How Many Philosophical Mistakes Are There In The Book “Ten Philosophical Mistakes”?

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Can Philosophy Save Your Life Part 3

In 1985, the late Mortimer J. Adler, one of America’s foremost modern philosophers, published a popular book entitled “Ten Philosophical Mistakes:  Basic Errors In Modern Thought—How They Came About, Their Consequences, and How to Avoid Them.

If you missed post #1 in this week’s series

If you missed post #2 in this week’s series

In the Prologue to this book, Adler states that all ten of the errors he is about to discuss started off as tiny, little errors in the beginning.

They weren’t even recognized as errors for many years.  But as they slowly grew in acceptance throughout society, they became compounded by additional errors, which ultimately led to serious consequences for us all.

Modern Philosophical Errors

In his own words, Adler describes these errors as follows:

“All of them are modern philosophical errors, mistakes made by philosophers since the seventeenth century, the century that was marked by departures in thought initiated by Thomas Hobbes in England and by Rene Descartes in France.

In one or two instances…[they] repeat errors that first occurred in antiquity…but they are typically, if not wholly, modern in origin and in the serious consequences to which they have led in modern thought.

These consequences…manifest themselves in popular misconceptions widely prevalent today.  They affect our understanding of ourselves, our lives, our institutions, and our experience.

They mislead our action as well as becloud our thought.  They are not cloistered errors of merely academic significance. They have been popularized and spread abroad in a variety of ways.

Many of us have unwittingly harbored some of the mistakes in our minds without knowing whence or how they came there (pp. xiii-xiv).”

Many More Than Ten

I agree with Adler that many of the ten philosophical mistakes he refers to in his book are truly widespread mistakes in thinking that have adverse consequences for us all.  But what Adler doesn’t clearly recognize is that most of the “corrections” he puts forth in his book are full of philosophical mistakes themselves!

In fact, I counted at least 15 serious philosophical errors in Adler’s own thinking in just the first Chapter of his book alone!

Philosophy Trapped

I’m not going to try to enumerate any of the philosophical mistakes I detected in Adler’s thinking, because they would take too much time to explain.  Suffice it to say that most of the ones I noticed in Chapter 1, which focused on Adler’s views of mistaken ideas about human consciousness, stem from his incorrect understanding of the role language plays in the lives of human beings.

The point here, as I’ve been trying to emphasize in this week’s series of blog posts, is that we are all philosophical beings, and even the wisest and most learned of us are still very capable of making (and perpetuating) philosophical mistakes that can negatively impact our health and well-being.

This “philosophy trap” is really difficult to escape from.  It’s so hard to know when your own thinking is fundamentally flawed, especially when the things you believe are widely endorsed by almost everyone around you.

It’s even hard if you’re an acclaimed and celebrated philosopher!


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