• IdentificationICU.SPCL.ADLERM
  • TitleGuide to the Mortimer J. Adler Papers1914-1995
  • PublisherUniversity of Chicago Library
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Date1914-1995
  • Physical Description223.5 linear feet (149 boxes)
  • RepositorySpecial Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library 1100 East 57th Street Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.
  • AbstractMortimer Jerome Adler, philosopher, educator, writer. The Mortimer J. Adler Papers include information on his work with the Great Books, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the Institute for Philosophical Research as well as material relating to his many publications. The collection consists of articles, correspondence, manuscripts, memoranda, newspaper clippings, notes, reading lists, reprints, and other materials relating to the career of Mortimer J. Adler.

© The contents of this finding aid are the copyright of the University of Chicago Library

Philosophy

Great Books and General Education

This collection is open for research but is currently unprocessed and may contain information that falls into certain administrative restriction categories. Administrative and budget material is restricted for up to 50 years.

When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Adler, Mortimer J.. Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

Mortimer Jerome Adler was born on December 28, 1902 in New York City. His father, Ignatz, an immigrant from Bavaria, worked as a jeweler and his mother, Clarissa, was a former teacher. When he was fourteen, Adler dropped out of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and went to work as a secretary and a copy boy for the New York Sun. He later enrolled in evening extension courses at Columbia University where he read John Stuart Mill's Autobiography and decided to become a philosopher. In 1920, a teacher who noticed his promise secured him a scholarship to Columbia University. He completed his degree in three years, but was denied a diploma because he refused to take physical education classes or the required swim test. Nevertheless Adler continued his graduate studies at Columbia where he studied with John Erskine and John Dewey. In 1983 Adler received an honorary B.A. from Columbia.

His earliest research resulted in the publication of Dialectic in 1927, which focused on a summation of the great philosophical and religious ideas of Western Civilization, ideas influenced by his fascination with medieval thought and sensibility. One year later, Adler received his PhD in philosophy from Columbia. In addition to his doctoral studies, Adler worked as in instructor in the psychology department at Columbia from 1923-1930 as well as City College and the People's Institute. University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins recruited Adler to the faculty in 1930, where he first joined then department of philosophy and later joined the Law School as an associate professor. He became a full professor in 1942. In 1945 Adler took a leave of absence in order to complete his work on the Synopticon (an index of 102 "great ideas" contained in the books) and on editing the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World Series (with Hutchins).

Adler joined the Board of Directors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1947 and became director of planning (1966) and chairman (1974) of the editorial executive committee. He was the force behind the first major revision of the encyclopedia in over 200 years, published in 1974 as The New Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In 1952 Adler resigned from teaching and moved to San Francisco to found the Institute for Philosophical Research with a grant from the Ford Foundation. The Institute was devoted to the study of Western thought and produced books such as the two-volume Idea of Freedom (1958, 1961). He married his second wife, Carline Sage Pring, in 1962. Adler had four sons; Mark, Michael, Douglas, and Philip.

In 1979, the Institute for Philosophical Research, under Adler's leadership, launched the Paideia Project (the name comes from a classical Greek word for education), which advocated for the reintroduction of great books and the Socratic method in the public schools. In 1982 Adler published The Paideia Proposal; An Educational Manifesto.

Throughout his career as a philosopher and educator, Adler has written voluminously, consistently focusing on a multi-disciplinary and integrated approach to philosophy, politics, religion, law, and education. Such works include Problems for Thomists; The Problem of Species (1940), How To Think About War and Peace (1944), How To Read A Book (1972, with Charles van Doren), Aristotle For Everybody ; Difficult Thought Made Easy (1978), How To Think About God, A Guide for the 20th-Century Pagan (1980), and Reforming Education, The Opening of the American Mind (1988).

Adler co-founded the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas with Max Weismann, and Editor in Chief of its journal Philosophy is Everybody's Business. He also was co-Founder and Honorary Trustee of The Aspen Institute

Adler, a self-described pagan for most of his life, converted to Christianity in 1984 and was baptized by an Episcopalian priest on April 21 of that year. In December of 1999, he converted to Roman Catholicism.

Mortimer Jerome Adler died on June 28, 2001 in San Mateo, California.

Mortimer Jerome Adler, philosopher, educator, writer. The Mortimer J. Adler Papers include information on his work with the Great Books, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the Institute for Philosophical Research as well as material relating to his many publications. The collection consists of articles, correspondence, manuscripts, memoranda, newspaper clippings, notes, reading lists, reprints, and other materials relating to the career of Mortimer J. Adler.

The Mortimer J. Adler Papers are open for research but is currently unprocessed and may contain information that falls into certain administrative restriction categories.

The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:

  • Names
    • Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-
    • Aspen Institute
    • Encyclopaedia Britannica
    • Great books of the Western world
  • SubjectLaw -- Philosophy