Archive for the ‘Mortimer J. Adler’ Category

“God” is unclassifiable

October 21, 2007

Every proper name represents an object of a certain kind and belongs to one or more classes of objects that can be defined.  Thomas Aquinas can be classified as a medieval theologian, philosopher, and a human being.  “Zeus” and “Apollo” are proper names that designate unique objects, but they are also objects that belong to the class known as gods worshiped by the ancient Greeks, a class that includes Aphrodite and Pallas Athena as well.

When we use “God” as a proper name, we are using it to designate an object that is not only unique, as every other singular individual is, but one that is also unclassifiable.

How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler

What does the word “God” mean?

September 24, 2007

I am starting to read a book How to Think about God by Mortimer J. Adler. The purpose of the book is to answer the question Does God exist? The author approaches the question very rigorously. In the first section he makes some initial remarks about proceeding in a rigorous fashion, and then I got to this:

“In the preceding pages, the word ‘God’ has been used again and again, and used without explanation of its meaning. What went through your mind, I would like to ask the reader, when you read sentences containing the word? Were you stopped by it because it was as meaningless to you as a word in a foreign language, or as a word not in your vocabulary?”

This startled me. It never occurred to me that there might be different meanings of the word for different people, or no meaning at all for some people.

He argues for the importance of clearly articulating what the word “God” means if headway is to be made in answering whether God exists:

“Everyone concerned with the question whether X exists must attach the same meaning to the word that names or designates X; and that meaning must be made as clear and precise as possible. Scientific inquiries, in which the X in question may be a certain kind of elementary particle or a certain celestial body, would not proceed without first giving as much clarity and precision as possible to the word that is used to name or designate X.”

Are all ideas subjective? Are there objective ideas?

September 18, 2007

 We are likely to think that all ideas are things that occur within our mind and are thus subjective.  It may be difficult to imagine that there are objective ideas.  But there are objective ideas, and it can be understood by examining the meaning of the word “idea.”

Subjective Ideas

The first meaning of “idea” is the content we have in our minds when we are thinking. It includes the sensations and perceptions we have, the images we form, the memories we summon up, and the conceptions or notions that we employ in our thinking.

When the word “idea” is used in this way, all the various items referred to are subjective. My sensations or perceptions are not yours; the images that occur in my dreams or the memories I dwell upon when I reminisce are mine alone; so too are the concepts or notions I have formed as I study a difficult topic.

To call them “subjective” is simply to say that they are private, not public. When I speak of them as mine – my perception, my memory, or my concept – I am saying that the perception, memory, or concept in question belongs to me alone. You can have no access to it, just as you cannot have access to the toothache I am suffering.

Objective Ideas

In its other meaning, the word “idea” refers to an object that two or more persons can have access to, can focus on, can think about, can discuss.

If we disagree about a decision just handed down by the Supreme Court, we may find ourselves challenging each other’s views about justice. It I ask you for your view of justice, I am asking you to tell me what you think about it, and I am also prepared to tell you what I think about it. The “it” here is justice as an object of thought, both your thought and mine, not justice as a concept in your mind, but not mine.

We each have concepts in our minds – concepts we think with when we think about justice. Furthermore, your concepts and mine are distinct. But that does not prevent both of us from thinking about one and the same object – an object of thought we call “justice”, and sometimes we refer to as “the idea of justice.”

Six Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler

Is Time Finite or Infinite? Time Before the Big Bang?

July 23, 2007

An examination of the most carefully written scientific treatments of the astronomical evidence, and of the cosmological theory which appears to fit the evidence, will discover that the big bang theory does not posit an absolute beginning of the cosmos — a coming into existence out of nothing — but only an initial event in the development of the cosmos as we now know it, an event that occurred at a time that is estimated as between fifteen and twenty billion years ago.

Our present techniques of observation and measurement, and the technical facilities they employ, do not permit us to penetrate the past beyond the time, some fifteen to twenty billion years ago, when the big bang occurred.

What is being said here is not that past time is limited (finite rather than infinite), but only that our knowledge of past time is limited — limited to a time beyond which our observations and measurements cannot go. Time may extend back infinitely beyond that initial explosion of matter, out of which the present shape of the cosmos has developed, but unless some radical alteration in our techniques and instruments of observation and measurements occurs, we will never be able to penetrate the veil that hides the infinite past from us.

— Mortimer J. Adler

A Test of “Profound Statements”

July 6, 2007

“The test of the intelligibility of any statement that overwhelms us with its air of profundity is its translatability into language that lacks the elevation and verve of the original statement but can pass muster as a simple and clear statement in ordinary everyday speech.” — Six Great Ideas by Mortimer J. Adler


Profundity: the quality or state of being profound; depth

Verve: enthusiasm or vigor, liveliness; animation

Pass muster: to measure up to a certain standard; be adequate

Here is a related blog: Misty Profundity

I want happiness because …

June 30, 2007

Complete this sentence: I want happiness because …

It is impossible to complete the sentence!

The word happiness is used to name that which is desirable solely for itself and not as a means to anything else.

Of anything else that one wants, it is always possible to say, “I want it because it will contribute to my happiness”. That is, the thing he wants is not the end of his striving, he has not arrived at his ultimate good — his happiness.

Definition of “Ultimate”: for something to be ultimate in any dimension or direction, it must be that beyond which one cannot go.

Happiness is an ultimate.

— From Six Great Ideas, by Mortimer Adler