- Aug 2023
Imagine the younger generation studying great books andlearning the liberal arts. Imagine an adult population con-tinuing to turn to the same sources of strength, inspiration,and communication. We could talk to one another then. Weshould be even better specialists than we are today because wecould understand the history of our specialty and its relationto all the others. We would be better citizens and better men.We might turn out to be the nucleus of the world community.
Is the cohesive nature of Hutchins and Adler's enterprise for the humanities and the Great Conversation, part of the kernel of the rise of interdisciplinarity seen in the early 2000s onward in academia (and possibly industry).
Certainly large portions are the result of uber-specialization, particularly in spaces which have concatenated and have allowed people to specialize in multiple areas to create new combinatorial creative possibilities.
Undoubtedly the first task of the statesman in such countriesis to raise the standard of living to such a point that thepeople may be freed from economic slavery and given thetime to get the education appropriate to free men.
A bulk of America was stuck in a form of economic slavery in the 1950s. See description of rural Texans in Robert Caro's LBJ biography for additional context --- washing/scrubbing, carrying water, farming, etc. without electricity in comparison to their fellow Americans who did have it.
In the 21st century there is a different form of economic slavery imposed by working to live and a culture of consumption and living on overextended credit.
Consider also the comedic story of the capitalist and the rural fisherman and the ways they chose to live their lives.
If leisure and political power requirethis education, everybody in America now requires it, andeverybody where democracy and industrialization penetratewill ultimately require it. If the people are not capable ofacquiring this education, they should be deprived of politicalpower and probably of leisure. Their uneducated politicalpower is dangerous, and their uneducated leisure is degrad-ing and will be dangerous. If the people are incapable ofachieving the education that responsible democratic citizen-ship demands, then democracy is doomed, Aristotle rightlycondemned the mass of mankind to natural slavery, and thesooner we set about reversing the trend toward democracythe better it will be for the world.
This is an extreme statement which bundles together a lot without direct evidence.
Written in an era in which there was a lot of pro-Democracy and anti-Communist discussion, Hutchins is making an almost religious statement here which binds education and democracy in the ways in which the Catholic church bound education and religion in scholasticism. While scholasticism may have had benefits, it also caused a variety of ills which took centuries to unwind into the Enlightenment.
Why can't we separate education from democracy? Can't education of this sort live in other polities? Hasn't it? Does critical education necessarily lead to democracy?
What does the explorable solution space of admixtures of critical reasoning and education look like with respect to various forms of government? Could a well-educated population thrive under collectivism or socialism?
The definition of "natural slavery" here is contingent and requires lots of context, particularly of the ways in which Aristotle used it versus our current understanding of chattel slavery.
The chief exponent of the view that times have changedand that our conception of the best education must changewith them is that most misunderstood of all philosophers ofeducation, John Dewey.
Hutchins indicates that John Dewey was misunderstood as a philosopher of education.
- philosophy of education
- natural slavery
- Democracy and Education
- combinatorial creativity
- Robert Maynard Hutchins
- knowledge specialization
- interdisciplinary research
- resurgence of the humanities
- indigenous cultures
- interdisciplinary studies
- economic slavery
- The Great Conversation
- chattel slavery
- death of the humanities
- John Dewey
- open questions
- separation of concerns
- Mortimer J. Adler
- standard of living
Barzun, Jacques. “The Great Books.” The Atlantic, December 1952. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1952/12/the-great-books/642341/.
Barzun heaps praise on Great Books of the Western World with some criticism of what it is also missing. He finds more than a few superlative words for the majesty of the Syntopicon.
- Jul 2023
But I would do less than justice to Mr. Adler's achieve-ment if I left the matter there. The Syntopicon is, in additionto all this, and in addition to being a monument to the indus-try, devotion, and intelligence of Mr. Adler and his staff, astep forward in the thought of the West. It indicates wherewe are: where the agreements and disagreements lie; wherethe problems are; where the work has to be done. It thushelps to keep us from wasting our time through misunder-standing and points to the issues that must be attacked.When the history of the intellectual life of this century iswritten, the Syntopicon will be regarded as one of the land-marks in it.
