reliable means to discover this truth, for all we can ever know are our opinions. For example, in a legal trial, the verdict of the jury may be incorrect, but even then, it can only be incorrect due to the fact that it doesn't correspond to the truth. The fact that the jury endeavors to be correct indicates that they believe that there is an objective truth which they are seeking to discover.

            How does this axiom apply to something as personal as beauty? Mortimer Adler defines beauty as "that which gives pleasure upon being beheld." We can't say that an object in one genre is superior or inferior to an object in another genre; e.g, neither a Japanese Zen garden nor a European-style Cartesian garden is better than the other. However, within each genre there are principles, and therefore an object can be superior or inferior to another object with the same genre.

            Mortimer Adler says that happiness is the measure of goodness and justice. For example, political oppression, or an unheathy lifestyle, are objectivey bad because they are logically inconsistent with long-term happiness.

            This objectivism requires Adler to clash with certain viewpoints which have come to be considered Politically Correct. For example, is has been popular recently to say that there is no universal morality for all people, a concept sometimes called cultural relativism. However, Adler points out, anyone who makes such a claim, but at the same time speaks disapprovingly of certain world events, such as genocide or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, would be committing a self-contradiction.

            In August and September of 1983, PBS broadcast Mortimer Adler's six-part TV series "Six Great Ideas", based on the book. The six one-hour discussions (truth, beauty, goodness, liberty, equality and justice) were videotaped in Aspen, Colorado. The participants came from diverse backgrounds, including a university administrator, a labor union president, and a diplomat. The series was hosted by Bill Moyers.

            Mortimer Jerome Adler (born in 1902) is the Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago, Illinois. He is also the Chairman of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

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