Philosophical Chairs

Philosophical Chairs is an activity designed to foster critical thinking, active inquiry, and respectful dialogue among students. To play a game of Philosophical Chairs, participants agree or disagree with a series of statements, but the game doesn’t end there. The most crucial element of the game is what happens next: Participants discuss their points of view and can switch sides if their opinions change during the discussion. (For more tips on using Philosophical Chairs in a classroom or via a remote-learning platform, see the activity description in your Google Classroom.)

Each topic statement is deliberately open-ended yet ties into a number of the themes present in The Merry Widow—including the nature of love, the pressures of social status, and the difficulties that arise when politics and personal sentiments mix. As you and your students explore and learn about The Merry Widow, you can return to these statements: What do they have to do with the opera’s story? How might these questions help us explore the opera’s story, history, and themes?

The Statements

  • Flirting is harmless.
  • Wealth is the key to happiness.
  • You should always try to maintain your social status.
  • Pride is a virtue.
  • Pride is a vice.
  • You should only marry within your social class.
  • It is okay to tell a lie as long as it’s not about something very important.
  • Saying “I love you” is chock-full of meaning. (Ask students what it means to actually say “I love you” to someone. Does this phrase carry a duty to act in love, or is it just a meaningless phrase?)
  • There is only one form of love.
  • Marriage lasts forever.
  • Cheating (in a relationship) is harmless.
  • It is important to maintain a good reputation.
  • A will (instructions for the distribution of one’s belongings after one’s death) must be followed to the letter.
  • Politics should never impact personal matters. 
  • Personal matters should never get mixed up in politics.

Keep in mind that the process of this activity is just as important as the statements themselves. Imagine a world in which everyone actively listens to one another and engages in respectful dialogue, honoring others and showing respect for the wide array of diverse ideas and opinions that others hold. Philosophical Chairs fosters exactly this kind of space, encouraging students to take what they’ve learned and change the global landscape for generations to come.