Have you ever wondered how classical thinkers like Karl Marx or John Locke might think about modern-day issues?
“Thinking Our Way into the New Millennium,”a debate series, addresses just that question.
Each presentation pits two historical or modern-day figures against each other to debate contemporary issues using the philosophies they espoused druing their lifetimes.
The figures are played mainly by Temple faculty.
The series, which started in September 2001 through the Intellectual Heritage program, held 14 debates on campus for Temple students last year, with an additional 14 that took place in Center City.
This year, the program is sponsoring seven free presentations at the Philadelphia Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square during the fall semester.
According to Daniel Tompkins, director of the Intellectual Heritage program and co-creator of the dialogue series, the purpose of these debates is to show how classical ideas can help people understand current events.
“The goal was to set up a teaching situation to show how different people think instead of telling people what to think,”said Tompkins.
The fourth debate, which takes place on Oct 17, will spotlight the effects of globalization on the world economy in a debate between Bill Gates, the owner of Microsoft, and George Soros, the investment mogul.
Past dialogues included debates between Nicolo Machiavelli and Kofi Annan about U.S. foreign policy after 9/11 and St. Paul and Mary Wollstonecraft about gender differences in modern society.
“Most texts involve conflicts, and these [debate] are trying to show that these differing positions can make sense together,”Tompkins said, “they help sharpen different sides of an issue to make it more understandable to people.”
“We try to present the speakers not as authors, but as real human beings,”he added.
Craig Eisendrath, Temple faculty member and Senior Fellow at the Center of International Policy in Washington, D.C., created the debate series with Tompkins and has participated in a number of the dialogues; he will be portraying Bill Gates in the debate on Oct. 17th.
“We simply wanted to get people to sharpen their thinking because thinking is what education, and institutions like Temple University, is all about,”said Eisendrath.
Eisendrath said that the debate format helps to promote thought among the audience by bringing life to the ideas presented.
“Dramatic words stick. In the heat of drama, you focus more, and that helps to bring out your best insights,”he said.
Istvan Varkonyi, associate director of the IH program, portrayed philosopher Franz Kafka during a debate last semester which explored the challenges of living in a multi-ethnic society containing religious diversity.
According to Varkonyi, humans have always contemplated the reason for their existence, the connections that exist between their environment and the world, and their purpose in society.
He said such dialogues are helpful because they show how what thinkers considered in the past can help people answer these questions today.
“We cannot live in a society that pulls back from texts and the topics they discuss. These debates help spark the interconnectedness between past and present and help to raise one’s consciousness of one’s self and the world.”
Jessica White can be reached at SSparkleJ1@aol.com