Ten Philosophical Mistakes

Here’s another philosophy primer by Mortimer J. Adler, brief, well-organized and to the point. He wrote “Ten Philosophical Mistakes” in 1985. He was trying to explain why he had identified himself with Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas in his autobiography. He identifies some key ideas associated with a series of philosophers, including Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, Hume, Kant and criticizes their failings. His own ideas on these points go back in some instances to Aristotle and Aquinas, but in other instances he relies on modern criticism of the thinkers of the Enlightenment and the early modern era.

It’s basic literacy about ideas and thinking. He has longer chapters on consciousness, intellect, language and knowledge in which he disputes with Locke and Hume about whether we have ideas that are not pure perceptual experiences or memories or predictive reconstructions of sense experiences. He thinks human beings are capable of purely abstract imaginary thought. In this case, a few passages need to read carefully, because he summarizes the ideas of some famous philosophers quickly. while this may be basic philosophy, it’s fresh to me.
There are five chapters on Moral Values, Happiness, Freedom of Choice, Human Nature, Society and a concluding chapter called Human Existence. The five chapters on moral and political issues are clear. The chapter on Human nature looks at the nature/nurture dispute and the role of culture and asks if there is such a thing as human nature – he says yes but he resists biological imperatives. The chapter on human society follows up by pointing out the social contract theories of society and the state are based on an imaginary view of a hypothetical state of nature, and ignore the fact that people have always lived in cooperative/competive social groups. He thinks that social life ins natural, not artificial and that the social order is not a pure construct of will or power. The last chapter goes back to a concern that seems to run through his books – does quantum theory and the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle undermine our confidence in common sense and sensory experience? He thinks not, and he turns that into a discussion of the progress of scientific discovery, and more dignified evolution of the history of ideas.
Once again, a worthwhile investment of my time.