Six Great Ideas

Once again, a note about a philosophy primer by Mortimer J. Adler. He wrote Six Great Ideas in 1981. He divides the ideas into two groups. Truth, goodness and beauty are ideas we judge by, and liberty, equality and justice are ideas that we act on. His discussion of each idea is broken down into 3 or 4 short chapters. The book is around 250 pages long, divided into 28 short chapters.

Like the many other books he published in the last decades of his writing career, it is clearly written and easy to read. He lays out different arguments and views, and he explains why he accepts some ideas, and rejects others.
There is a little overlap between Six Great Ideas and other books like Ten Philosophical Mistakes. Professor Adler tried to make sure he was clear about the terms of discussion about ideas, which led to some recurring passages.
This is one of the most useful of his short books, because it is about some of the most basic and important ideas, and exposes some of the great problems in philosophy. His discussion of good, a basic idea on moral and political philosophy neatly explained the problems of deciding what is good – is what we want, what we need, or what helps us survive and thrive? His discussion of liberty explains some basic ideas that are barely mentioned in public discourse these days – the difference between being able to do what we want, which depends on resources and lack of restraint, the the liberty of moral human beings. His discussion of equality explains the different ways that people can be equal while being different, and the futility and injustice of programs that try to make people equal in areas where we simply are different.
It’s not fashionable, ironic, or transgressive. It isn’t existential or postmodern. It’s earnest, and a little judgmental. It’s solid, basic thinking, and I’m glad I read it.


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