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Mortimer J. Adler Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

The adult education holdings are collectively known as the
Alexander N. Charters Library of Resources for Educators of Adults.

Finding aid created by: -
Date: Jan 1967

Biographical History

Mortimer J. Adler was born in New York City in 1902. He attended public schools in the city but dropped out at age 14 to work as a copy boy for the New York Sun. Eventually he returned to school and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1929. He taught at Columbia from 1923 until 1930 when, at the invitation of Robert Hutchins, he went to the University of Chicago. There he taught philosophy and helped to establish the great books program as well as the Great Books Foundation. Adler left his post as professor in 1952 to found and direct the Institute for Philosophical Research. The Institute went on to sponsor many publications, its first major one being The Idea of Freedom.

Adler introduced the Paideia Proposal which resulted in his founding the Paideia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of challenging works at all grade levels, and with Max Weismann he founded The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas.

As associate editor of Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World and co-editor of Great Ideas Today, Adler contributed over one hundred essays on the great ideas of Western Civilization. He authored many philosophical books, beginning with Dialectic in 1927 and including Art and Prudence, St. Thomas and the Gentiles, What Man Has Made of Man, a best seller called How To Read a Book, and The Conditions of Philosophy. He lectured extensively on the problems and questions of philosophy throughout his career.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Mortimer J. Adler Papers include correspondence-subject files, reference materials, manuscripts, reviews, and published materials.

Correspondence-subject files (1½ boxes, 1937-1966) includes incoming and outgoing letters. Reference materials (2 boxes) contains Adler's photocopies of reference material, articles and book chapters on various philosophical problems. Adler's inventory of these materials is included at the beginning of the series. The materials are largely undated. Manuscripts (11 boxes, 1938-1963) contains articles, books, lectures, notes, manuscripts of others, proceedings, scrapbooks and speeches. Reviews (½ box, 1937-1938, 1965-1966) consists of critiques and comments on Adler's work and includes articles and newspaper clippings. Published materials (1 box, 1937-1966) includes articles about Adler, articles by others, books, newspaper clippings about Adler, and a press release about Adler.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence-subject files is arranged by subject and author (as Adler had arranged them), and are filed in alphabetical order. Reference materials are arranged in the order in which Adler had kept them; his inventory of these materials has been placed at the beginning of the series.

Manuscripts materials are first arranged alphabetically by type. The articles are further arranged by subject. The books are arranged alphabetically by title; where necessary the books are further arranged in sequence by draft revision. Lectures are arranged alphabetically by title or location of the lecture. The collection of notes is headed by "current random notes" and the remaining notes are filed alphabetically by title or subject. Miscellaneous seas are placed last. Speeches are further arranged alphabetically by location of the speech. Reviews are arranged alphabetically by the title of the work being reviewed. Published materials are arranged alphabetically by type; the books are further arranged alphabetically by title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Adler, Mortimer Jerome, 1902-2001 Archives.

Associated Titles

The Great ideas: a syntopicon of Great books of the Western world.


Authors, American.
Books and reading.
Civilization, Philosophy.
Civilization, Western.
Education, Humanistic.
Educators, United States.
Intellectuals, United States.
Philosophers, United States.
Philosophy, Modern.

Genres and Forms

Book reviews.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Mortimer J. Adler Papers
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Table of Contents

Correspondence-subject files

Reference materials



Published material