Philosophizing

Looking for enlightenment? Go to the salon.


 

In October, a number of lucky Pomfret students were honored to receive an invitation to attend an event with an extraordinary guest list — a guest list which included names like Benjamin Franklin, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat. Students in Humanities 1-Global Studies took part in an Enlightenment Salon, an idea introduced by History Teacher Mary Georgis.

"The Salon is the Starbucks of the 17th and 18th centuries," says History Teacher Doug Litowitz. "The elites — the artists and the philosophers and the writers — they would all get together in these salons and they would discuss big ideas," he said. "And since not everyone could get together in person, they developed something called The Republic of Letters. So Jean Jacques Rousseau, who was living in Geneva, would write letters to John Locke, who was living in London, who would write letters to Montesquieu, who was living in Paris — and they would have this letter writing exchange that would take place." 

 


In October, a number of lucky Pomfret students were honored to receive an invitation to attend an event with an extraordinary guest list — a guest list which included names like Benjamin Franklin, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat.


 

Phase One of the project required students to assume the character of anyone on the guest list from the Enlightenment or the Scientific Revolution. They were then required to write two one-page letters of correspondence to another guest.

Phase Two brought our student philosophers together for a Salon discussion held under a tent outside duPont Library. Students were encouraged to dress as their character. They arrived prepared to discuss questions ranging from how to establish a just and humanitarian society, to whether human nature is shaped more by innate ideas or by outside experiences.

"The Salon project gave students an opportunity for experiential learning, without ever leaving campus," says Litowitz. "By taking on these characters, they had the chance to be a little silly while gaining a deeper understanding of what things were really like and learning more about these bigger ideas from an interesting era in history. It was a very rewarding experience for all." 


 

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