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Title: "Rules for Conducting a Discussion" by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Recusant on August 20, 2010, 06:38:20 PM
These rules, or guidelines, are posted as a sticky at a history forum to which I belong.  As you might imagine, discussion of history can elicit some strong emotions, and though this essay does not stand as official rules for the forum, it does serve as a reminder to members that a good discussion is not about winning or losing. Enjoy!

Quote
From Chapter 22 of How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization (http://www.amazon.com/How-Think-About-Great-Ideas/dp/0812694120) by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

Discussion is the method by which adults learn from one another. And as so conceived, it differs quite strikingly from that sort of learning in which an older person teaches a younger person.

Real discussion consists of two or more persons talking to one another, each asking questions, each answering, making remarks and counter-remarks. Such conversation is at its best when the parties to it tend to regard each other as equal. That is the heart of the difference between learning by discussion and learning by instruction. In adult learning by discussion, each party to the discussion is both a teacher and a learner. Just as in the political republic, each citizen is ruler and ruled in turn, so in the adult republic of learning, each adult is both teacher and taught.

With this background, let us consider the nature of adult conversation. And let's consider the rules which should govern it if such conversation is to develop into good, profitable discussion, profitable as a means of learning.

There are three things that are required of conversation for it to become discussion in this good sense.

First of all, the subject matter being discussed must be the sort of subject matter which permits genuine discussion to take place. Not everything is discussable, and not all the things which are discussable are equally discussable. For example, facts are not discussable. If there is a question of fact, the best thing to do is to go to a reference book and look it up. You can't settle a question of fact by discussion. Ideas are discussable, and the more fundamental the ideas, the more controversial they are, the more discussable they are.

The second condition or prerequisite for good discussion is that right motive must prevail. The purpose we have in carrying on our conversation must be to learn, and if persons get engaged in serious discussion of serious themes, then their aim must be to get at the truth, not to win the argument.

The third and perhaps the most important requirement of good discussion is that we should talk to the other person, not just at them. This means that listening is important, an essential part of discussion. In fact, listening is more important, even as it is more difficult, than talking. Because if one person doesn't listen to another, what that person says in the course of the conversation is not going to be very relevant.

I just finished telling you the three basic requirements that conversation must meet if it is going to become discussion, that is profitable for learning. I would like to give you some of the rules that we have to observe to make discussion profitable in this way. These rules fall into two large groups: first, a set of rules governing the use of your mind in discussion; second, a set of rules governing the control of your emotions in discussion.

The five "intellectual" rules:

    * Be relevant, which means "find out what the issue is and stick to it." Divide the issue into its parts; every complex issue has parts, and move along from one part to another.
    * Don't take things for granted. State your assumptions and see if you can get the other participants to state theirs. Make an effort to find out what the other person's assumptions are.
    * Try to avoid arguing fallaciously. Don't cite authority as if they were conclusions. Don't argue ad hominem -- that means, don't argue against the person as opposed to against the point. Don't say to the other person, "Oh, that's the kind of thing Republicans say or Democrats say or Socialists say," as if calling it by that kind of name necessarily proves it wrong. That is a terrible fallacy of guilt by association.
    * Don't agree or disagree with the other person until you understand what that person has said. This rule requires you in the course of discussion to say to the other person, "Now let me see if I can say in my own words what you have just said." And then having done that, you turn to them and say, "Is that what you mean?" And if they say, "Yes, it is; that's exactly what I mean," then you are for the first time privileged to say, "I agree with you," or "I disagree with you," and not one moment sooner.
    * If, after understanding the other person, you do disagree, state your disagreement specifically and give reasons why. You can tell the other person what is wrong with their argument in four very sharp, specific ways. You can say: 1) "You are uninformed of certain relevant facts and I will show you what they are." 2) "You are misinformed. Some of the things you think are relevant facts aren't facts at all, and I will show you why they are not." 3) "You are mistaken in your reasoning and I will show you the mistakes that you have made." 4) "You don't carry your reasoning far enough. There is more to say than you have said and I will tell you what it is." These are all very polite and much to the point.

