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How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization Paperback – March 28, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
Decades before Allan Bloom famously attacked multicultural education in The Closing of the American Mind (1988), there was Mortimer Adler. A university-trained philosopher, Adler (b. 1902) is the controversy-prone inventor of Great Books-driven college curricula; during the 1930s, he caused such a stir at the University of Chicago that the faculty members demanded his dismissal. Later (1953-1954), he starred in his own TV show, The Great Ideas--and it's that show that gives this book its structure. Composed of transcripts of 52 half-hour segments, the book showcases Adler's ideas about all the big categories--truth, beauty, freedom, love, sex, art, justice, rationality, humankind's nature, Darwinism, government. In each chapter ("How to Think about God," "How to Read a Book," etc.), readers encounter Adler's philosophical instructions and opinions: he argues that the goal of both prison sentences and spankings should be to avenge, to reform and to deter others; he suggests that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder; and--no surprise here--he confesses that he favors "the ancient and traditional meaning of art." Adler even takes up the subject of whether (and how) TV can be an effective educational tool. In the end, whether or not you agree with Adler, there's no question that the ideas he presents in these chapters are important. After all, they set the terms of a series of cultural and intellectual debates we're still having today--about art, curriculum and freedom. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Philosophy is everybody's business," according to Adler. He sought to prove his point in a Great Ideas television series broadcast in the San Francisco Bay area in 1953 and 1954. The programs were filmed, later transferred to videotape and audiotape, and finally transcribed on behalf of the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas; it is those transcripts that are the basis for the discussions here. Adler addresses a wide range of philosophical subjects, from epistemology to evolution, from art and work to law and government, sex, love, and friendship, progress and change, good and evil, war and peace, truth and beauty. In some programs, Adler advances his discussion alone; in others, questions from associate Lloyd Luckman give the reader (or TV audience) a surrogate with whom to identify. The prolific Adler produced more than 60 books over the past 70-plus years; this first volume of the new century is most likely to find readers where his previous general works have circulated. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The main reason to read this, I think, is because it will help you become a more precise thinker, and think deeper about notions that contemporary culture rarely examines with any care. You'll learn why, for example, a compelling case can be made that democracy is the best form of human governance (and what values are used to evaluate it as "best") despite the fact that most intellectuals now seem to espouse cultural relativism and deny that some values are better than others. Adler is extremely learned, but even more impressive is that he can distill his encyclopedic knowledge into simple, productive insights that originally took human culture whole centuries and tomes of argumentation to produce. In short, he offers here a Cliff Notes overview of what some of the best minds have thought about, but he also retains enough specific examples and citations to give you at least a small glimpse of the sources and fuller ideas he is working with.
Highly recommended for the avid reader who would like to take a refreshing intellectual journey through some of the most interesting ideas that have ever occupied the mind of man (and woman), while being guided by someone who is sufficiently knowledgeable to point out the salient bits that remain most relevant to how we think (or could think better) today.
The title perhaps presumes that people know how to think, and offers to guide them in applying that skill to the Great Ideas. Using that hook, even readers who don't think they can think will soon be thinking, and will be glad for it. Think, for instance, about Adler's statement "...adults are more educable than children, just as children are more trainable than adults." Hmmm... then why do we send children to school instead of adults? Adler gives the answer: so they can learn how to learn. I like books that help me think better, and this one does.
The focus for thinking in this book is the Great Ideas, a great idea that Dr. Adler (along with Robert M. Hutchins, who became President of the University of Chicago at age 29!) brought to life in the Great Books of the Western World (1952). Not all of the Great Ideas are discussed in this book - only 22 of the original 102 (Equality was added later) are addressed here, though some are discussed over several chapters.
That is certainly a step up from "Six Great Ideas" (1981), and it is complete enough, well spoken enough, and well edited enough that any reader will be very well rewarded. The book does not need to be read front to back, and in fact you might want to read the chapter on How to Read a Book before you read any of the rest.
I suspect, however, that most will do as I did - flip through and find a chapter or section that seems particularly appealing (How to Think about Beauty; How to Think about Work; How to Think about Punishment) and start there.
Of course all this is my opinion, and Adler says that "Opinion is of the greatest importance today in business and in industry." My hope is that this one is helpful to you.