Hutchins closes his preface to his grand project with Mortimer J. Adler by giving pride of place to Adler's Syntopicon.
Adler's Syntopicon isn't just an index compiled into two books which were volumes 2 and 3 of The Great Books of the Western World, it's physically a topically indexed card index of data (a grand zettelkasten surveying Western culture if you will). It's value to readers and users is immeasurable and it stands as a fascinating example of what a well-constructed card index might allow one to do even when they don't have their own yet.
Adler spoke of practicing syntopical reading, but anyone who compiles their own card index (in either analog or digital form) will realize the ultimate value in creating their own syntopical writing or what Robert Hutchins calls participating in "The Great Conversation" across twenty-five centuries of documented human communication.
The way Hutchins presents the idea of "Adler's achievement" here seems to indicate that Hutchins didn't have a direct hand in compiling or working on it directly.
We lament the man who, properly desiring to wrestle atfirst hand with the problems that the great poets and philos-ophers have raised, yet contents himself with the "results"and "findings" of modern science.
1952 variation of C. P. Snow's Two Cultures thesis (1959).
See also earlier comment on p xxi: https://hypothes.is/a/2BGWXiIAEe6WZyd5bbGl3g
The final decision on the list wasmade by me.
Robert Hutchins takes sole responsibility for the final decision on the selection for the books which appear in The Great Books of the Western World series.
One wonders what sort of advice he may have sought out or received with respect to a much broader diversity of topics and writers with respect to his own time. I reminded a bit of the article The 102 Great Ideas (Life, 1948) which highlights a more progressive stance with respect to women and feminism in the examples used.
See: LIFE. “The 102 Great Ideas: Scholars Complete a Monumental Catalog.” January 26, 1948. Https://books.google.com/books?id=p0gEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA92&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false. Google Books.
democracyrequires liberal education for all.
Two of the driving reasons behind the Great Books project were improvement of both education and democracy.
The democracy portion was likely prompted by the second Red Scare from ~1947-1957 which had profound effects on America. Published in 1952, this series would have considered it closely and it's interesting they included Marx in the thinkers at the end of the series.
- card index as storehouse
- Robert Maynard Hutchins
- Red Scare
- diversity equity and inclusion
- C. P. Snow
- zettelkasten why
- published zettelkasten
- Mortimer J. Adler
- Great Books of the Western World
- card index as database
- published note collections
Robert Maynard Hutchins (January 17, 1899 – May 14, 1977) was an American educational philosopher. He was president (1929–1945) and chancellor (1945–1951) of the University of Chicago, and earlier dean of Yale Law School (1927–1929).
- Jan 2023
The most famous "active" reader of great books I know isPresident Hutchins, of the University of Chicago. He also has the hardest schedule ofbusiness activities of any man I know. He invariably reads with a pencil, and sometimes,when he picks up a book and pencil in the evening, he finds himself, instead of makingintelligent notes, drawing what he calls 'caviar factories' on the margins. When thathappens, he puts the book down. He knows he's too tired to read, and he's just wastingtime.
"caviar factories" brings to mind the OCD doodling of lots of small compact circles, which is what I suspect Hutchins was occupying himself with...
- Sep 2021
Book review (and cultural commentary) on Alex Beam's A Great Idea at the Time, (Public Affairs, 2008).
In “A Great Idea at the Time,” Alex Beam presents Hutchins and Adler as a double act
Just the title "A Great Idea at the Time" makes me wonder if this project didn't help speed along the creation of the dullness of the humanities and thereby attempt to kill it?
What might they have done differently to better highlight the joy and fun of these works to have better encouraged it.
Too often reformers reform all the joy out of things.