Philosopher of practical wisdom

``I've learned slowly,'' says philosopher Mortimer Adler, ``that practical wisdom consists in taking the longest view of things you can.'' For Dr. Adler -- university professor, author of some 30 books, chairman of the board of editors of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, co-compiler (with Robert Maynard Hutchins) of the 54-volume Great Books of the Western World, and gem in the crown of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies -- that kind of wisdom has not always come in ordinary ways.

He earned his PhD from Columbia University in 1928 -- but his BA only in 1983, when Columbia finally waived a swimming requirement that Adler had refused to pass as a student. He never did graduate from high school, quitting DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx (he was born in New York City) before getting a diploma. Married in 1963, he has two children.

True to his Aristotelian training, Adler's concern focuses on ideas. A recent book, ``Six Great Ideas'' (1981), devotes its chapters to truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice. Earlier, in the famous two-volume Syntopicon, he indexed 102 great ideas found in 443 works by 74 authors. His ``popularizing'' tendencies long ago caused him to part ways with academic philosophers. But he remains convinced that philosophy can be more than a merely scholarly pursuit, and he now pushes strenously for educational reform, demonstrating through the seminars he occasionally teaches that even young students can be trained to think deeply.

Now director of the Institute for Philosophical Research in Chicago, the former University of Chicago professor still rises very early each day to get to his writing. His current project: a book on the Constitution, to be published next March.

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