Mortimer J. Adler : biography
Adler was a controversial figure in some circles that saw his Great Books of the Western World project as Eurocentric and racially exclusive. Asked in a 1990 interview why his Great Books of the Western World list did not include any black authors, he simply said, "They didn’t write any good books."Elizabeth Venant, "A Curmudgeon Stands His Ground", The Los Angeles Times, 3 December 1990, pp. E1–E2.
Mortimer Adler was married twice and had four children.
Religion and theology
Adler was born into a nonobservant Jewish family. In his early twenties, he discovered St. Thomas Aquinas, and in particular the Summa Theologica.Peter Redpath. Many years later, he wrote that its "intellectual austerity, integrity, precision and brilliance…put the study of theology highest among all of my philosophical interests".Mortimer J. Adler (1992). A Second Look in the Rearview Mirror: Further Autobiographical Reflections of a Philosopher at Large. New York: Macmillan, p. 264. An enthusiastic Thomist, 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 1940, James T. Farrell called Adler "the leading American fellow-traveller of the Roman Catholic Church". What was true for Adler, Farrell said, was what was "postulated in the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church", and he "sang the same tune" as avowed Catholic philosophers like Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and Martin D’Arcy. Farrell attributed Adler’s delay in joining the Church to his being among those Christians who "wanted their cake and…wanted to eat it too", and compared him to the Emperor Constantine, who waited until he was on his deathbed to formally become a Catholic.James T. Farrell (1940), "Mortimer T. Adler: A Provincial Torquemada". Reprinted in The League of Frightened Philistines and Other Papers. New York: Vanguard Press, 1945, pp. 106–109.
Adler took a long time to make up his mind about theological issues. When he wrote How to Think About God: A Guide for the Twentieth-Century Pagan in 1980, he claimed to consider himself the pagan of the book’s subtitle. In volume 51 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (2001), Ken Myers includes his 1980 interview with Adler, conducted after How to Think About God was published. Myers reminisces, "During that interview, I asked him why he had never embraced the Christian faith himself. He explained that while he had been profoundly influenced by a number of Christian thinkers during his life,… there were moral – not intellectual – obstacles to his conversion. He didn’t explain any further.", BasicFamousPeople.com.
Myers notes that Adler finally "surrendered to the Hound of Heaven" and "made a confession of faith and was baptized" as an Episcopalian in 1984, only a few years after that interview. Offering insight into Adler’s conversion, Myers quotes him from a subsequent 1990 article in Christianity magazine: "My chief reason for choosing Christianity was because the mysteries were incomprehensible. What’s the point of revelation if we could figure it out ourselves? If it were wholly comprehensible, then it would just be another philosophy."
According to his friend Deal Hudson, Adler "had been attracted to Catholicism for many years" and "wanted to be a Roman Catholic, but issues like abortion and the resistance of his family and friends" kept him away. Many thought he was baptized as an Episcopalian rather than a Catholic solely because of his "wonderful – and ardently Episcopal – wife" Caroline. Hudson suggests it is no coincidence that it was only after her death in 1998 that he took the final step.Deal Hudson (June 29, 2009). In December 1999, in San Mateo, where he had moved to spend his last years, Adler was formally received into the Catholic Church by a long-time friend and admirer, Bishop Pierre DuMaine. "Finally," wrote another friend, Ralph McInerny, "he became the Roman Catholic he had been training to be all his life".