The Great Philosopher Who Became Catholic

Eight years ago today, a famous American philosopher died who had lived as a Catholic the last year of his life. Not so long ago, his name — Mortimer J. Adler — was synonymous with the “great books” approach to education he had pioneered with Robert Hutchins at the University of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s. His edition of The Great Books of the Western World is still often seen if you survey the bookshelves of the homes and offices you visit. Adler’s pedagogy, like his Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, was rejected by the academy he left in mid-career. He continued to edit, read, and discuss great books at seminars — like those he taught at the Aspen Institute — and to write scholarly books. But these were increasingly ignored, so in the late 1970s he took his case to general readers in an excellent memoir, Philosopher at Large: An Intellectual Autobiography, and books like Reforming Education and Aristotle for Everybody. Adler’s career began to revive.