The three "emotional" rules:

    * Keep your emotions in place. That means, keep them out of the argument, for they have no place in the argument.
    * Catch yourself or the other person getting angry. Starting to shout, overemphasizing the point by repeating it again and again, using sarcasm, teasing, getting a laugh on the other person, all these are signs that someone's temper is getting out of hand.
    * If you can't control your emotions, at least beware of the results of emotional disorder. Realize that your emotions can lead you either to say things you don't mean, or stubbornly refuse to admit things you really do see.

The hardest thing of all to do in discussion is to know how to ask good questions, the kind of questions that by their very nature generate good discussion. This is the hardest thing because asking good questions is much, much harder than answering them.

We ought to be able to distinguish between questions of fact on the one hand, and questions of interpretation on the other. Such questions as whether something is the case or exists, and on the other hand, what it means, what it implies, what consequences it leads to.

And then we should be able to distinguish between questions of fact and questions of value. Here we ought to know if we are asking about whether something happened, or whether it was good; how someone behaves, or how they should behave; questions of what is the case, as opposed to questions about what should be or what ought to be.

It's very important to distinguish between asking someone what they think, and asking them why they think so. Asking for a statement of belief or opinion is different from asking for the reasons to support that belief or opinion. And above all, we should be able to ask hypothetical ("what if?") questions and recognize them.

I wish that I did a better job of following these guidelines myself.  I try, and occasionally I re-read this essay to remind myself of the ideal that I can aim for.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: skwurll on August 20, 2010, 07:48:55 PM
Great rules, if only more people followed them.  ;)
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Thumpalumpacus on August 20, 2010, 07:54:30 PM
Now I have a guilty conscience.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Reginus on August 20, 2010, 08:11:37 PM
Idk, his points seem pretty obvious and common-sensical to me.

Quote from: "Adler"
Discussion is the method by which adults learn from one another.
He forgot to mention teenagers and children here.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: humblesmurph on August 20, 2010, 08:33:17 PM
We talked about Adler in college.  My prof claimed he was a bigot.  Bigot or no, these seem like reasonable straight forward rules.  I'm glad you posted them. I would have never come across them otherwise.  This will help me improve my arguing style to extract more knowledge from discussions (and maybe piss less people off as well).  Thank you Recusant
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Sophus on August 20, 2010, 09:47:26 PM
I have a problem with the first sentence. Why adults? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-bjOJzB7LY)
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Martin TK on August 20, 2010, 11:45:27 PM
Well said, and worthy of reading.  I will attempt to follow some of the advice, though I think passion is important in a debate, particularly one on religion.  Just my humble opinion.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Sophus on August 21, 2010, 12:38:46 AM
Quote from: "Martin TK"
Well said, and worthy of reading.  I will attempt to follow some of the advice, though I think passion is important in a debate, particularly one on religion.  Just my humble opinion.
Personally, I don't think there's any right or wrong way to go about a discussion, although there are certainly productive and unproductive ways. Incivility is sometimes completely appropriate. As PZ Myers suggested to call the absolute 'end of times' loons "demented fuckwits" some thought that was too much. His response was:

Quote
Look, people, I've met a few of them. You have to realize that you are proposing a rational discussion with a guy who believes that the all-powerful god of the cosmos is waiting for him to butcher the exactly right cow, and then this deity will come to earth and engage in a holy war against the people who eat bacon and clams. That is, he is a demented fuckwit.

I can tell you exactly what will happen if you engage him. He will quote Bible verses at you with absolute certainty. He will recite well-practiced dogma over and over again. He won't falter, he won't doubt, he won't think. And your audience will be impressed at his unwavering command of the "facts," and that you, O Wise and Rational Science Guy, think his story is worth arguing about, as equals.

Being uncivil at times is the only thing you can do. When some says democracy is flawed and we should have a Catholic dictatorship (http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/08/catholic-tv-host-its-time-to-end.html) are you suppose to sit there and reason with him? You're wasting your time. Instead, show him how much contempt you have for such an archaic, dangerous and vile idea. It's not likely to change him but at least you'll have honestly conveyed your disgust, so others may be cautious to relate or associate with the "demented fuckwit".

