Seminar Discussions

  • Seminar Discussion on Heroes and Celebrities


     Fishbowl Debate: Captains of Industry or Robber Barons

    Excellent first fishbowl debate!

    Captains side did a good job arguing the vision, energy and determination of these men and the resulting efficiency and lower prices that led to widespread prosperity and economic growth.  Additional arguments included growing middle class and cities.  Strong arguments were made for the industrialists as philanthropists who benefited their communities.

    The Barons effectively argued against these industrialists, regarding them as ruthless businessmen who used unfair practices to wipe out competition and who exploited their workers. Ther charity was self-serving and who have been better spent giving their wiorkers a better wage.

    Shout out to Adam and Hailee and Maddy and Jordan!  Well done.  I commend all those observers who actively participated with focused questions and who helped elucidate certain points and arguments.  Well Done to All of You!


    Seminar on Thoreau

    We had a great seminar dialogue around the ideas of the American philosopher, Thoreau.  Good job articulating your ideas, responding to each other and exchanging ideas and opinions. 

    To summarize, we discussed conformity, why people tend to conform, what insitutioins in society promote conformity and the importance of being true to yourself and your own ideas.  We discussed when rebellion is simply rebellion and when it is making a point.

    We discussed whether in our modern society we have forgotten how to be alone and the value of time alone that is well spent.(Walden Pond)  What does quiet time offer us?

    Reflecting on Thoreau's protests against slavery and the war with Mexico, we discussed what issues we might protest today.

    Finally, when is it justifiable to break the law?  We concluded that unjust laws can be broken for the sake of promoting change and reforming society.


    Great job today!






     Thursday, October 6  2016

    Enjoyed the discussion on Repentance and Humility in Psalm 50.

    Most of you believe repentance is still relevant although not necessarily in a religious sense.  You had different opinions as to whether repentance meant having to ask forgiveness of the person whom you wronged.  Some of you said what mattered was what was in the heart whereas others felt repentance could only be real if there was a willingness to ask for forgiveness.  We also talked about whether repentance is of value if the person asking forgiveness is not forgiven.  We discussed what determines whether a person repents and if repentance could make the criminal or sinner "whiter than snow."

    We then talked about humility and it relevance in our modern world.  Is humility undervalued?  Are humility and self-esteem mutually exclusive?  This seemed to be a bit of a struggle for you. Most of you did feel humility was necessary to avoid egoism and arrogance. To the question: "Where do we learn humility?" some of you answered your parents, others your faith and others said it was life itself in the sense of experience that teaches us humility.

    With regard to the C.S. Lewis quote about charity not being charity unless it hurts, most of you disagreed but a small and vocal minority agreed with Lewis.

    Charity or alms-giving is fundamental to our compassion and our commitment to our community and our fellow man.  Continue to think about charity and humility and repentance and what it means to be human!



    Friday, September 23  2016

    Great discussion on punishment and the central problem of punishment-its purpose.  Why do we punish?  What do we seek to achieve by punishing?  What is our reasoning when we punish?

    Your contributions to discussion were thoughtful and generally excellent.

    Some of you argued that punishment is entirely a matter of retribution, of punishing precisely because the wrong-doer did wrong.

    Others- most of you -  argued that punishment does have a purpose, either as a deterrent or for the reform of the individual.

    Punishment, we agreed, always consists of pain, be it emotional or physical.   Punishment, many argued, may or may not change a person depending on the person, the nature of the punishment, and the situation.

    It wasn't clear whether individuals who commit social wrongs but not criminal wrongs deserve punishment.  The cheating boyfriend?  The disloyal friend?

    There was a mixed response to whether you would turn in a person who committed a crime when you alone in the world had this knowledge along with the knowledge that he had since whole-heartedly repented and would never do it again.  Some of you felt justice still needed to be served. Would it be unjust to not turn him in?  But if the purpose of punishment is to change the individual, and the individual has already changed, what purpose does the punishment serve?  Some of you felt punishment was still necessary so the balance of justice would be restored.

    The issue of punishing proportionately was addressed with the following question: Here are two men.  One has committed a very slight offense and one a serious offense.  If you somehow knew with certainty that if you punished the man who committed the lighter offense severely and the man who committed the very serious offense lightly, then you would improve them both, would you do that.  Would the disproprtionate punishment still be unjust?

    This was difficult for most of you.  Continue to give it thought as it goes to the heart of the problem: the purpose of punishment and the equation of proportionate punishment with justice.

