Cover image for The great ideas : a lexicon of Western thought
The great ideas : a lexicon of Western thought
Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-2001.
First Scribner Classics edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Scribner Classics, 1999.

Physical Description:
xxxviii, 958 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Previously published: New York : Macmillan, 1992.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
AC1 .A65 1992 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Forty-five years ago, Mortimer Adler sat down at a manual typewriter with a list of authors and a pyramid of books. Beginning with "Angel" and ending with "World," he set out to write 102 essays featuring the ideas that have collectively defined Western thought for more than twenty-five hundred years. The essays, originally published in the "Syntopicon," were, and remain, the centerpiece of Encyclolpaedia Britannica's "Great Books of the Western World." These essays, never before available except as part of the "Great Books," are, according to Clifton Fadiman, Adler's finest work.

This comprehensive volume includes pieces on topics such as "War and Peace," "Love," "God," and "Truth" that amply quote the historical sources of these ideas -- from the works of Homer to Freud, from Marcus Aurelius to Virginia Woolf. These essays evoke the sense of a lively debate among the great writers and thinkers of Western civilization. It is almost as if these authors were sitting around a large table face-to-face, differing in their opinions and arguing about issues that are acutely relevant to the present day. Now available in a handsome Scrib

Author Notes

Born in New York, Mortimer Adler was educated at Columbia University. Later as a philosophy instructor there, he taught in a program focused on the intellectual foundations of Western civilization. Called to the University of Chicago in 1927 by President Robert Maynard Hutchins, Adler played a major role in renovating the undergraduate curriculum to center on the "great books." His philosophical interests committed to the dialectical method crystallized in a defense of neo-Thomism, but he never strayed far from concerns with education and other vital public issues.

From 1942 to 1945, Adler was director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, based in San Francisco, California. Beginning in 1945 he served as associate editor of Great Books of the Western World series, and in 1952 he published Syntopicon, an analytic index of the great ideas in the great books. In 1966 he became director of the editorial planning for the fifteen edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in 1974, chairman of its editorial board.

Adler has been devoted in recent years to expounding his interpretations of selected great ideas and to advocating his Paideia Proposal. That proposal would require that all students receive the same quantity and quality of education, which would concentrate on the study of the great ideas expressed in the great books, a study conducted by means of the dialectical method.

Mortimer J. Adler died June 28, 2001 at his home in San Mateo, California at the age of 98.

(Bowker Author Biography)