There is an excellent article (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/08/its_never_really_about_civilit.php) on this subject if civility in discourse (IMHO).
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Martin TK on August 21, 2010, 02:40:44 AM
Quote from: "Sophus"
Quote from: "Martin TK"
Well said, and worthy of reading.  I will attempt to follow some of the advice, though I think passion is important in a debate, particularly one on religion.  Just my humble opinion.
Personally, I don't think there's any right or wrong way to go about a discussion, although there are certainly productive and unproductive ways. Incivility is sometimes completely appropriate. As PZ Myers suggested to call the absolute 'end of times' loons "demented fuckwits" some thought that was too much. His response was:

Quote
Look, people, I've met a few of them. You have to realize that you are proposing a rational discussion with a guy who believes that the all-powerful god of the cosmos is waiting for him to butcher the exactly right cow, and then this deity will come to earth and engage in a holy war against the people who eat bacon and clams. That is, he is a demented fuckwit.

I can tell you exactly what will happen if you engage him. He will quote Bible verses at you with absolute certainty. He will recite well-practiced dogma over and over again. He won't falter, he won't doubt, he won't think. And your audience will be impressed at his unwavering command of the "facts," and that you, O Wise and Rational Science Guy, think his story is worth arguing about, as equals.

Being uncivil at times is the only thing you can do. When some says democracy is flawed and we should have a Catholic dictatorship (http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/08/catholic-tv-host-its-time-to-end.html) are you suppose to sit there and reason with him? You're wasting your time. Instead, show him how much contempt you have for such an archaic, dangerous and vile idea. It's not likely to change him but at least you'll have honestly conveyed your disgust, so others may be cautious to relate or associate with the "demented fuckwit".

There is an excellent article (http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2010/08/its_never_really_about_civilit.php) on this subject if civility in discourse (IMHO).

I agree with you completely.  I only wish there was a way we could express ourselves using voice inflection and body language, which is often lost in the typing of posts.  For me, a LOT of my debate ability comes from my ability to speak, not type or write.  As one of my grad assistants once said to me, "Martin, you could tell someone they were stupid and ugly, and they would thank you for it."  Not that I would EVER do that, but the point was my ability to deal with people, face to face.

I DO take some things on here personally, but I try not to, and sometimes it may appear that I am offended, when in fact, I am just going with the flow of the discussion, not really upset.  I'll say things that might be taken wrong, simply to force the conversation in a direction, or to get a true measure of the person with whom I am debating.  I think anyone who gets terribly upset on a forum, is really taking it too seriously, and maybe needs to step back and take a day or two off.  Just my humble opinion, of course, NOT my clinical opinion..  lol
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Thumpalumpacus on August 21, 2010, 08:00:09 AM
Quote from: "Sophus"
Being uncivil at times is the only thing you can do. When some says democracy is flawed and we should have a Catholic dictatorship (http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/08/catholic-tv-host-its-time-to-end.html) are you suppose to sit there and reason with him? You're wasting your time. Instead, show him how much contempt you have for such an archaic, dangerous and vile idea. It's not likely to change him but at least you'll have honestly conveyed your disgust, so others may be cautious to relate or associate with the "demented fuckwit".  

[Emphasis added]

There is another alternative: rather than resort to personal insults, understand that the debate is not about changing the fuckwit's mind, turn to the audience (be it IRL or online), point out his fallacies, and retain your own dignity.  While I agree that there are fuckwits in this world, and while in a 1-on-1 scenario my suggestion is irrelevant, to resort to ad homineim is a tacit admission of defeat on the part of the insulter.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Jac3510 on August 21, 2010, 02:07:04 PM
Quote from: "Thumpalumpacus"
Quote from: "Sophus"
Being uncivil at times is the only thing you can do. When some says democracy is flawed and we should have a Catholic dictatorship (http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/08/catholic-tv-host-its-time-to-end.html) are you suppose to sit there and reason with him? You're wasting your time. Instead, show him how much contempt you have for such an archaic, dangerous and vile idea. It's not likely to change him but at least you'll have honestly conveyed your disgust, so others may be cautious to relate or associate with the "demented fuckwit".  

