A Tribute to Mortimer J. Adler
by Peter Redpath

GREAT PHILOSOPHER STILL AT LARGE

Men were much bigger and wiser in those days, not like they are now. Just as in the time of Odysseus breaker of horses, and honey-tongued Nestor, these were men bigger than life, men about whom and by whom great books are written. Shortly before Mortimer J. Adler died, my friend Gary Dunn had asked the elder Adler whether any great philosophers had lived during the twentieth century. To Gary's surprise, Adler named three: Henri Bergson, Jacques Maritain, and Etienne Gilson. In my estimation, Adler was wrong. He should have included a fourth: himself. In the tradition of Socrates, Adler rarely made that sort of mistake. Like Socrates, he never claimed to know what he did not know or not to know what he did know. During the twentieth century, Adler did not receive his due from the "professional philosophers" for the magnitude of his philosophical intellect. Understandable. If Adler was right about the current state of philosophy, most contemporary philosophers would have to recognize that they have largely abandoned the philosophical tradition. Mortimer Adler died on 28 June 2001, faithful to the end to the philosophical tradition that he loved. His passing might occasion some contemporary thinkers once again to dismiss him. To paraphrase Adler, though he be "dead in the sense of not jolting us out of lethargy by his living presence, he is dead in no other sense. To dismiss him as dead in any other way is to repeat the folly of the Ancient Athenians who supposed that Socrates died when he drank the hemlock."

Peter A. Redpath, Philosophy Department, St. John's University, and Chairman of The Angelicum Academy

 




The Spiritual Odyssey
of
Mortimer J. Adler

A number of people have asked us what the religion of Dr. Mortimer J. Adler was. Dr. Adler was born into a nonobservant Jewish family.  Both of his autobiographies go into considerable detail concerning his beliefs and spiritual journey, and he wrote candidly about it in another book entitled "What Philosopher's Believe." As a teen Adler discovered Plato, then Aristotle - both ancient Greek philosophers the Church Fathers so highly recommended as their doctrines contain the "seeds of the Gospel" in the words of St. Justin Martyr (see related articles on this page on the Fathers of the Church and their favorable position regarding the study of these ancient sages).

A little later, in the early twenties Dr. Adler discovered St. Thomas Aquinas (the Summa Theologica specifically), and enthusiastically added Thomism to his philosophical principles, clarifying and enlightening his Aristotelianism. Adler was a rigorous thinker, and would brook no nonsense, no contradictions in his search for truth. He was a frequent contributor to Catholic philosophical and educational journals, as well as a frequent speaker at Catholic institutions, so much so that some assumed he was a convert to Catholicism. But that was reserved for later. In the interim he conducted warfare as a non-Catholic Thomist against the enemies of the very notion of truth, such as skepticism, relativism and subjectivism. He worked closely with a number of Dominicans on various intellectual endeavors, including Fr. Walter J. Farrell, O.P., the author of the excellent four volume Companion to the Summa (of St. Thomas Aquinas). Dr. Ronald P. McArthur credited Dr. Adler with the educational principles underlying the founding of the four-year, Great Books program at Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai, California.

Prior to 1983 Dr. Adler had not joined any religious (or similar) community.  In 1983 Dr. Adler formally converted to Christianity, specifically to the denomination of his wife, who was Episcopalian. Sixteen years later, in December, 1999 in San Mateo, California where he lived and shortly thereafter passed away (d. June 28th, 2001), he was formally received into the Catholic Church by His Excellency, Bishop Pierre DuMaine, of San Jose, CA, who was a long-time friend and admirer of Dr. Adler.