Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Mortimer Adler divided knowledge into three classes:
  • statements of facts,
  • statements about facts, and
  • statements about statements.

IF A THESIS contains statements of facts, then it is nothing more than a report.
For example, if your "thesis" is about "experiments conducted by the American Cancer Institute that show 70 percent of rats subjected to cigarette smoke over a two-year period died of lung cancer," the paper can hardly develop into anything more than a report about the experiments and their results.

IF A CONCLUSION is drawn from this statement of fact, then the thesis advances to Adler's second order of knowledge: statements about facts. At this level, the paper could suggest that "scientific experiments show a close link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer." With this, you've made a statement that is not entirely self-evident, one that will not be universally accepted, one that you will have to defend. This is a thesis of the second order.

TAKE THIS LOGIC ONE STEP FURTHER and make a statement about this statement. Following the example, building on the proposition that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, propose that the U.S. Constitution be amended to prohibit the production and sale of cigarettes. With this, you'll generate the spark of an informative, potentially provocative, and animated essay. Adler would classify this as a thesis of the highest order. You have created a thesis that makes a statement about a statement. To defend this, your essay has to develop logically by referring back to the statements at the two lower levels. You have to present arguments (statements about facts) as well as facts and examples (statements of facts) to support those arguments. To support the thesis that the Constitution should be amended, you can argue that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer; and to support this argument, you state the fact that experiments have shown that 70 percent of rats exposed to cigarette smoke died of lung cancer. This thesis, consisting of a statement about a statement, requires a layered foundation.

About Mortimer Adler: He was a modern day philosopher and teacher. He was a student of Aristotle, Plato, and other giants of philosophy. He taught at Columbia University and passed away in 2001.


* Waddell, Craig. Thesis Writing. Internet. www.rpi.edu. October 2007.
* Adler, Mortimer. Dialectic. London: Kegan Paul, 1927.

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