[Emphasis added]

There is another alternative: rather than resort to personal insults, understand that the debate is not about changing the fuckwit's mind, turn to the audience (be it IRL or online), point out his fallacies, and retain your own dignity.  While I agree that there are fuckwits in this world, and while in a 1-on-1 scenario my suggestion is irrelevant, to resort to ad homineim is a tacit admission of defeat on the part of the insulter.
When you must, this would be a better tactic. With that said, the faulty assumption is that you even have to talk to or about such people in the first place. If someone is so moved to call another human being that terrible name, deserved or not, it shows that there is a very high level of emotion involved, in which case, it appears the person is simply gratifying their own anger more than anything else. It's far better to simply shrug your shoulders and walk away. When people stand on absolutely blind faith, you aren't going to change their mind. You have zero chance, and all you do in the process is legitimize their position with others. On the other hand, when you resort to self-gratifying insults, you only succeed in making yourself look small and unable to cope with their "arguments."

If you must respond, the best tactic is to simply say, "Look - your position is fundamentally built on blind faith/personal belief system/whatever. There is no way to discuss it rationally because you will allow no facts any contrary implications. You interpret everything to support your view. In the same way a that a word that can mean anything really means nothing, an argument against which there can be no contrary evidence isn't really an argument. It's just something you choose to believe. Now, I know that even this won't change your mind, but I hope it does explain why I think that anyone who tries to have this conversation with you is just wasting their time."

Here, you aren't lowering your own standards with a silly attack. You aren't giving into mere emotionalism as children do. You aren't giving their position any credibility. You are denying it credibility to any potential audience as you disengage. But calling people names -- that's never appropriate.

For the record, this is precisely the position I take with conspiracy theorists of pretty much any kind, be they political (9/11 Truthers, Birthers), religious (Jesus never existed, X is the Antichrist!), or even domestic (I think we can all think of examples of when people have concocted conspiracies to explain the actions of people we know, possibly even ourselves). In my own experience, it's proven to be the best possible approach.

edit: Very good OP, btw. Well worth reading. Again. And then probably again. :)
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Asmodean on August 21, 2010, 03:07:15 PM
Hmm... that there, it's good. I try to follow a much similart set of rules with varying degree of success.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Sophus on August 21, 2010, 05:37:44 PM
Quote from: "Thumpalumpacus"
Quote from: "Sophus"
Being uncivil at times is the only thing you can do. When some says democracy is flawed and we should have a Catholic dictatorship (http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/08/catholic-tv-host-its-time-to-end.html) are you suppose to sit there and reason with him? You're wasting your time. Instead, show him how much contempt you have for such an archaic, dangerous and vile idea. It's not likely to change him but at least you'll have honestly conveyed your disgust, so others may be cautious to relate or associate with the "demented fuckwit".  

[Emphasis added]

There is another alternative: rather than resort to personal insults, understand that the debate is not about changing the fuckwit's mind, turn to the audience (be it IRL or online), point out his fallacies, and retain your own dignity.  While I agree that there are fuckwits in this world, and while in a 1-on-1 scenario my suggestion is irrelevant, to resort to ad homineim is a tacit admission of defeat on the part of the insulter.
Agreed. Good strategy for interwebs' forums. Maybe just a time-waster for casual real life encounters.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Tank on August 22, 2010, 10:27:08 AM
Excellent post and thread. Added to my introduction boiler plate.

