Past Modules

Past Modules of Food for Thought: 2017-2018

FFT I: This Sept, we’ll discuss how digital and mechanical technologies have become indispensable in nearly every aspect of our lives, so much so that we rarely think critically about the roles they should fill in social as well as individual existence. This module challenges our everyday indifference to things technological. Join us as we explore the uses and abuses of technology and consider what a human-centered use of technology might really look like. – and discuss them in short weekly modules in an informal and collegiate atmosphere.

Collegium and Harrison College House welcome students to this weekly dinner discussion exploring music and the role it plays–or should play–in our lives.  This series is directed by Professor Naomi Waltham-Smith of the Music Department. Join our relaxed community of committed students and professors each week for this musical exploration.

Past Modules as Coffee with the Classics 2015-2016:

CwtC III: “He who has friends, has no friend.”  This observation, perhaps lament, was derived not out of the Facebook generation, but rather out of Greek antiquity.  In his foundational treatise on Ethics, Aristotle reflected on the value of personal friendship, and his conclusions have been continually absorbed and challenged over two millennia, addressing questions about human relationships that appear quintessentially modern. Students and a faculty guide will read and discuss brief but momentous texts on friendship.  Among the great thinkers featured in our Third Module, Friendship: Then & Now, Aristotle, Cicero, Chaucer, Montaigne, Emerson, Thoreau, Keats, and others.

Can Politics Be Redeemed?

Module I: Fall 2015

September 7, 14, 21, & 28



Conflict and animosity seem to have reached unprecedented levels in the current election season.  The most disturbing aspect of this phenomenon, however may not be its shocking proportions, but on the contrary, its increasing inability to shock us.  We are no longer surprised.  Verbal attacks, corruption, negative integration: these “scandals” now seem routine, if not banal.  Behind any compromise or agreement, we tend to assume not so much goodwill as an affinity of interests.  Is it sensible to be so jaded?  What is the end of politics anyway?  How much or what kind of unity is necessary in a pluralistic society to be able to pursue a truly common good?  Is there hope for politics, or is that just another self-serving slogan?

Faculty facilitators and students come together to explore these perennial questions by the sifting salient, classical responses to them.  We consider brief selections from the great conversations of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Marx, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Winthrop, and Aquinas, none of whom were of one mind, and discuss them for our own sakes and, perhaps, for the sake of the polis.



Beauty and the Good Life

Module II: Fall 2015

October 12, 19, & 26



Beauty is in everything that surrounds us.  We see it in art, the human body, and nature, and we hear it in music of all sorts of cadences and melodies.  Where does this beauty come from?  Even though much of the beauty we are aware of comes to us through our senses, there is also a beauty that comes to us through the intangible–the beauty of the intellect, of the virtues, and of the good.  What is the good, and how can it help us come to a vision of this seemingly inaccessible form of beauty?  How must we alter our conduct of life in order to live a good life, and essentially, to see true beauty?

Join us as we explore these perennial questions through examining brief selections from works by Plato, Plontinus, Schiller, Maritain, von Balthasar, and Hart.

2014 – 2015

During the 2014-2015 academic year, Penn undergraduates and faculty gathered to read such thinks as Plato, Cicero, Rousseau, Kant, and Nietzsche in order to address fundamental questions about morality, politics, and virtue. In 2015-2016, we read texts in the philosophy of nature, with an emphasis on the ancient and medieval worlds. Receiving insight offered by Greek philosophy from Thales to Aristotle, the book of Genesis, Augustine, Aquinas and others, we explored the questions, What is nature? Does it have a purpose? What is the relationship between humans and nature?