    We discussed whether punishment gives emotional satisfaction to the victim. 





    Friday, March 22, 2013

    Good discussion on Chinese foot binding and the painful things modern Americans do to look beautiful and project social status.  We viewed a short narrated video of the practice of foot binding and then we compared it to the use of the corset and the emaciated look of thin-is-in models.  We discussed the things people do to look fashionable and beautiful, such as expensive and stylish but almost unbearable shoes, cosmetic surgery, and emaciating diets to stay thin.  Discussion turned around the image of beauty in society and the pressure to conform to that image.  From where does that image originate and then permeate the popular culture?  Does society make us do it?  Some of you made the point that there has to be some level of dissatisfaction with oneself to undergo cosmetic surgery, or some other serious alteration of one's appearance.  Disagreement arose over the question of where the impetus comes from - society and the popular media or internally, in one's self-image.  Certainly, the image to which we often aspire determines how we want to look but the need to change how we look to conform to some social image seems to be internally driven.

    A brief detoured touched on the dangers of anorexia and whether it is a disease over which someone doesn't really have control? 

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Good discussion on women and head coverings in the Muslim world!  We discussed whether the head covering and veil, contrary to common perceptions in the western world, were in fact liberating for women in that they discourage men from looking at these women as sexual objects.  Aren't the eyes the windows to the soul?  Doesn't the veil or head covering concentrate one's attention on the eyes and therefore the real person.  In this regard, perhaps the veil or head covering is liberating.  Some of you raised the point that it should be a woman's choice.  Others said you might want someone to see both personality and body.  Still others said there is nothing wrong with looking sexy.  Others raised the question as to whether it prevented the full development of the individual personality.  These are all great points.  That a woman might choose to dress modestly and cover her head or face none of you felt was necessarily wrong;  it was the coercive aspect of this practice that was seen as unjust.

    Tuesday, February 12, 2013

    Good discussion on the Judaic context of Jesus and early Christianity!

    Some of the ideas we discussed included:

    In what sense are all men brothers and all women sisters?

    What is meant by the image of God in man .  Some suggested reason or the intellect that can ask - why?   Others suggested free will - the freedom to do right or wrong.  Is  there really a free will?  Is free will problematic in our modern scientific world?  Isn't our justice system built on the idea of free will?  Others suggest conscience - our sense of right and wrong.  Is it our capacity to love in the noblest sense of the word?  Or is it all of these things?  Are these genetic?  Are these part of our biochemistry? Are they the product and legacy of primitive man's struggle to survive?  Are these things a spark of the divine?

    Can one love one's neighbor as oneself?  Is this an unrealistic ideal?  In what sense should we love ourselves?  What does it mean to love one's neighbor as oneself?  Must you know someone personally to love them?  Can one love an abstract  mankind?

    Is the life and person of each individual sacred?  Does every human being have an absolute value?

    Is something that has an absolute value eternal?  How does this sacred value of the life and person of each individual affect our view of the death penalty?  our view of education?  our understanding of community?

    Is it easier to lie than to tell the truth?  to steal rather than to give?  to be impatient than to be patient?  to be envious than to enjoy another's good fortune?  to want more than to be content with less?   to hate than to forgive?  If so, what does this say about human beings?  Is it that we are simply selfish.  But why are we so?  Why aren't we simply unselfish?  Is selfishness bad?  What does this all mean with respect to our human nature? 

    February 8

    Violence in Roman Society v. Violence in American Society

    Great discussion despite some unruly behavior!

    Some of the questions we addressed included:

    In what type of violence-based leisure activities do Americans participate and support?

    Are there any similarities between our violent amusements and the ones the Romans enjoyed?

    Many historians believe that the violent entertainment in Rome made the society more violent.  Do you think the violent entertainment that Americans enjoy - a crushing tackle in football, a knockout in boxing, extreme martial arts; video games - makes our society more violent?  Is it a contributing factor to violent criminal behavior?  Is hunting a violent sport? 

    In ancient Rome, torture and the death penalty were common for criminals and prisoners of war.  In what ways does our society mirror the ancient Romans when it comes to these areas?  How is our society different?

    There were many different aspects to our discussion, each of them interesting and valuable.  One question that recurred throughout related to whether human beings are by nature violent and in civilized society we merely subdue this tendency and channel it into acceptable entertainment.  Or is it that we have an inherent aggressive quality that is not necessarily violent but can manifest itself in that way.

    Another question relates to Roman spectators and even American spectators enjoying violent behavior.  In what is the pleasure?