Useful links for new members
Mission Statement (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/portal.php) Why this place is here.
Forum Rules (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=18210#p18210) More of a set of guidelines really, upset Whitney (She who must be obeyed) and you'll find the exit door very quickly!
How to discuss efficiently and effectively (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=78314#p78314) Before entering  into a serious discussion I implore you to read the first post of this thread.
How do I use the quote feature? (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=3442#p3442) If you are new to forums this is an important feature to understand. The maximum number of nested quotes is 3.
Help desk. (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewforum.php?f=39) Any problems this is where to ask them.
What's on your mind today? (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=8597#p8597) The general chit chat thread.
Somewhere to discuss the fear of dying. (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=70041#p70041) Many ex-theists have to come to terms with death, this is a place to discuss this issue.
How to tell your family you are an atheist. (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=69387#p69387) Some suggestions about how to deal with this thorny issue.
Parenting Beyond Belief. (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewforum.php?f=44) The forum for discussing how to raise your children 'Faith Free'.
Just a little advice for new Atheists (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=74241#p74241) Some thoughts for those new to reality.
.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Recusant on September 03, 2010, 03:07:56 PM
Quote from: humblesmurph
We talked about Adler in college.  My prof claimed he was a bigot.  Bigot or no, these seem like reasonable straight forward rules.  I'm glad you posted them. I would have never come across them otherwise.  This will help me improve my arguing style to extract more knowledge from discussions (and maybe piss less people off as well).  Thank you Recusant


You're most welcome!  I'm wondering on what grounds your professor accused Adler of bigotry?  In this article (http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol2/vol2_no1_gabbard_appleton.htm) on the Democratic Paideia Project, the authors begin with a quote from Cornel West (certainly not somebody one thinks of as a bigot  ;)), and seem to find no conflict between his views and those of Adler. From the article:

Quote
Writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and moved by the hard fought victories claimed by the feminist and civil rights movements, he [Adler] declared "we are on the verge of a new era in our national life."  As the result of these victories, he believed, "democracy has come into its own for the first time in this century. Not until this century have we conferred the high office of enfranchised citizenship on all our people, regardless of  sex, race, or ethnic origin."

This does not sound like the writing of a bigot.  I think that your professor was full of himself, and paradoxically, at the same time full of a particular agricultural by-product.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: humblesmurph on September 03, 2010, 05:14:50 PM
Quote from: Recusant
Quote from: humblesmurph
We talked about Adler in college.  My prof claimed he was a bigot.  Bigot or no, these seem like reasonable straight forward rules.  I'm glad you posted them. I would have never come across them otherwise.  This will help me improve my arguing style to extract more knowledge from discussions (and maybe piss less people off as well).  Thank you Recusant


You're most welcome!  I'm wondering on what grounds your professor accused Adler of bigotry?  In this article (http://www.inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol2/vol2_no1_gabbard_appleton.htm) on the Democratic Paideia Project, the authors begin with a quote from Cornel West (certainly not somebody one thinks of as a bigot  ;)), and seem to find no conflict between his views and those of Adler. From the article:

Quote
Writing in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and moved by the hard fought victories claimed by the feminist and civil rights movements, he [Adler] declared "we are on the verge of a new era in our national life."  As the result of these victories, he believed, "democracy has come into its own for the first time in this century. Not until this century have we conferred the high office of enfranchised citizenship on all our people, regardless of  sex, race, or ethnic origin."

This does not sound like the writing of a bigot.  I think that your professor was full of himself, and paradoxically, at the same time full of a particular agricultural by-product.


Yeah, I looked into that bigot claim after I posted that.  She might have been referencing this:

Wikipedia-Adler was a controversial figure in some circles who saw Adler's Great Books of the Western World project as Eurocentric and racially exclusive. Asked in a 1990 interview why his Great Books of the Western World list did not include any black authors, he simply said, "They didn't write any good books."

I don't think a single comment constitutes bigotry, but if she was referencing this, as a black author (her, not me) I could see why she would take offense.  Again, just guessing, she certainly didn't think any of her work should have been considered, but she found it hurtful that none of the Black authors she revered were seen fit by Adler to be included in this particular project.   Furthermore, the quote "They didn't write any good books" is an insensitive way to express what is likely a an honest opinion  if we take "good" to mean "good enough to be considered one of the Great Books of the Western World".   He's entitled to his opinion, I don't think that makes him a bigot.  However, I'm not inclined to agree with the assertion that this particular professor is full of anything, maybe just a little sensitive.  I wish I could remember her name, then I could just ask her.  Maybe I remembered the whole thing wrong.  Didn't mean to insult Adler, it was just an off the cuff remark.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Recusant on September 03, 2010, 08:10:38 PM
Hey, I admit sometimes I'm full of it myself.  I'm not a professor who is standing in front of a class making damning remarks though, either.  I certainly didn't take your comment as an insult to Adler on your part; you made it quite clear that you were relaying the professor's thoughts. I'm not a particular devotee of Adler myself.  I read from the Great Books series when I was a kid.  The librarian was thrilled, because I was the only one who had touched them after they'd been sitting in the library well over a year.  I had no idea that Adler had been behind them until I saw the quote in the OP and looked into his background a bit.  He was not the sole figure behind the project; it was the work of a team.  He was a sort of front man for the project though.  In this essay (http://books.mirror.org/gb.sel1990.html) he describes the process that the team went through in selecting the books.

