Over Christmas I finished my second book by Mortimer Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes. So I thought I would write an overly-pompous book review:
Adler, true to form, has bitten off in this work more than even he could possibly chew, much less any of us lesser mortals - to identify and conquer the noetical errors at the heart of modernism. Predictably, he has accomplished the first task far better than the latter: e.g., pinpointing nominalism as the root cause of modern evil is easier than sacking it, especially when you try to do so in less than three sentences. (And, yes, he really does seem to think he has logically disproven it in that many sentences.) Even novices like myself are bound to feel the errors in question worthy of a little more thoroughness than Adler grants them. But perhaps the process of sleuthing should be seen as Adler's primary task here (as he himself claims), and if that is the case, then he has accomplished it with ease and grace. He does not rest with the symptoms of modern relativism (either moral or dogmatic), but goes to the very heart of the matter, dissecting the way we humans think and judge in a masterful way, and better yet, demonstrating that we way these things are done simply do not mesh with relativism.
More to the point, Adler's arguments will be convincing only to the already converted; it strains the imagination to picture his keen reasoning bringing a hardened modernist to his knees. His success, I think, lies in helping his fellow classicists (like myself) to purge the last remnants of Enlightenment rationalism from the deepest corners of our minds.
The frustrating thing for me, as someone who considers himself already somewhat narrow-minded, is how Adler's can manage to be even narrower. I stumbled once, twice, thrice over trains of thought where I couldn't quite follower Adler to the end: he denies flatly that universals have any existence in reality (p. 73), categorizes mathematics as a discipline whose object is not reality but conceptual notions (p. 103), and mocks Plato for thinking happiness could be found in virtue alone, without wealth (p. 143). It's not that I necessarily disagree with Adler here (though I think I do), but that I think intelligent people can disagree on these questions and still stand apart from the 'erroneous moderns' against whom Adler rages. It is in his final chapter that the author 'shows his cards,' simultaneously revealing to me why I disagreed with him more often than I had anticipated. Finally admitting his confessional stance, Adler apologetically insists that "it is possible to be an Aristotelian without being doctrinnaire about it" (p. 96), but methinks Adler is a bit more doctrinnaire than he thinks. Still, apart from a few sticking points, Adler has done a fine job in plunging yet another dagger into the heart of a dying school of thought (if it is not already dead, at least at its font), and his book will be of enormous value to almost any reader.