Philosophical Chairs

Philosophical Chairs is an activity designed to foster critical thinking, active inquiry, and respectful dialogue among students. To play, participants agree or disagree with a series of statements, but the game doesn’t end there. The most crucial element 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 Drive.)

Each topic statement is deliberately open-ended yet ties into a number of the themes present in Rigoletto—including the cruel complexities of young love, the possible pitfalls of revenge, and the terrible destructive power of bullying and other forms of abuse. Set the stage for this conversation mindfully. Offer students a brief overview of the opera’s plot, setting, and context, and remind them how to build a safe space for productive conversation. Some of the topics might be confusing or hard—that’s okay! As you and your students explore and learn about Rigoletto, 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.
  • Relationships ought to be kept secret.
  • Gossip is harmless.
  • Words can be as sharp (and as destructive) as daggers.
  • Women are fickle.
  • Self-sacrifice is noble.
  • Curses are real.
  • Bribery leads to corruption.
  • Vengeance is always justified.
  • Everyone has a moral compass.
  • Your conscience will always protect you.
  • Leaders ought to live moral lives.
  • Ignoring your conscience leads to bad habits.

Keep in mind that the process of this activity is just as important as the statements themselves. Philosophical Chairs is designed to nurture civil dialogue, and students should be encouraged to listen actively, honor one another’s contributions, and show respect for a diversity of opinions and ideas.