Quote
From "SELECTING WORKS FOR THE 1990 EDITION of the GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN WORLD" by Mortimer J. Adler

[W]e chose the great books on the basis of their relevance to at least 25 of the 102 great ideas. Many of the great books are relevant to a much larger number of the 102 great ideas, as many as 75 or more great ideas, a few to all 102 great ideas. In sharp contrast are the good books that are relevant to less than 10 or even as few as 4 or 5 great ideas. We placed such books in the lists of Recommended Readings to be found in the last section in each of the 102 chapters of the "Syntopicon." Here readers will find many twentieth-century female authors, black authors, and Latin American authors whose works we recommended but did not include in the second edition of the Great Books.

To complete the picture of the criteria that controlled our editorial process of selection, it is necessary for me to mention a number of things that we definitely excluded from our deliberations.

We did not base our selections on an author's nationality, religion, politics, or field of study; nor on an author's race or gender. Great books were not chosen to make up quotas of any kind; there was no "affirmative action" in the process.

In the second place, we did not consider the influence exerted by an author or a book on later developments in literature or society. That factor alone did not suffice to merit inclusion. Scholars may point out the extraordinary influence exerted by an author or a book, but if the three criteria stated above were not met, that author or book was not to be chosen. Many of the great books have exerted great influence upon later generations, but that by itself was not the reason for their inclusion.

I apologize for insulting your professor.  I still maintain that she was wrong in her assessment of the man.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: humblesmurph on September 03, 2010, 09:50:19 PM
Adler is the one credited with the "They didn't write any good books" quote, not the panel that decided on the selections.  He may be a bigot, he may not be. It seems immaterial, but what I do find interesting is:

Wikipedia-After debates about what to include and how to present it, with an eventual budget of $2,000,000, the project was ready. It was presented at a gala at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on April 15, 1952. In his speech, Hutchins said "This is more than a set of books, and more than a liberal education. Great Books of the Western World is an act of piety. Here are the sources of our being. Here is our heritage. This is the West. This is its meaning for mankind." The first two volumes would be presented to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and U.S. President Harry S. Truman.

These Great Books were trumpeted as the voice of the West.  Adler may call it "affirmative action", but it seems appropriate that there be some non-white male representation.  This looks like a celebration of white men, by white men, for white men.  Not one woman made enough of a contribution to be included?  Not one man that wasn't Caucasian?  It seems to me that instead of stating in a matter of fact way that "They didn't write any good books"  Adler could have conceded that there may have been some academic bias in the selection process.  The suggestion that this was a completely objective undertaking and that "affirmative action" would be the only way that non-whites or women could be included seems unlikely.  It seems more likely that he and his colleagues simply weren't familiar enough with certain schools of thought to include non-whites or females.  If the selection panel for the West's "meaning for mankind" actually contained some women and non-whites  and all the selected authors still ended up being white males, maybe folks wouldn't have called shenanigans in the first place.  Maybe then Adler wouldn't have been backed into the position of making such a statement as "They didn't write any good books".  If such were the case, maybe my prof wouldn't have been standing in front of a class making damning statements about the front man and defender of this whole undertaking.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: Recusant on September 04, 2010, 12:57:39 AM
Thanks for bringing Adler's statement to this discussion.  I looked at the article in which it appeared (http://articles.latimes.com/1990-12-03/news/vw-4402_1_great-books) titled "A Curmudgeon Stands His Ground."  I think that the quote from Gates is particularly relevant:

Quote
Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Duke University professor and perhaps the country's most influential and fashionable black scholar, lambastes the "Great Books" committee for a "profound disrespect for the intellectual capacities of people of color--red, brown or yellow.

