The architect of the Great Books, Mortimer Adler, has moved beyond big ideas to the mysteries of faith.
You would not usually expect a renowned, twentieth-century philosopher to be a friend of orthodox Christianity. Yet one keeps running into people—committed Christians, deep thinkers all—who have nothing but respect for Mortimer Adler, the author, teacher, philosopher, and intellectual giant who is best known, perhaps, for his work with the Great Books series of the classics of Western culture. They listen to his lectures (on education and philosophy, mostly), they read his books (over 25 to date), and they generally give the impression they would give their eye teeth to speak with the man. Apparently there are some things about his work that attract the righteous.
But Mortimer Adler’s entry in Who’s Who in America gives little hint that he is a believer. A philosopher educated at that hotbed of naturalism, Columbia University, and a longtime professor at the University of Chicago—no, there is no clue there.
How about his résumé? He left the university in 1942 to start the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago, a position that enabled him to give editorial direction to the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and develop, edit, write, promote (you name it) the Great Books of the Western World, on the surface a collection of classics, but in reality an attempt to revolutionize American education. No. These are signs of extraordinary energy and scholarship, perhaps, but certainly not Christian apologetics.
Adler’s office and headquarters on Ontario Street, a half-block off Michigan Avenue’s “Magnificent Mile” on Chicago’s Near North side, has the unmistakable feel of a college philosophy department. Old ...1