"Here was a chance for Mortimer Adler and company to redefine what our notion of the great tradition really is. But rather than to confront the challenge of the 21st Century . . . they turned backward toward the 19th Century. That will be seen historically as a great mistake."

I agree that it seems the committee, and Adler in particular, were stuck in a mindset from an earlier time, and failed to understand that including other viewpoints would bring immense value to the collection. (There were four women authors whose writings made it into the "Great Books," but that does not excuse the overwhelming preponderance of white male authors, to the exclusion of just about any other voices.)

In the article, Adler sounds like an old man whose patience has worn thin defending the committee's choices, and who made a harsh and unjustified blanket statement. In light of his celebration of the advances made in the 20th century toward achieving the ideals of equality in the society of the US, I think that your professor was speaking from emotion rather than from an examination of Adler's actual views. He sounds to me as if he was not a man to mince words.  If he truly held bigoted views, I don't think that his statements would leave any doubt.  Toward the end of the article, he's asked about a specific case mentioned by Gates:

Quote
[Gates' objection is presented:] "There is no way (you) could say with a straight face that (the black American sociologist, W.E.B.) Du Bois' 'The Souls of Black Folk,' the greatest work ever written by a person of color in his country, did not satisfy the three criteria of greatness."

[Adler responds:] "There's no question that Du Bois was a scholar. . . . But we left out all these white scholars of equal eminence."

In my opinion, his defense of the choices of the committee was wrong, but nothing that I've read by or about him so far suggests to me that Adler was a bigot.

I brought the piece in the OP here in case anybody found it useful.  I might be wrong about Adler.  If anybody can point to a sentence or phrase in "Rules for Conducting a Discussion" which has the remotest hint of bigotry, I'll swiftly delete it. (I'm positive that no such taint can be found, but the challenge might give people a reason to read it carefully.   ;))

Finally;  I really appreciate that you've given me the incentive to learn more about Dr. Adler, humblesmurf.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: humblesmurph on September 04, 2010, 02:00:19 AM
Recusant,

I appreciate this discussion.  I hope you'll excuse the derail.  At this point, I'm clearly just playing devil's advocate.  I have no opinion of Adler.  I like the rules, I'll check out the Great Books, and learn more about him. I'll be better for the experience.  I also appreciate you correcting me about the female authors.

Back to the bigot thing.  I think my prof defines bigotry differently than you.  It's a great thing to help other people in the ways that Adler has.  He has done great things for society as a whole and minorities specifically.  My prof may or may not have been aware of these contributions.  However, it is entirely possible to fiercely fight for the equal treatment of black people and hold a negative opinion of their intelligence.  I am bigoted against people who believe that Elvis is still alive, but I believe that they should have equal rights. Let's call them Elvisites.  All things being equal, I think that an Elvisite is dumber than  non-Elvisite.   That's not to say that all Elvisites are dumb, just dumber than their otherwise equal non-Elvisite counterpart.  It could be the case that an individual Elviste could be smarter than an individual non-Elvisite.  Adler could well be guilty of this kind of intellectual bigotry towards blacks, and nothing that I have read suggests otherwise.  

The intermingling of the races is one of the defining features of the West.  To include a white authored work with a prominent black character like say, Nigger Jim, in Twain's "Huck Finn", but not  include a single Black author strikes me as odd.  Why is Twain more equipped to deal with the race issue than Dubois?   The West as we know it today was literally birthed out of the wombs of women and built on the backs of blacks.  The mere fact that it wasn't  important to Adler that the stories of women and blacks be told in their own words in his "Great Books" could be construed as intellectual bigotry without an irrational appeal to emotion.
Title: Re: Rules for Conducting a Discussion by Dr. Mortimer J. Adler
Post by: epepke on September 04, 2010, 04:18:36 AM
I'm guessing that Huckleberry Finn was included because in form it is widely recognized as the first modern novel, although I never really understood that argument.